Praise, Celebrate, Forget, Repeat.
This is what happens with the Indian Women’s Cricket team often. They perform well, exceed expectations, we heap praises on them, celebrate those milestones for some time, only to forget them and move on to follow the more dominant men’s team. Steps taken to sustain the quality of such performances – Nil.
Generally an impressive show in a major tournament brings heaps of changes to the sport of the nation. Awards and rewards apart, there are structural changes made for the betterment of the team and the sport in that country. There’s encouragement for more people to take to the sport and bring glory to the nation. India were the runners-up in the 2005 edition of the Women’s World Cup, when they lost by 98 runs to Australia in the final. Ideally, there should have been reforms for women’s cricket then. But nothing much was done on that front then. Unlike now, the media coverage for the women’s team was far less. People who knew and followed the female team were few in number. Even a second place finish in the World Cup hadn’t done much in terms of increase in coverage and viewership.
The Indian team led by Mithali Raj competed exceptionally well in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. They started the tournament in sound fashion with four consecutive wins. It was a dream start. After a couple of stutters along the way, they thrashed New Zealand in the must-win game and then caused a major upset by upstaging Australia in the semis to set a date with England in the final. Although they went on to lose the final, the turnaround of this Indian side to reach the summit clash came as a pleasant surprise. After all, they had crashed out in the league stage in the previous edition, and given how they were placed before this tournament began (they had to play the qualifiers to get through), few gave them the chance of making it past the league games.
This World Cup campaign for India was touted to be on the lines of the male team’s 1983 World Cup, when they surprised the world by becoming the world champions, which ushered in a new era for Indian cricket. Perhaps the state of women’s cricket in India is summed up from the fact that every good performance from them is just being looked as the start of many good things to come for them, with no promise to deliver the facilities or a medium to do so. What drives home the point is that Jhulan Goswami had said this after their campaign in 2005 – “Like the 1983 World Cup win had triggered an interest in the game in India, I hope our achievement, too, will motivate more girls to come forward in this sport and in others,” (The Telegraph news archive dt. 15th April, 2005) – and yet in 2017, we are comparing the team again with that of 1983.
The nagging question that remains is, how long do our female cricketers churn out notable performances, just to be brushed aside after a moment of glory? Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami are legends in their own way in view of their ongoing service to Indian cricket. While the former leads the batting charts in women’s ODI cricket for the most runs scored, the latter is the leading wicket taker in women’s ODIs. How many more deserving female cricketers do we lose without them getting a huge platform to exhibit their skills to a larger audience and an opportunity of being a part of a big tournament win?
Of course, the 2017 edition in general is being talked about being notches higher than the previous ones, in the process changing the perception towards women’s cricket to being way different than what it was. And what better moment than to strike while the iron is hot! The Indian cricket board has a ripe opportunity to do something for our women’s cricket, like it did for the men’s game by introducing a competition like the Indian Premier League.
The number of players who owe their careers to the IPL is huge, and the beneficiaries include cricketers world over and not just Indians. The likes of Shane Watson, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, James Faulkner etc. resurrected their career or started playing for their countries after getting noticed in the Indian T20 league. Players like Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Hardik Pandya among others are also a find of the IPL. A tournament that could do so much good for men’s cricket can bring plenty of positives in the sport for women too. Most of the players in the Indian women’s squad Are young, and such a tournament would go a long way in shaping their careers.
Harmanpreet Kaur, one of the stars of India’s World Cup campaign, showed a glimpse of how beneficial such an initiative can prove. She turned out for Sydney Thunders in the Women’s Big Bash League and played some great knocks, which stood her in good stead going into the World Cup. A couple of match-winnings knocks in the global tourney underlined her ability and the positives of such exposure.
It’s time women’s cricket got a big platform to showcase their talents. Our female cricketers may not be as consistent as our men’s team, but they are steady enough to get regular mentions and accolades; they certainly are better than being the second best. It’s high time that the fervor surrounding the male cricketers is also passed on and shared with the women’s team. The least we could do to start off, is to telecast their matches regularly and provide more coverage to women’s cricket as is done to men’s cricket.
And we can hope that till things really begin to progress towards this aspect, it doesn’t turn into yet another saga of the following:
Praise, Celebrate, Forget, Repeat.