Women’s cricket in India set for a long innings

This month, India began their ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup campaign on a promising note with a convincing victory, first, against Pakistan in the first match, and then against the mighty West Indies. These two victories have warmed the cockles of cricket lovers’ hearts across India and sent expectations about India’s prospects soaring

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Aditya Mukherjee
Aditya Mukherjee
The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi

A chocolate ad on TV has become extremely popular among viewers and is grabbing eyeballs. It shows one of the male cricket fans in the stadium rooting for the Indian women’s team and leaping for joy the moment a cricketer scores the winning run by thwacking the last ball for a six. Another google ad shows a woman reporter deciding to do a story on the captain of the Indian women’s cricket team Mithali Raj while the reporter’s somewhat incredulous male colleague looks at her with eyebrows raised questioningly. 

Last year, the sensational and jaw-dropping catch in the boundary by Harleen Deol against England in a one-day match instantly went viral on social media and, overnight, she emerged as a cricket star in her own right. 

Even a decade ago, the very idea of promoting a product by highlighting the heroics of a woman cricketer hardly made good business sense to advertisers. Smriti Mandhana, the flamboyant and aggressive Indian opener has now become a role model for aspiring women cricketers along with Jhulan Goswami, popularly known as ‘Chakda Express’, Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur. Smriti, whose stock continues to rise like Mithali, has been signed up as a brand ambassador for GUVI (an online platform to learn computer programming) and a fantasy sports gaming platform.

indian women's cricket team India icc world cup
Courtesy: Twitter/BCCIWomen

Let’s not forget that Mithali Raj has now become the leading run-getter in women’s international cricket. These cricketers have a huge fan following on Instagram and Twitter. Kaur’s unbeaten innings of 171 against Australia in the last Women’s World Cup in 2017 undoubtedly remains one of the breathtaking displays of one-day batting by any player in the history of women’s cricket.

In the last few years, things have changed a lot as the Indian women’s cricket team has pulled off convincing wins overseas in important one-day and T20 matches. India has already won the Twenty20 Asia Cup six times. Mithali (39), who started playing test cricket since 2002, has turned the one-day team into a fighting unit ready to take on the likes of West Indies, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England.

This month, India began their ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup campaign on a promising note with a convincing victory, first, against Pakistan in the first match, and then against the mighty West Indies. These two victories have warmed the cockles of cricket lovers’ hearts across India and sent expectations about India’s prospects soaring. The fans are now fervently hoping the team wins its remaining matches convincingly and book its berth for the finals. Smriti Mandhana’s gritty 123 and Harmanpreet’s defiant 109 against the West Indies proved that India can be a strong contender for the cup this time around. 

The current women’s cricket team is bristling with young fast and spin bowlers who can make short work of their opponents as they did against the mighty West Indies team in their third match. Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana and Rajeshwari Gayakwad, to name just a few, have a bright future ahead of them.

At 39, the tall and lanky Jhulan Goswami, who is also not only the leading wicket-taker in women’s ODI history, having taken 248 wickets in 197 games, but also the highest wicket-taker (40) in Women’s World Cup history, remains as energetic and fleet-footed as ever and continues to bowl at 120 kmph. Her swings and yorkers continue to give nightmares to batters. She is playing in her fifth world cup.

indian women's cricket team India icc world cup
Jhulan Goswami after her landmark of completing 250 wickets in ODIs cricket Courtesy: Twitter/BCCIWomen

However, we need more such young and talented women cricketers in our team like in men’s cricket. There is a tendency among many Indian parents in remote areas to discourage their daughters from playing cricket as they treat it as a male preserve. This mindset needs to change. The nineteen-year-old Indian opener Shafali Verma from Haryana had to disguise herself as a boy to play cricket in her hometown. She continued to hang tough and it was her passion and enthusiasm for the game that made her earn her place in the women’s cricket team. 

Now, her parents feel proud of having encouraged her to realize her talent and innate potential. Today she promotes an automobile brand. Another promising young Indian left-arm spinner, Radha Yadav, the daughter of a vegetable seller, started playing cricket with boys at a very young age and worked hard to reach where she is.

There are still new talents waiting to be tapped in remote corners of the country. All these budding young women cricketers need are proper motivation, guidance and encouragement. Only then can we have more of the likes of Smriti, Harmanpreet and Jhulan in the team in the coming years.

indian women's cricket team India icc world cup
Smirti Mandhana after completing her century against West Indies Courtesy: Twitter/BCCIWomen

Like men’s IPL, BCCI should seriously think of introducing women’s IPL so that women from remote areas, with oodles of talent, and waiting to hit the ground running, can make good in the near future. They need proper exposure and opportunities to prove their expertise and make a strong case for selection in the Indian team. After all, cricket has become financially viable as a career choice. There is also no denying the fact that women cricketers continue to get a raw deal when it comes to inequalities in pay.

In their book titled An Equal Hue: The Way Forward for the Women in Blue by Snehal Pradhan, Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik, the stark difference between the men’s and women’s contracts has been highlighted. The women cricketer’s match fee is still a fraction of what the men get. These are some of the key issues that need to be taken up on a priority basis by the BCCI.

Recently, former Indian cricketer, Anjum Chopra broached the idea of women’s IPL but whose time, it seems, has not come due to lack of sponsorship. Once the women’s IPL gets off the ground, they can look forward to earning a huge amount of money at the auction. Things might change in the coming days as women’s cricket is on a good wicket. 

Winning the ICC World Cup this year may seem to be a bridge too far for this spirited team, but you never know. They have it in them to turn things around and take the world by surprise.

Aditya Mukherjee
Aditya Mukherjee
The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi

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