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Women’s cricket is the rage, with our women in blue giving stellar performances in the World Cup. Will this mean better opportunities for our girls?
Women’s cricket is not new to India. It goes back as far as four decades and more. Indian women made their first test debut in 1976, with the first ODI debut in 1978. We have had outstanding women cricketers such as Diana Eduljee and Shanta Rangaswamy, who are fondly remembered in the annals of cricket.
Although cricket has done far better as a spectator sport, with male cricketers being hero-worshiped as public icons, women’s cricket has mostly drawn a huge yawn. Our women have had to play to empty stadia, with the best of them going unrecognized. And the situation was not confined to India. Even in England, the home of cricket, “there were never more than a couple of hundred people watching” the inaugural women’s World Cup back in 1973, to quote ex-cricketer Lynn Thomas who had hit a century in that match.
Cricket is known as a gentleman’s game; the ladies were perhaps, looked upon as those who had no business on pitches and (cricket) dressing rooms. Even parents did not care to play ball.
Ex-cricketer Shobha Pandit (Mundkur) who currently trains youngsters in sports has spoken of how tough it is to get parents to let girls take up cricket.
It was hence, a delight to see our girls play to a packed stadium of 28000 people and loud cheers from Indian audiences at Lord’s on Sunday.
True, it was sad to see captain Mitali Raj go early. But the scintillating innings played by Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy and Punam Raut more than made up for it. Raut’s 86 was indeed a beauty to behold. In fact, if not for the lbw that put paid to her innings, she had looked set for a century. Earlier, Jhoolan Goswami’s bowling too, gave us ample reason to cheer. Even the newcomers played with a rare maturity. Unfortunately, with the crumbing of the middle order, the Indians lost their nerve, and ultimately lost the match. It was a great disappointment; but the girls had shown the world that they were in no way inferior to our boys; it was a moment of collective pride for us Indians!.
The triumph of Mitali Raj and her girls comes at a time when Dangal has broken all records at the box office in India and abroad. It is when Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Dipa Karmakar, Sania Mirza and Sakshi Tanwar have been at the forefront in making everyone realize that there is a lot more to sports than (male) cricket. Not to speak of the Phogat sisters, whose wrestling saga unfolding in Dangal has made many see sense in girls pursuing a ‘manly’ sport. What’s more, nearly all of them come from small towns with limited facilities.
In sports, the audience is the ultimate deciding factor. A sell-out stadium is a huge boost for every cricketer. For the women’s cricket team, it translates into improved pickings, and ample sponsorships. It should not be long before parents do not baulk at letting their daughters opt for cricket. Especially if it spells an alternative career choice!
At the moment, hardly any schools have girls’ cricket teams. In spite of cricket academies mushrooming in many cities, girls are often never accepted for coaching. Even where they are accepted, toilets and suitable changing rooms are lacking. Or else, these academies –for the lack of open space, are set up on the outskirts of cities, making it difficult or unsafe for girls to commute alone. These serve as bigger deterrents to parents letting their girls get coached for cricket. All this results in little competition and resulting expertise, as also very low standards of women’s cricket, with very few girls turning up for state-level selections. And obviously, no sponsorships to see budding talents thrive!
Official apathy plays a significant role, of course. In spite of taking over the administration of women’s cricket way back in 2006, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) did not even bother to give annual retainership contracts to women cricketers until 2015. Male cricketers, on the other hand, have had them since 2001. Even now, only Mitali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and two others have managed to get Grade A contracts, amounting to Rs 15 lakh a year. Others have only been given Grade B contracts. However, the girls have come a long way since the days when travelling for tournaments had to be at their own expense, and the money given for playing was just a paltry sum.
In the wake of the valiant performance put up at the World Cup by Mitali Raj and her team, BCCI has announced Rs 50 lakh to each of players, and Rs 25 lakh to the support staff, besides promising to put up an IPL-kind of tournament for women’s cricket. Let’s hope this translates into a better deal for our women cricketers!
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