Extra Time with Leeza Mangaldas: Anant Tyagi quit his corporate job to live his dream as a sports presenter
Follow pitch-side reporter Leeza Mangaldas as she takes you behind the scenes this Hero ISL season. New posts every week exclusively on indiansuperleague.com. Connect with Leeza on Instagram or Twitter at @leezamangaldas.
Five years ago, Anant Tyagi was having lunch at the Indian YMCA in London with a friend one afternoon. He was staying there for a few days while in the midst of shifting apartments, and its cafeteria served up delicious home-style desi food. Anant had recently completed a Business Diploma at the London School of Economics and was working as an analyst at British Gas. It wasn’t exactly his dream job, but he’d put his aspirations of being a sports presenter firmly behind him. Or so he thought.
Growing up, he had played cricket, hockey, tennis, and football competitively. He’d won several accolades in public speaking and debate. At Doon School, he was both head boy and the top sports achiever in his final year. And with the likes of Prannoy Roy, Abhinav Bindra, Vikram Seth, and Amitav Ghosh among his school’s illustrious alumni, he too dreamed of making his own mark in the field he was most drawn to—sports media. So, after graduating in Economics Honors and completing a Master’s in Mass Communication in Delhi, he set off for the UK for a course in Sports Journalism.
Unfortunately, however, it did not turn out to be the nurturing learning environment he had hoped for. Upon his arrival, he discovered that the city that the institute was based in had a very conservative, xenophobic political climate. Despite the fact that he had significantly more media training than many of his peers, he found that he was consistently overlooked when it came to course related opportunities or recognition. A dean even told Anant in no uncertain terms that his skin colour and accent simply weren’t the right fit for a career in the media.
His confidence shaken and his spirit deflated, he left to enrol in a Diploma course at LSE instead, after which he entered the workforce, prepared to resign himself to a more traditional corporate career.
But that afternoon in 2013, at the Indian YMCA in London, his life would take another unexpected turn. Also dining at the cafeteria was a team from Star Sports who had been sent to find people who could do Hindi commentary for their Premier League coverage, live from England. And it just so happened that one of these gentlemen knew the friend Anant was dining with and came over to their table to say hello. The rest as they say, is history.
“It was a surreal afternoon,” Anant laughs. “one minute I had dal and curry on my fingers, and the next I was in talks with one of India’s biggest sports channels. You can’t make this stuff up!”
Anant was an ideal fit for the gig. He was a football-loving Indian based in London. Plus, the grandson of a renowned Hindi poet on one side, and an award-winning Hindi writer on the other, his Hindi was impeccable. And to top it all, he already had basic media training. Earlier he used to have to save up to go watch Premier League matches live. Now he was going to get paid to!
Anant had followed football avidly ever since he was a teenager back home in India, choosing to support Chelsea when most of his classmates were supporting Manchester United. “I’ve always wanted to separate myself from the pack, to do things a little differently from the rest,” he explained, smiling.
So, it was perfect that his first ever match as commentator was Chelsea v Hull City at Stamford Bridge. He couldn’t have been more thrilled. He was sitting in the commentary box at the home of his favourite team, as a voice of the Premier League for millions of Indian viewers. Contrary to everything his dean had said, his skin colour and his accent were strengths, not limitations, and he wore them proudly.
“I was covering Stoke City v Liverpool one day, and a few rows below me I happened to see the same dean who had told me I’d never make it because of the way I look and speak,” Anant shared. “It crossed my mind to say hello, to show I’d proved him wrong, but I didn’t—because it was that very evening that I realized that this is what I was made to do, that this is my calling—and that the only person I want to prove anything to is myself.”
Soon Anant quit his desk job so he could do commentary full time. “I knew it was a leap of faith, but I decided to follow my heart,” he said. By the summer of 2014, he’d done over 70 games. It was around this time that preparations were in full swing for the inaugural season of the Hero Indian Super League, and Anant was offered the opportunity to come back to India to do Hindi presenting and commentary for the broadcast.
Over the last 4 years, Anant has blazed his own trail as a presenter and commentator across multiple sports in both English and Hindi. He’s presented shows for the ISL and the IPL in both languages, he’s done Hindi commentary for over half a dozen sports, including during the 2016 Rio Olympics, and he became the first ever Indian commentator to do English commentary for the ISL.
When I asked him what his favourite moments have been so far, he revealed, “There’s no greater thrill than sitting in the commentary box when India is winning a match!”
Among his most cherished memories are the 2015-16 SAF cup final, the India v Puerto Rico game in September 2016 which heralded the return of international football to India, and perhaps above all, the India v Kyrgyz Republic game in June 2017, which was widely billed as one of the best ever games in Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri’s career.
“When India wins and, Sunil scores— it’s very, very special.” Anant said. “In the match against the Kyrgyz Republic, from Chhetri’s goal on, I could not sit down in my seat, it was just adrenaline all the way!”
“I feel a lot of gratitude to Sunil—his rise has coincided with and in many ways also propelled the rise of football in India. When India performs or when a Hero ISL team performs, we get to talk about it. And it’s often Sunil who’s been at the heart of those stories— so in many ways my own career has been shaped by his incredible contributions both to the national team and to the ISL,” he explained.
Having had the pleasure of working with Anant myself, I have seen first not just his enthusiasm for football, but also his tireless work ethic, his extreme professionalism, and his exceptional way with words and numbers. He’s also always been hugely supportive of his colleagues— he certainly helped teach me the ropes when I first joined as a reporter on Season 2 of the Hero ISL.
It is no surprise that he has steadily risen to become one of the country’s most promising voices in sports television.
Indeed, over the years, Anant’s passion for sport and football in particular has brought him much of what he is grateful for in life— including love.
He met his delightful wife Sagarika, also a TV presenter, at a talent training workshop led by celebrated Premier League presenter John Dykes for Star Sports in 2015.
Anant and Sagarika started dating shortly after and then took turns hosting an ISL season review show later that year. After they got married at the end of 2016, they even co-hosted a show around the ICC Champions Trophy as husband and wife.
“To be able to do what I love every day, to have a partner who completely understands and supports my goals and dreams—and for sport to have brought me all of this—I know how lucky I am, and I am beyond grateful,” Anant said, as we wrapped up our chat, just in time to board our flights for the matches we were covering the next day.