The curious tale of Indian women’s cricket

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To a large extent, the COVID-19 pandemic has disturbed the world in irreparable senses, and things are still taking time to fall back to place. The world of cricket was no different as it saw absolutely no action for around six months keeping in mind the risk of the virus.
In all that, the Indian men’s cricket team has done exceedingly well, winning a coveted series in Australia and a home series against England, before jetting off to the UK to play New Zealand in World Test Championship. The women’s cricket team will also accompany the men’s team, where they will play One-off Test, three T20s, and ODIs each against the England women’s cricket team.

Although this is a piece of bright news for women’s cricket, there are more pressing issues to be addressed.

The players, administrators, fans, broadcasters, commentators — everyone agrees that the time to up the ante on women’s cricket in India “is yesterday”.

And yet. The women’s team, as part of their preparation for the 2022 World Cup in New Zealand, were scheduled to tour England in September 2020; to play Australia in a five-game series in January this year; and to tour Sri Lanka in February.

Each time, it was the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) that pulled the plug; at no time was any explanation proffered. All this, during a period when the men played an edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the UAE, toured Australia over a two-month period to play all three formats of the game, then played host to England also over all three formats, and are now engaged in the next edition of the IPL.

As a result, we have, in Harmanpreet Kaur, a captain who has led the team to the finals of a world cup and has played a 100 T20Is for the country, and in Smriti, a woman ranked number 1 by the ICC earning the same amount as a Shardul Thakur (who was, at that point of time, in the squad merely as a backup pacer), a Manish Pandey (who has mostly been warming the benches), or a Kedar Jadhav (who isn’t even being picked in the squads any longer!). Fair play, eh?

How? When the women stepped onto the field on March 7 this year, it was the first time they were playing competitive cricket since the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup way back in March 2020. It was also their first ODI since November 2019.
Mithali Raj, the stalwart of Indian cricket for long has been vocal about issues regarding the women’s game.

“Personally, I have not felt that I should forgo a press conference because women’s cricket right now where it stands, it needs media support and it is important for players also to sort of try and help in the growth of the sport,” Mithali said on the eve of the team’s departure to the UK.

India women’s team cricketers are leaving no stones unturned in their preparation for the upcoming England tour, despite currently being in quarantine in Mumbai.
India will play under a new head coach Ramesh Powar, who replaced WV Raman earlier this month.

Women’s cricketers around the world have been realistic in accepting that the economics of gender equality need some time to catch up, especially in sport, where the athletes are both employees and products.

” There are a lot of misconceptions that we can’t play fast bowling or we can’t bowl fast. We should have mixed matches. I have also played a lot of matches against boys because that’s how we train. The issue of gender-inequality in cricket in India has been long withstanding, and I don’t think its going away anytime soon,” the 38-year old veteran said.
Recently, Mithali urged the BCCI to conduct the women’s IPL next year, saying the board should not “wait forever” for it and the tournament could initially be started on a “smaller scale”.

Why should the cricketers worry about the revenue – isn’t that the marketing and advertising departments’ job? If the cricket officials truly cared for the women’s game, they would have sought ways to increase interest in the women’s game. Revenue has to be created and earned – it doesn’t come from wishing.

As Mithali stresses, there should be an impetus to maintain this momentum, and work toward bringing women’s cricket closer to their male counterparts.

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