Saturday, April 16, 2005

Great Step FORWARD

They may have proved their mettle by entering the World Cup final. They may have made cricket lovers sit up and take note of them. Still, much needs to be done to popularise and promote women's cricket in the country, writes Vikramdeep Johal

The Indian team has an inspiring captain in 22-year-old Mithali Raj, who braved a strained knee to play in the final

A few days before the 2005 Women’s Cricket World Cup began, a schoolgirl from Patiala, Tarika, wrote a letter to The Tribune expressing her displeasure at the excessive media coverage of men’s cricket. She found it unfair and unreasonable that star players’ visits to salons or temples became big news, while Mithali Raj’s record-breaking batting performance did not.

Now here was a rare youngster who wasn’t dazzled by every move made by the men in blue. 

She was curious to read about women cricketers and their achievements. 

Her wish was fulfilled to some extent as the Indian eves forced the media and cricket lovers to shrug off their disinterest and take notice of the team’s sterling show in South Africa. Led from the front by Mithali Raj, who scored 199 runs in the tournament, India defeated England, South Africa, Ireland and the West Indies on their way to the semifinal. 

Anjum Chopra is one of India’s most experienced batswoman, having played over 70 one-dayers.
Anjum Chopra is one of India’s most experienced batswoman, having played over 70 one-dayers.

Then they outplayed defending champions New Zealand, who had beaten them in the league phase, to enter the final for the first time. 

The eves were routed by Australia in the title clash, losing by 98 runs, but not before proving that they were no less than their male counterparts.

In fact, they performed marginally better than the men, who lost by 125 runs in the 2003 World Cup final to Australia.

Their dream run has generated a bit of excitement in the country, but it mustn’t be forgotten that all is not well with women’s cricket in India.

Poor coverage

The Indian media has often given a raw deal to the women cricketers. Not surprisingly, the coverage of the 2005 World Cup left a lot to be desired. 

The news stories about India’s league matches were short and sketchy and the scorecard was conspicuous by its absence. 

 The Indian eves need to perform well consistently to attract the attention of the media and the public.
The Indian eves need to perform well consistently to attract the attention of the media and the public. 

No photos were available of these encounters. It was only from the semifinal onward that detailed stories, scorecard and pictures began to appear.

Worst of all, there was not even a single item about the event in recent issues of India’s leading sports magazine. 

As far as the electronic media is (un)concerned, no highlights were shown, forget about live telecast.

More sponsors please

Lack of sponsors and shortage of funds have always been the major factors hindering the growth of the women’s game in the country. 

Chequered history

Women’s Cricket Association of India formed under the presidentship of Begum Hamida Habibullah
First National Women’s Cricket Championship held in Pune
India miss the first Women’s World Cup in England as the team fails to apply in time

Rani Jhansi Trophy, the inter-zonal limited overs tournament, held in Kanpur

India invite New Zealand for a series and also pay the air fares of the touring team
India record their first Test win by defeating West Indies at Patna

India host the second World Cup but finish fourth (and last) behind Australia (the winners), England and New Zealand

The England under-25 team visits India. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, a firm supporter of women’s cricket, herself welcomes the team members on their arrival

Indian women tour England. Sandhya Agarwal sets a national Test record by scoring 190 at Worcester

n Neetu David
Left-arm spinner Neetu David sets a world record for most wickets in a Test innings with her haul of 8-53 against England at Jamshedpur

Neetu David

n India beat New Zealand to win a one-day series for the first time

India host the World Cup for the second time. A record 11 countries take part in the tournament sponsored by Hero Honda. The final between Australia and New Zealand at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata is witnessed by about 80,000 spectators

Chandrakanta Ahir smashes an unbeaten 166 in a one-dayer against SriLanka at Agra as India pile up 301 for 4 in 50 overs

India enter the World Cup semifinal but lose to hosts and eventual winners New Zealand

India win their first Test on foreign soil against South Africa
n Mithali Raj
Mithali Raj hits a record-breaking 214 in a Test against England at Taunton

Mithali Raj

India defeat New Zealand 4-1 in a home series

India win the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka
India lose 3-4 to Australia in a one-day series on home soil

India beat defending champions New Zealand in the World Cup semifinal; Lose to Australia in their first-ever final

The Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) has often found it hard to get financial help from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which is incidentally the richest cricket board in the world. 

Moreover, the WCAI and the BCCI function as separate entities, while in Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa, the women’s associations have merged with the men’s board.

In a welcome move, the International Cricket Council recently brought the International Women’s Cricket Council under its umbrella. With merger being the in thing in the cricket world, what is the Indian board waiting for?

Sadly, despite their fairly good performance over the years, the women’s team has attracted few sponsors. 

Sahara India boosted the morale of the team on the eve of the 2005 World Cup by signing a three-year sponsorship deal with the WCAI. 

The outcome of this backing is plainly visible. However, more sponsors are needed to maintain the momentum. 

If Sania Mirza can give Sourav Ganguly and Co. a run for their ad money, why not Mithali Raj or even Neetu David, who was the highest wicket-taker in the World Cup with 20 scalps?

Ironically, the most familiar female faces associated with cricket on TV are those of non-cricketers like Mandira ‘Noodle straps’ Bedi and her Doordarshan clone Roshni Chopra.

Public interest is another crucial factor. The women’s game may not be as fast and furious as the men’s, but it is no less exciting or keenly contested. 

(ICC President Ehsan Mani called the just-concluded World Cup ‘entertaining’). 

The viewers can form an opinion about how good it is only if they get to see the matches. 

Vigorous promotion can attract people to the TV sets or the stadiums, as one saw in the case of the Premier Hockey League.

Road ahead

The progress of Indian women’s cricket depends a lot on the performance of the team in the near future. 

In the words of Diana Edulji, arguably India’s greatest spinner of the fair sex, "It’s a vicious circle — unless we do particularly well, we won’t get attention. And when we don’t get attention, we can’t do well or attract youngsters to the game."

The eves must work harder to iron out their flaws. 

Australia were no doubt a formidable side, but the Indian team had themselves to blame for the defeat in the final. 

No less than four batswomen — Jaya Sharma, Anjum Chopra, Rumeli Dhar and Hemlata Kala — were run out.

India have for long been the fourth-placed team in the world, the top three being Australia, England and New Zealand.

Buoyed by their World Cup heroics, they should try to consolidate their place as the world’s second-best team and aim to move up. 

The confidence gained by victories in the one-dayers should also help them to improve their showing in Test matches. 

A big plus point is that they have a young and able captain in 22-year-old Mithali, who bravely decided to play in the all-important final despite a strained knee. 

Talking about remarkable veterans like Hemlata Kala, Anjum Chopra and Neetu David, talented and committed girls are needed to replace them when the need arises — with girls who love cricket, who feel for women’s cricket, like Tarika.

Photos: AFP/AP/PTI