‘Make haste slowly’ or the more colloquial ‘hurry up slowly’ is a good advice to heed, especially for the BCCI Committee of Administrators (CoA) who are trying to clumsily fast track the progress of women’s T20 cricket in India.
Their attempt to showcase women’s cricket through exhibition matches staged in front of a captive Indian Premier League (IPL) audience may end up doing more damage than good to the image of women’s cricket.
Cricket, particularly men’s international cricket, is a fast-paced game. It is around 15 percent faster than domestic cricket and many Indian players who progress from the Ranji Trophy find it difficult to instantly adapt to the changed tempo.
Perhaps the best example is of Shreyas Iyer who despite three seasons of success with Mumbai in domestic cricket, was found out by the pace of play in South Africa. He looked way too rushed whether fielding or batting. The dropped catches or misfields were a consequence of this.
Sure, he will eventually get there with greater awareness, exposure and preparation. But the point here is that pace of play, power and athleticism is what gives international sport the punch. It enhances viewing pleasure, whether on television or in-stadia.
This elevated pace of play is the reason that Premier League (English football) rather than Indian football is such a massive draw even among Indian viewers. The Premier League and other top-notch overseas leagues make Indian football seem sluggish in comparison.
In cricket, or specifically the IPL, the buzzwords are bat speed, power and intensity. The best of Indian cricketers, Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are as good as any overseas cricketer in these areas and they make cricket-viewing a pleasure. Likewise, Bengaluru spectators embraced AB de Villiers as a favourite for the sheer intensity he brought into his batting and fielding. In fact, one of the most compelling sights in IPL cricket has been the intensity with which Kohli and de Villiers run between the wickets. Their speed and agility in batting partnerships have made other hardened international cricketers seem laggards in contrast.
This is where women’s cricket will pale in comparison if showcased at an IPL event. The men’s event will be so overwhelming that it will show women’s cricket as low key. And frankly they don’t need this.
They need to be allowed to play at their own pace. They have to evolve their game and build a niche audience over a period of time. Unnaturally fast forwarding it could actually turn out to be a setback.
Apart from the aforementioned bat speed and intensity, there are practical difficulties, too.
Take IPL players’ warm-up for instance. Would security allow the warm-ups (60 to 90 minutes of stretching, loosening up, sprints, knock-downs, catching, throwing, bowling etc) to be held at a different venue? Won’t this stretch thin the security and thereby increase the chance of something untoward happening?
It may be recalled that in some of the earlier editions of the IPL, teams faced this problem when the opening ceremony and opening match were staged on the same day and at the same venue. Consequently they got around the issue by having the opening ceremony either on a different day or at a different venue (YMCA in Chennai, Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, NSCI in Mumbai, Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi etc).
The challenge in having two matches at the same venue in India (unlike in South Africa or England) is that the IPL is played in peak summer months, much after the end of the normal cricket season. Coming up with good pitches at that time of the year, when the searing summer heat plays havoc with the binding capacity of the clay, is very difficult. Under the circumstances, groundsmen cannot handle two matches with different boundary distances and markings on the same day.
Franchises also have too much riding on the main event to want any deviation in their team’s preparation for matches. They would want their players primed physically and mentally for the event and in ideal IPL conditions.
There is another logistical problem. No cricket stadium in India has four dressing rooms. They just have separate home team and visitors’ dressing rooms. So where are the women cricketers’ change rooms and wash rooms going to be? In Dhaka they have the unique distinction of housing four dressing rooms in the stadium which facilitate back-to-back T20 matches. But not here in India.
These apart, the biggest problem could come from the spectators. IPL crowds are boisterous, noisy and scathing in their comments. They would have come to watch thrill-a-ball cricket and could well be intolerant of women's cricket. Simply put, IPL crowd is not like Test cricket crowd where the folks are a lot more gender-sensitive. This could be very tough on women cricketers who are unused to playing in front of massive, vociferous and rancorous crowds.
In short, the image of women’s cricket will take a massive hit if it is played alongside the high decibel IPL which somebody once aptly described as “cricket on steroids”. A better option would be to have a separate event for the women where they can play at their own pace. Using the IPL as the yardstick to showcase their prowess would become completely counter-productive.