“Marry me Harmanpreet; my wife says she’s okay with it,” implored a banner, in the 25,000 strong crowd, at the ICC Women’s World Cup final at Lord’s on 23 July 2017.
Apart from its humour, the banner tells the story of how the Indian eves, much against expectations, had managed to create an emotional connect with millions of fans over almost a month of intense competition. As skipper Mithali Raj later said, this World Cup would be a defining moment in the history of women’s cricket in India.
The very talented Harmanpreet Kaur, a bundle of energy, after her brilliant batting at the knock-out stage, deserved every inch of adulation and attention that she received from the media and fans all over the world. One really doesn’t know if she took heed of that banner or if it was a topic of banter in the dressing room later. But one thing is for sure: Harmanpreet Kaur is a star in the making!
‘Old’ warhorse, Mithali Raj, Tushar Arothe — the coach, and Jhulan Goswami, the ‘leader without a title’, deserve credit for transforming the youngsters under their charge into match-winners. The diminutive Punam Raut (who reminds one of Ramnath Parkar), Smriti Mandhana, Veda Krishnamurthy, Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey and Ekta Bisht will be players to watch in the coming years, after their performances in the recently concluded World Cup.
After winning four games in a row, including a 35-run win over England in the opener of the round-robin league, the Indians stuttered against the South Africans and the Australians. They were then under pressure to beat the New Zealanders in the final league match to qualify for the semi-finals.
A classy hundred from the skipper was just the sort of momentum the Indian girls needed against the Kiwis. Rajeshwari Gayakwad, the left-arm spinner then grabbed a fifer as New Zealand crashed to a 186-run loss. India, therefore, qualified to face the mighty Australians in the semi-finals.
The six-time winners, however, hadn’t accounted for a player named Harmanpreet Kaur; and it boomeranged! Her unbeaten 171 knocked the wind out of the Australians and they had to concede a 36-run defeat to their lesser known opponents.
After restricting England to a below par score in the final, the Indian girls ‘choked’, and choked badly! With an asking rate of around six-an-over, and cruising along nicely, Harmanpreet and Punam Raut got out at inappropriate moments.
The Indian think-tank then made the mistake of sending in Veda Krishnamurthy ahead of the young, Deepti Sharma and paid for it. India’s lower order was fragile and Anya Shrubsole (6-46), the England pacer kept her nerve, bowled straight, and helped the hosts win by nine runs.
Despite losing a final they should have won, Indian fans hailed the heroics of the Indian girls. “You may have lost the final, but you have won out hearts!” was the social media trend for a couple of days. It was the emotional connect at work.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), perhaps jumped the gun, and declared cash awards for the members of the squad even before the final was played. At a recent felicitation function, the Railways Minister, Suresh Prabhu, eulogising the performance of the girls, said, “In a few years’ time, people will ask if Indian men too play cricket.”
While the revelries and felicitations of the ‘Women in Blue’ go on, and deservingly so, a few questions beg for an answer:
1. Are we going overboard in our praise of the Indian women’s cricket team’s one-off performance?
2. Are we trying to undermine the status that the men’s squad has achieved, through years and years of hard work, by unnecessarily ‘comparing’ them to the ‘Women in Blue’?
3. Is an Indian Premier League for women viable?
Sunil Gavaskar, the legendary opener, dubbed India’s performance in the Women’s World Cup in England as a ‘watershed moment’ in India’s cricket history. Women’s cricket can only get better from here and hence, the effort put in by the team, led by Mithali Raj, deserves all the accolades it receives, besides media exposure and cash rewards.
With more exposure in the media, the players could attract sponsorship and endorsement deals, leading to a better lifestyle for them and their families. In the long run, this would mean better talent flowing into the game and improved international performances on a regular basis.
It is believed that star players like Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet etc. have already been approached for endorsements. This is good for women’s cricket in India.
However, the self-proclaimed ‘cricket experts’, on social media and otherwise, are doing women’s cricket in India a lot of disservice by comparing it to men’s cricket. Harmanpreet Kaur, in a recent interview, said, “Women’s cricket is a different game altogether. It is important that our performances be recognised for what they are, and not compared to men’s cricket.” Wise words those.
The man versus woman debate in sport has been going on ad nauseam the world over. In athletics, for example, from the 100-metre sprint to the 10,000-meter run, the timing gap between elite male and female performers remains at around 11 percent. In explosive events like shot putt etc. the gap is larger, at around 19 per cent.
McEnroe recently said that Serena Williams would be ranked 700 in men’s tennis. Though that may be a bit of an exaggeration, the fact remains that women can’t match the men’s power game in tennis. Women’s football too is way behind the men’s game.
Men, due to testosterone, are generally heavier and taller. They have bigger hearts and lungs, denser bones, less fat and more oxygen carrying blood cells. Hence, when we compare women’s performances to those of men — except in certain sports like gymnastics, skiing etc., we are actually comparing apples to oranges.
Therefore, as Harmanpreet said, our ‘experts’ would do well to enjoy the women’s game for what it is and not indulge in unnecessary hypothetical exercises.
And that is also one reason why women can’t expect to piggy-back on the momentum and following built up in the IPL by men cricketers, over the last decade. They shall have to begin, from the beginning, and build up thrust over a period of time. That too, if there are businesses/individuals interested in investing money and resources in women’s cricket.
BCCI should therefore be looking to introduce a ‘demonstration’ mini-T20 league for women in the ensuing IPL season. There could be four teams made up of 60 players, 30 of them from other cricket playing countries. These teams would play a round-robin league, on a double-leg basis, at IPL centres to take advantage of the atmosphere of the IPL season.
This mini league would allow BCCI to test the waters and also showcase the event to potential franchises. The spectator response, and along with it the TRPs of channels covering the women’s game, would help BCCI take a decision on launching a women’s IPL from Season 12 onwards; if at all.
The mini league would also provide invaluable IPL experience to some of India’s best women cricketers.
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After Harmanpreet’s match-winning 171 not out against Australia, a comparison was made of it, by some commentators, with Kapil Dev’s epic knock against Zimbabwe in 1983. The legendary all-rounder is said to have reacted angrily to the same. “Why do we indulge in such comparisons?” he is said to have asked.” Why can’t we just celebrate a great inning played by the girl?”
So let's toast the ‘Women in Blue’, and celebrate women’s cricket — that’s what we should be doing now!
The author is a sportswriter and caricaturist. A former fast bowler, he is also a mental toughness trainer.