'This is the biggest challenge I have faced'

The former India bowler and World Cup winner talks about a day in his life as a policeman on the front lines of the fight against Covid-19

Joginder Sharma, former India player, now a police officer, talks to colleagues, Hisar, Haryana, April 2020

On the beat: Joginder Sharma (extreme right), out on duty in Hisar, talks to colleagues

Joginder Sharma, a deputy superintendent of police in the Hisar district of Haryana, is a recognisable face for most sports fans in India. But the man who bowled India to victory in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, has been politely declining requests for selfies and autographs over the past few weeks. As a senior-ranking police officer, his primary duty right now is to make sure citizens in his jurisdiction follow the safety guidelines put in place by the Indian government to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sharma talks to us about how the common man is gripped by the fear of the disease that has infected nearly a million and a half people globally. In these precarious times, he says, cricket becomes secondary.
Has this been the most challenging time in your job as a police officer?
I have been actively working as a cop since leaving cricket in 2017, and I have seen many things, encountered different challenges. But this has been the biggest. The toughest thing [to tell people] is that there is no vaccine yet created to fight coronavirus.
Right now, despite India being in lockdown, we still need to get out to do our duty. Lives are being lost, and our job is to save lives. At the same time we need to protect ourselves and our police force. That is a challenge.
Luckily in Hisar, where I am posted, so far there has been just one case, and even that person has recovered. Touch wood, I hope it stays like that.
When does your day begin?
My day starts around six in the morning. Today I started at 9am and am returning home now [8pm]. But I need to be ready for emergency calls, so effectively I am available for duty 24 hours, and I can't say no.
What is your brief for the day these days?
The area that I need to oversee is mostly in the rural belt of Hisar. Right now it involves guarding various checkposts and instructing not just truck and bus drivers but also common people about the virus. The basic message is: do not get out of the house unless you need to. If someone is outside without any purpose, we can sanction them under various legal acts.
Of course, if people are out to fetch essential home supplies like groceries or there is a medical emergency, we allow that as long as they are maintaining social distancing, wearing protective gear like masks and respecting the guidelines set by the government.
Are there any common misconceptions you hear?
The question I am asked multiple times is: "What is coronavirus? How does it spread?" Most of these questions come from people who are poor, including migrants. Some have young families. Many do not have TV and other means of getting the information the government is trying to put out about the epidemic. But the percentage of people who are unaware is minuscule. Most are aware.
Last Sunday, Indians switched their lights off for nine minutes at 9pm to mark the battle against the pandemic. But there were reports that firecrackers were set off in many places at that time. Harbhajan Singh tweeted asking how one could fight such stupidity.
Everyone has the right to express their feelings. Some feel something is right, some feel it is wrong. Having said that, our priority is to end the coronavirus in our country. This is the first battle in our life that can be won by staying at home. If you stay home, only then will it end. By lighting firecrackers it will not end. Yes, I understand that you may be trying to express solidarity, but it is not appropriate.
Do people recognise you as a World Cup winner?
Yes, many people do - by reading the name plate on my uniform, since I wear a mask these days. Many want selfies and autographs, but I tell them that they need to wait till this is over.
The jobs healthcare workers and others, like you, do at this time is dangerous. Do you feel endangered?
I think the biggest service is being done by the doctors, nurses and cleaners - they have the most high-risk jobs.
Personally, one time I got scared was when some groups of migrants were desperate to get back home to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, even though no modes of transport were working, due to the national lockdown. Me and my team had to stop them and explain the situation to them. Eventually they were moved to makeshift shelter homes. Although we were using megaphones, some interactions had to be on a one-on-one basis. It was tough.
It must be difficult to explain social distancing in a country like India, which is densely populated?
Yes. In these shelter homes we also have to ensure they get bedding, medicines, look at whether the space they are staying in is clean. At those times we have to make sure they maintain the right distance as they gather outside.
Is cricket at all on your mind?
Hardly. Most of my day I am busy with police work. Once I am home I need to keep track of the news and the data related to the coronavirus cases. I need to keep tabs on how many cases there are, the number of people who are in quarantine, if there is anyone sick among those in quarantine, and so on. I need to monitor and collate all this data and send it onward.
When was the last time you saw your family?
Although I live in Rohtak, which is just 110km from Hisar, about one and a half hours by road, I have decided not to go home. I don't want to take a chance because I am in contact with people all day and I don't want go home and put my family at risk.
Cricketers and athletes have been making contributions to charity and advising fans to stay at home. What more would you suggest they can do?
In our country everyone - from cricketers to people in Bollywood to NGOs - is trying to reach out and help in their own way. That is very good.
The one message we all can spread is: stay at home till the government relaxes restrictions. Stay at home, enjoy time with your family. Let us remind everyone through social media and all available mediums. I want to say to everyone that the entire world is fighting the coronavirus. Follow the government's instructions. Do not put your life in danger. Stay home, that is the only solution right now.
The entire cricket world is anxious to know whether the IPL will happen.
Until the coronavirus is cleared, it should not happen. Once everything is back to normal, it should definitely happen.
If the IPL happens now, it would be a big danger because crowds will come to watch. Even if you restrict it to players, each team will have a minimum of about 15 players. There are team meetings, there is support staff, so about 30-40 people travel with each team. So it should not happen now. Strictly no.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo