Wellbeing Champion- Akeesh Khokhar

Bowled by recruitment? A Little hit in the park, I don’t like cricket…… I love it!

This week we sat down with Akeesh Khokhar, a long-time cricket player and more recently a host for a cricket-based podcast. Akeesh is a senior consultant based in London and below is what he had to say about a sport he was introduced to at a very young age and continues to dedicate time to now.

1- How did you get introduced to cricket?

My dad introduced me to it at a very young age. I’m from a Pakistani descent and Pakistan have only won the World Cup in 1992. I was born in 91, so his earliest memories of me watching cricket was watching that World Cup with him when I was only a one year old.

I started playing cricket when I was about seven and that was just at school, then my mum got me into a club that was local, and I’ve been playing for that club since I was nine years old. I'm 29 now, so I've been there 20 years. I’m still committed even though I moved away from there. I live in London now, but I still go there every weekend during the season and play for them and I’m involved in other parts of the club as well, like the committee and helping them fundraise and that sort of thing.

2- What motivates you to continue playing cricket?

I personally think, as a human being, I think sport is probably the only way or one of the only ways that you actually learn a lot about life and being a person.

I'm not knocking individual sports like tennis and golf and snooker or whatever, but I think if you're in a team it allows you, at a very young age to be exposed to things that you wouldn't necessarily be exposed to. When you're in your home you’re a son or a child of your parents, you know they're not going to be harsh with you. With sports you learn how to take defeat. You learn how to come back from bad performances, or not doing well and you also learn to be your own person in an environment where you're not going to be supported by your parents or your friends. You’re in a little bubble with other people and you have to get on with them and spend a lot of time with them. Cricket is quite a long game, it starts in the morning or afternoon and goes on into the evening and in between that you're spending a lot of time talking, getting to know people, life experiences, that sort of thing. However, at a younger age it’s more about learning about yourself. At that age you can develop leadership styles, leadership skills, you can learn about different people’s cultures. You can learn about people from different backgrounds.

The beauty of sport is that you're all there for one goal and one aim, and that's even different to work, even though we're here to work we’ve all got different jobs and do different things yet we are sat in the same room. Whereas with sport you’re all there for one common goal and that is to win that game or match. I think that's what kind of keeps driving me in.

I always say this to anyone with young kids you need to get them into sports. I know it’s hard as parents as you have to take them to these events. At this age I can of course drive myself but when I was younger my parents did sacrifice quite a lot. My dad would leave work earlier if I had games and drive me, and back in those days, there weren't any sat-navs so he had to print off AA Route Planner and I was an 8 to 10 year old kid sat in the front seat reading out “Now you have to take junction six” and all this other stuff. My father and I look back on it and it's one of the most times that you actually spend with parents.

3- What is your family’s opinion, have they ever participated?

I’ve actually played with my dad. He’s older now with a bad shoulder and knees, but 7 or 8 years ago I played in like a charity “lads vs dads” type of game and he also used to play for our vets team which is our veterans 11. My dad used to play at the same club and there have been times when we’ve played the same game together which was quite fun, and it’s just good memories when we look back.

They’ve always been supportive and there's always been a stigma, specifically in my culture, the Asian culture, where parents don’t necessarily think that sports is a way for kids to be spending time and should be studying or doing something they deem more worthy. I think my parents were pretty good in the sense that they understood as a guy and a young boy you have a lot of energy and you need to let off some steam, you need to get out of the house and do things. I don't have a brother at home, I have a younger sister, so it wasn’t likely that we’d go to the park together to and play football. My sister is also six years younger than me so there was an age difference. I think they understood that I needed that which I'm very grateful for.

When time came for me to start secondary school, we actually moved into a new house. We were living in another area but there was a school which was known for their cricket, sports and extracurricular stuff. We moved house 2 years before I had to go into secondary school just so we were in that catchment area. My parents then paid to get private tuition for me so that I could pass the entrance exams to then get into that school, so they definitely made a lot of sacrifices which I’m grateful for.

4- Do you notice a difference in yourself if you haven’t been active for a while?

Yeah, I think so. I think you get a bit sluggish.

You can get so focused that you become a robot almost, at the moment it’s fine because we’re working from home in a comfortable environment, but I think if you compare where we were before the pandemic, I was always getting the same train every morning. I was standing on the same part of the platform because I knew that’s where the doors open. I was getting the same coffee order from the same coffee shop, walking pretty much on the same side of the road. You were just kind of programmed to be in a certain way, and I think if we didn't have that release or you didn't have that activity to look forward to and also get involved in you end up being in a vicious cycle and then that leads to load of things like social anxiety because you're just used to your own thing. It can lead to a lot, I guess even depression in a way where you can think this is the only way to live life. It just leads to a lot of issues mentally where you know you don't have that release and anything that you do is just work centric or work orientated. So I think it's very different and also at the same time I think it's very important to have friends outside of the workplace as well, whereby you're seeing different people you're talking to people that have complete different days to you. A lot of my friends don't work in the city, which I think is a good thing because otherwise we would only meet in the city and it would only be after work. Now meeting some of my friends sometimes means I need to drive to go into the outskirts of London and see different things and experienced new areas. It definitely helps to stay active.

5- How do you think playing a team sport has an impact on your work as a recruiter?

As a recruiter it's peaks and troughs, right? You have your good times, you have your bad times, but neither of those times last long. In recruitment you're high is can be very very good. So that may be bringing on a new client, having the best commission month, doing the most deals in the office or the highest value deal. Lots of possibilities for highs but you can suddenly be hit by some catastrophic news about something with a client or people not turning up for interviews, people leaving.  If you compare that to sport it’s the same way, no two days are the same, you play different teams, areas, pitches and even through different weathers.

In recruitment there’s something different happening every day and there’s a new challenge. At the moment our challenge is to balance a lot of the jobs with a restricted number of people in our team. Right now, it’s all about prioritising and coming up with a plan, even the term game plan, that’s derived from sport, having a plan to tackle something and achieve an outcome.

I think sports helps massively and I also think, this might be a bit of a non-inclusive kind of mentality, but I think generally people that do sports or have that sort of background where they've been part of a team and in some way shape or form they tend to do pretty well in recruitment. That’s because they know what it's like to be with the team, in the trenches and come out of it and drive towards success.

6- How were you keeping fit through the UK lockdown?

As a part of cricket, I also coach, but lockdown put a stop on that. I was doing a lot of drills and going to the nets with a friend of mine, we had to stay socially distanced but it was still good. My friend and I also started a cricket podcast, we were obsessed with the sport and could talk about it for hours on the phone. One day he suggested we start a podcast as it's just us talking and we could guests on. He comes from a media production background and is able to edit and set us up with guests and we just have to dial in and talk, and I can talk. So we started that in lockdown down and it gave us something to look forward to, something to do and it was something a bit different.

7- Are there any other sports or physical activities you’ve considered trying?

I tried to start running, which was interesting. In lockdown there was a run 5, donate 5 challenge

In my team there are quite a few people that run like Rhodri, Tom, Andy, Dave and they talk about it, so I tried to give it a go. I don’t think I was the best at it and to be honest, I don't really get it. Unless you're running towards something, or for something or running from something I would rather drive. But that’s just me, some people love it and it's really good for mental health. Going for walks is always good. That was one thing during the lockdown that I discovered, there are a lot more parks around me that I never knew about.

I just tried to get out and get the legs moving because I think, especially in recruitment, it’s very easy to just keep working. It's really important to have a bit of time, where you you're just switching off and you don't carry your phone around, you’re just dead to the recruitment world, so to speak.

8- Do you have any idols or someone that inspires you in cricket?

There is a Sriankan player that was one idol for me growing up, he has two law degrees and he’s the president the MCC. He used to bat in a certain position in the team order? That's where I bat now and I only wanted to bat there because of him and I tried to emulate my game on him. His name is Kumar Sangakkara and if there was someone I wanted to be like, it would’ve probably been him.

There are also a lot of people at club level. There are around 200 members including kids and adults that you kind of look up to. People that are 60 or 70 years old that are still playing and have been part of the club for years that make you think ‘I want to do that and give back, support the club and help raise funds’ a lot of things in cricket clubs do not get any funding from the government so they’re all run by their members and local communities.

9- What has been your proudest moment in cricket so far?

The school that I went to has a local rivalry with Eton College. We always lost against Eton College, for I think 40 years. The year that I was the captain of the 1st 11 was the first year that we won, so that was massive. We played in front of 2000 people that day because it was quite big thing so that was probably my proudest thing. I’d say captaining that team during the win against Eton and going on tour with south England schools to Sri lanka and Barbados to play teams there.

I was also nearly offered a scholarship to a sporting University to play cricket but unfortunately didn’t make it past the last stage.

10- What is your favourite thing about cricket?

My favourite part about cricket, I think that it's the only sport where you can always fantasize about what's going to happen. If I compare it to football, you've got a short amount of time, 90 minutes, and more often than not the team that starts to win will win.

Whereas in cricket it’s possibly the only sport where you can fantasize about what's going to happen because there's so long in the game. Even though a team may be losing, you can always think the last two players to come in could both get hundreds, and any other possibilities. There’s a bit of a science to it as you’re playing with a leather ball so it’s easy for it to be manipulated by saliva or sweat. Or it could be dependent on the weather, wind, rain. You can always feel positive that there's a result for the team that you're supporting.

We were delighted to be able to sit down with Akeesh and get to know more about a friendly face we’ve all grown accustom to seeing in the London office. We thanked him for his time and encourage all those who are cricket inclined, or just looking for a new podcast to have a listen to https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/big-swing-no-ding/id1564082312 https://open.spotify.com/show/0PhXvTl39wPMEFZY3VR9fO available on Apple, Spotify and other major audio services.