If you had asked me last month to name three cricketers in the Indian women's team, I’d probably have displayed rampant ignorance and come up with Diana Edulji from way back when. Maybe most Indians are smarter and more on the ball, but I’d be a hypocrite if I said that women’s cricket was any great priority in my scheme of things.
I would have laughed in your face if you had told me I’d shift focus from an India versus Windies ODI. But I did. The one on Sunday had about it the excitement of witnessing grass grow. The only relief came when we changed TV channels over to the one showing the World Cup match against Pakistan. Although the Windies won in a treacly non-contest where the Indians deliberately put the brakes on and played in slow motion to lose by 11 runs, there was no nail-biting tension.
On the other hand, as they say in golf, "These girls are good… and they are for real".
And now the names roll off the tongue which such ease. From the darkness of total anonymity and into the spotlight. Mithali Raj, Punam Raut, Ekta Bisht and her 5 wickets for 8 runs, Harmanpreet Kaur, Jhulan Goswami, the impish Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav, and Smriti Mandhana were favoured over Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravichandran Ashwin. And except for a cursory glance at the score, there was no interest whatsoever in the Caribbean calypso.
Women’s cricket appears to have suddenly come into its own and given the 50-over format a fillip, because it was literally dying on the vine. Keep in mind, the ODI is now dependent on the women’s circuit.
Mithali set the pace when she answered a media question about her favourite male cricketer by asking, "Do you ask them (the men) their favourite female cricketer?" Splendid repartee. And there is colour in the characters, too. The Indian captain reading books impassively as the match proceeds, without a care in the world. The effort of fielding put into fielding by a team filled with fit, lean and mean characters. Wonderful!
I have watched them in three matches and I feel I've known them for years.
We would be crazy to lose this momentum and whether or not India win the title, I would hazard a safe guess that this is truly the first time the larger population and especially the men in India are identifying with the skill and expertise of the women.
It is truly time to take them seriously.
I am actually reworking my schedule to ensure I do not miss any of the matches. Not the soporific stuff being played out painfully in the Windies, but the exciting stuff in chilly London.
If you are not watching, you are missing something. Our women are good. Look at tennis, badminton, athletics, wrestling and boxing. And now, cricket.
It's time the BCCI woke up to the turnstile potential of these cricketers with a heart for fighting. The media has a role, too. This old, dreary habit of giving the women short shrift and carrying much larger copy on dead-in-the-water games is unfair and shoddy.
We also have to get them more facilities, more money and a better deal in payments. These are not rich kids, they are average middle-class women and they bring us glory.