The charming Preity Zinta, co-owner of Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), spoke to The Telegraph for around an hour. Preity’s franchise, which has made the biggest headlines in IPL VII, takes on the Kolkata Knight Riders in Qualifier 1.
Q This is the IPL’s seventh edition. Have you grown in your avatar as a passionate co-owner?
A (Coolly) I have, yes... I’m passionate about everything. From a complete novice at cricket, I have learnt a few things. Earlier, I just knew that somebody would throw the ball at somebody else, who’d use his bat! I used to think cricket was only about fours and sixes... It’s so much more than that.
Whatever little you knew about the game, did you still have a favourite cricketer?
Kapil Dev... I remember the day India won the 1983 World Cup... We were in Aurangabad and I recall my late father (Durganand) carried me on his shoulders.
Now that you know a lot more about cricket, what’s your take on the different formats?
I suppose the purest form will always be Test cricket, but T20 is the ideal format to increase the fan base and to attract crowds. T20 can also appeal to men and women who aren’t exactly enthusiastic about cricket. It’s almost like a substitute for a movie.
Before the IPL’s first auction, in early 2008, did you do some homework? Did you, for example, take to the internet?
I didn’t have to go to the net, for IMG had prepared a manual for the owners. It had everything.
As a youngster, you weren’t heavily into cricket, but were you keen on sport in general?
I was into gymnastics, played basketball, learnt karate... As my father was in the Army and we had to shift base every now and then, my parents were keen that I learn some form of self-defence. Karate it was.
Were you a well-behaved child?
(Laughs) I was a naughty kid, but I would always find some way to channelise my madness. However, I realised the importance of sport... Sport teaches you to win, to lose, to strategise... Indeed, it helps build your personality. In fact, I’ve also done horse-riding and rifle-shooting.
To cut to the present... Are you completely into cricket?
In a way... I took a sabbatical from acting, as I wanted to understand more of the new business I’d got into. I also went and studied business... That’s the kind of person I am. If I’m doing something, then I do it completely.
What did you study about business?
I did an eight-week course at Harvard, focusing on deal-making and negotiations. I’m an ideas person, but good ideas have to go hand in hand with good number crunching, planning... I’ve picked up a lot along the way, from 2008 till now.
So, it’s about the business of winning...
That’s there, of course. But KXIP also looks at the grassroots, trying to unearth and nurture talent. As a franchise, we’re conscious of that responsibility.
Till this season, KXIP had more downs than ups... Was it very frustrating for you?
Definitely. For three years in a row, we just missed making the play-offs... Like a bride all ready, but the priest going missing... And, the next time, the priest is there, but the groom goes off! There were times when I had the urge to go out and hit a six, but I naturally couldn’t.
How do you cope with frustration?
I’m a reactive person... If something happens today, I’ll react and, then, be done with it. I don’t carry any baggage with me. I don’t think it’s fair to carry any baggage... In life, you will have the good, the bad and the ugly. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of good things happening to me.
What have your years as a co-owner taught you?
That it ain’t over till it’s over... Things happen suddenly (in T20)... A winning position could be squandered or a recovery out of the blue. Often, at shoots, I’ve been told ‘Preity, you look so comfortable at a cricket ground’... That’s because, basically, I’m a boy trapped in a woman’s body.
You’ve seen your players handle pressure. How do you take care of all the pressures — of an actor, the co-owner of a franchise and more?
When I’m in a good mood, it’s like water off a duck’s back... When I’m not in a good mood, I tend to get upset and things bother me. But life’s too short to overload yourself with baggage which slows you down. What matters is that my conscience should be clear. You can’t change the world and you can’t control people, but you can control yourself. My father used to tell me ‘if you want to be a tiger, don’t do anything like a mouse’. I’ve always remembered that.
Some time back, when things were falling apart on the personal front, I asked my mother (Nilprabha) as to why it was all happening to me... Her answer — that I hadn’t asked ‘why’ when amazing things happened to me — left a lasting impression... I just have to take the good with the bad. That, in going forward, roadblocks are bound to be there. I have to overcome them.
Is there a guiding principle?
Hmmm... It’s not about how hard you fall, but how soon you get up. That defines a person.
(Laughs) One certainly is ‘live and let live’. I also believe yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future and that today is the gift... Which is why it’s called the present... It’s also my belief that I must appreciate what I have today, for it will become a memory tomorrow... I also believe that never say the sky is the limit when you have footprints on the moon. If you have the intent, there’s nothing in the world that can stop you from achieving what you want to.
Generally, you hold very strong views...
I’d like India to be a perfect nation and we, the citizens, need to think of India first... Globally, India should be a leader, across fields.
You come from a non-filmi background. Was it tough in the early years?
Look, I was studying criminal psychology and was never meant to be an actor... But once I got in, I showed that I could work hard and be competitive. I have my own self-respect and want to excel in whatever I do.
Is there a message for the women of India?
One... Never leave your education incomplete, for education opens a lot of doors. It makes you what you are... Two... Don’t confine yourself to one thing... Three... Be courageous, for if you don’t have the courage to fail, you’ll never succeed. Some of the greatest journeys in life weren’t made by people who had the fear of failure... Four... At different stages, don’t depend on your father/husband/son... Become the master of your destiny... Five... Never discriminate on the basis of gender and encourage children to make the right choices.
What has success taught you?
Success doesn’t teach you anything, it creates a mirage around you... Failure is a great teacher... It grounds you, shows you who you are... Shows you who your friends are... At the end of the day, you have to back yourself even if nobody else does.
Moving to a different pitch... Your response to scandals and controversies... Allegations of match-fixing and spot-fixing...
I get upset, but India has seen corruption everywhere... Everyone who says ‘I want to bet on the match’ is encouraging corruption... But I know where we, in the KXIP, stand. Even if I’m offered a billion dollars, I won’t get the team to lose a match deliberately. That’s not sport. That’s not what I’ve been brought up believing.
Do you actually see light at the end of the tunnel?
Yes... Perhaps, now, things will be clean. Cricket is an amazing sport and the guilty should be dealt with most severely.
Sreesanth’s IPL debut was with the KXIP... How did you react to his being arrested last May, while playing for the Rajasthan Royals?
I was disappointed, I was surprised. But there should never be a trial by media. Everybody is innocent till proved guilty... What I can’t understand is why players don’t appreciate that they have everything to lose.
Many are of the view that legalising betting in cricket (in India) could curb the malpractices. Where do you stand?
That’s one way, for sure.
Finally... Given a chance, would you like to change anything?
(Emotionally) If I could be God, I would love to have my father back... Beyond that, nothing... Experiences have made me the person I am. I wouldn’t have been the same person had I been sheltered 100 per cent.