New Delhi: With two-third of India's women cricket team comprising employees of Indian Railways, union minister Suresh Prabhu feels like a "proud father whose girls have done well".
Speaking at a felicitation function to honour the Mithali Raj-led squad for its runners-up finish at the 2017 ICC World Cup, Prabhu said he is, in fact, confident that some years down the line people will ask "do men also play cricket?".
"Cricket was earlier identified with only men. But now times are changing so fast that after may be 20-30 years, somebody may think 'ok men also play cricket'," Prabhu's dry sense of humour was well-appreciated by all present.
"This is really a great gift of glory which has provided real happiness throughout the country. You didn't win the Cup but you did win hearts," the minister said.
Prabhu tried to put into perspective, what the success meant for women of India.
"This is a definite sign of changing times not just for women's cricket but it also gives a new sense of confidence to all women in India. Actually, we are used to celebrating achievements by the men but our women have shown they can play better cricket than men," Prabhu added.
That the minister tracked the progress of the team during the World Cup was evident when he lavished praise on skipper Mithali Raj for her "excellent answer".
It was a retort to an apparently sexist question, "Who is your favourite male cricketer?"
Mithali, whose answer has now become more famous than the question, replied in kind. "Do you ever ask a male cricketer, who is his favourite female cricketer?"
Prabhu thinks that women's team success story can be a "warning signal for men cricketers".
"Please be aware, people will watch more and more, women's cricket. Because, male cricketers are worshiped as gods and demi-gods... But, now with women in cricket -- not the Gods but Goddesses of cricket will be worshiped in the future."
With as many as 10 cricketers including skipper Mithali and vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur being a part of Indian Railways, Prabhu spoke about how the institution values its sportspersons.
"My 'family' has won many many laurels. We have 150 women cricketers. Diana Edulji has been a pioneer in women's cricket. Around 150 of them are in Railways. I am very very happy as a proud father would be. My girls have done well."
"Let me assure them that their careers in Railways is always safeguarded. I have taken a policy decision that you will be on all-time leave so that you can focus on the game. But always have Railways in your heart," he concluded.