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ICC Women's World Cup: Indian Women's Cricket's 'Cinderella Moment'?

Arnab Sen |Cricketnext | Updated: July 27, 2017, 3:00 PM IST
ICC Women's World Cup: Indian Women's Cricket's 'Cinderella Moment'?

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Any sport at its skillful best can be watched with zest and energy by both a live audience and on television. It is when the players produce compelling action on the field that sport transcends the boundaries of gender, both in terms of players in action and those watching. Though comparing men's and women's sport is a mistake which is often made by fans and pundits alike, both have an identity of their own.

This is mostly true of individual sports and the reason why the likes of Serena Williams, Carolina Marin, Florence Griffith Joyner, Yelena Isinbayeva, Lindsey Vonn have their own place in the hearts and minds of sports fans, and their skills are not compared with a male athlete of the same sport, unless you are a sexist like John McEnroe.

In case of team sports, it is a different issue altogether. The frenetic pace of the men's game, be it football or cricket or hockey, tends to overshadow the women's game. Perhaps the reason why the legendary Mia Hamm and the skillful Marta will never enjoy the cult status that a Messi or a Neymar enjoys.

Same reason why speaking of Mithali Raj and Sachin Tendulkar in the same breath could be fashionable, due to recent turn of events, but something that most people don't actually believe in.

And this is where the 2017 ICC Women's World Cup might just have changed the equation. Packaged and televised by the International Cricket Council like never before, women's cricket has just received a massive facelift, partly due to the performances on the field, and one of the biggest beneficiaries of this change could be the Indian girls, who lost a final they should have won.

ACTION PACKED TOURNAMENT

From upsetting hosts England in their tournament opener to convincingly defeating New Zealand in a virtual quarter-final to thumping defending champions Australia, the Indian team set the tempo from the beginning and kept raising the bar with one good performance after another.

A low scoring affair against Pakistan that saw Ekta Bisht take a fifer to seal the deal in India's favour was another moment to cherish for Indian fans.

Two defeats in a row against South Africa and Australia left them in a must win situation and it was a captain's hand from Mithali Raj that laid the foundation of India's win over the Kiwis.

The fact that Mithali became the highest run-getter in ODI cricket, close on the heels of Jhulan Goswami becoming the highest wicket-taker, shows how these two women have been the flag bearers of Indian women's cricket over the past two decades.

RISE OF A NEW GENERATION

For long women's cricket in India has been neglected by followers of the sport on the pretext of it being 'slow and boring'. But the rise of a new generation of players has led to a metamorphosis in the team's approach towards limited overs cricket and that was on display at the World Cup

The cavalier batting display by the likes of Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy got the competitive juices flowing in the fans as they crowded in pubs and jostled for space on the living room sofa to get a glimpse of the heroics of these girls.

Harmanpreet Kaur's knock against Australia in the semi-final has already become a milestone in Indian women's cricket history and has the potential of being the rallying point for those working towards taking women's cricket in India to greater heights in terms of its reach and popularity.

These women have also led to India becoming a more competitive unit, a team that can take on and defeat heavyweights Australia and England.

IS IT THE TIME RIGHT FOR WOMEN'S IPL?

No one in the BCCI believed in the merit of having a T20 league prior to the 2007 WT20, but the same board now runs the world's most popular T20 league. The IPL caught the fancy of the fans as much for the fun and frolic associated with the format as for the breathtaking action on the field.

Let's not forget that a league like the IPL has to be commercially viable and that is only possible if a broadcaster is ready to telecast the matches and corporates are ready to own franchises. You also need a big pool of young cricketers, who could be nurtured and would go on to play a role in these leagues. Has women's cricket in India reached that level of popularity or are there enough top quality players who could draw crowds in the stadiums and also lead to eyeballs on TV sets, the answer is an emphatic NO!

For any sport to grow you first need to improve the basics and that is what is the need of the hour for women's cricket in India, a lot more than a fancy league just because the men have one. Former Indian captain and COA member Diana Edulji hit the nail on its head in an interview with CNN-News18, when she said that the first thing BCCI needs to focus on is improving women's cricket at the grassroots level.

"You look at what Rahul Dravid is doing, he is creating a supply chain for the senior team. Women's cricket also needs the same, we need strong coaching and competitive tournaments at U-14 and U-16 levels," she said.

Currently there are a few age group tournaments organised by the BCCI. The senior cricketers play in a three-day inter zonal tournament, a one-day league and a T20 league. Also, only a handful of cricketers are centrally contracted and allowances for domestic cricketers is in the low thousands. Add to that the low number of matches and women's domestic cricket in India is an unrewarding profession.

Compare that to the two forces in women's cricket, England and Australia, both of whom have a sound professional domestic structure in place. The fact that both Australia and England started franchise based, money spinning T20 Leagues as late as 2016, shows that these countries first created a viable atmosphere for women's cricket and cricketers before creating a commercial product.

"The girls need to be made financially secure, only then will they be able to play freely. They have shown that the performances will follow if their basic needs are taken care of," said Edulji to CNN-News18 when asked about the road ahead for women's cricket.

MORE INTERNATIONAL EXPOSURE

Anyone who saw the final would agree that the Indians lacked experience of playing under pressure and that's what led to defeat from a winning position. Women's cricket came under the purview of BCCI in 2006 and while things have definitely improved since then, the board now needs to take a quantum leap in terms of ensuring more exposure for the team at the international level.

"The girls need to play more tournaments. Rather than holding camps, we need to develop match temperament in these players," Edulji said.

A look at the number of international matches played by Australia, England and India in 2015 and 2016 clearly show why the other two teams are better prepared to tackle pressure situations than the Indians.

Australia played a total of 48 one-day internationals and 19 T20Is in 2015 and 2016. England played 24 ODIs and 17 T20Is in the same period. While India has played a dismal 14 ODIs and 20 T20Is in the two years.


20152016
T20sODIsT20sODIs
India35179
Australia6191329
England681116


THE CINDERELLA MOMENT!

Life happened to Cinderella by accident, the cosmos had come together to end her misery. But that is not the case for Mithali Raj and her team, who have earned the spotlight by the sheer dint of their passion and diligence.

In the words of the great athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee,"We live in a world where sports have the potential to bridge the gap between racism, sexism and discrimination...if women are given an opportunity on an equal playing field the possibilities for women are endless."

Carpe diem! is the message for women's cricket in India, and it is the duty of both the custodians of cricket and its practitioners to make the most of the changing times.
First Published: July 25, 2017, 10:52 AM IST

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