Willow women

Indian women cricketers have been semi-finalists on both the occasions they played in the T20 World Cup despite the lack of resources and facilities, writes M. S. Unnikrishnan

Poonam Raut (L) and Harmanpreet Kaur’s 57-run third wicket stand was the highlight of the Indian Innings during the semi-final match with Australia in Gros Islet recently.

Women’s cricket is still the poor cousin of its male counterpart, despite the game being administered by the cash-rich Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). As part of the International Cricket Council’s initiative to develop women’s cricket, the Women’s Cricket Association of India was merged with the BCCI in 2006. Though a lot has changed since it came under the ambit of the BCCI, women cricketers are still looked down upon as players of a lesser God.

The Indian team’s preparation for the recently concluded third edition of the World Twenty20 Cricket Championship in the West Indies was a case in point. While the men’s team was provided with all imaginable facilities possible, including abundant match practice, which they got through the 45-day IPL fiesta, the women’s team was hastily brought together for a 10-day camp in the run-up to the World Cup. Yet, the women proved their worth to sail into the semi-finals, where they encountered a highly motivated Australia, and lost by seven wickets, in a daylight match played in St Lucia.

The highlight of the Indian knock was a 57-run third wicket stand between Poonam Raut (44) and Harmanpreet Kaur (24). Mithali Raj, who scored 16 runs, against Australia, emerged as the top-scorer of the championship with 129 runs while Diana David, with nine wickets, became the top wicket-taker of the tournament.

Ironically, while the men exited after losing to Sri Lanka in a crucial pool match and failed to make it to the Super League stage, women sailed past the islanders by a whopping 71 runs, to take their place in the semi-finals, by topping the group. Diana David gave a fiery bowling display to take 4 for 12 to restrict Lanka to 73 for 9, while Sulakshna Naik (59) and Mithali Raj (39-ball, 52 not out) excelled with the bat to give India a handsome total of 144 for 3.

Individually, India had some fine players in Captain Jhulan Goswami, who is a medium-pacer, seamer and vice-captain Amita Sharma, leg-spinner Priyanka Roy, left-arm spinner Gauhar Sultana, wicket-keeper opener Sulakshna Naik, Poonam Raut, Rumeli Dhar, former captain and a veteran of four World Cups Anjum Chopra, who at 31 was the oldest player in the team, and of course Mithali Raj, who had created a world record with a superb knock of 214 against England at Taunton (England) in 2002.

How mindlessly women’s cricket is treated became evident when coach Sudha Shah was replaced by a male coach KVP Rao, barely 10 days before the team left for the West Indies. Shah had toured with the Indian team during their 3-1 ODI series triumph in England prior to the World Cup.

Such ad hoc measures have been the bane of women’s cricket, and they continue to dog the game, even after a professionally run BCCI took over the reins. Till 2008, veteran players like Diana Eduljee and Subhangi Kulkarni used to get invited to the BCCI working committee meetings to take up the issues of women’s cricket. Now, not only no woman gets invited to the BCCI meetings, but the Board is also planning to appoint a male coach for the women’s team on a long-term basis.

The Indian women’s team was capable of entering the challenge round with better preparation and planning, though they do not have much experience in T20, unlike the men players.

Like the men players, fitness was a problem with the women, too, though it was due to lack of match practice and conditioning camps. Mostly the same set of players has been donning the India colours. This practice has its advantages as well as disadvantages. Their experience is a plus point, but lack of bench strength is a problem. Fielding has been a major grey area of the team. Poor ground fielding was one of the reasons for India’s defeat against Australia in the semis.

Poonam Raut is an experienced player, who lends stability to middle-order batting

Though women’s cricket has produced occasional star players like Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Eduljee, Anjum Chopra, Jhulan Goswami, Mithali Raj etc, by and large, they remain unknown persons, who operate under the long shadows of the men players. Around 10 of the Indian team members are employed with the Railways. This itself is a disincentive for the team, as it prevents development of the game at the state level. Most state associations do not take much interest in development of women’s cricket, barring perhaps with the exception of Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Mumbai, Tamil Nadu etc.

Though the Women’s Cricket Association of India was formed in 1973 to give specialised administration to the game, the country played its first Test match against the West Indies in 1976. And they haven’t done too badly since then, considering the restrictive and corrupt atmosphere under which women’s cricket operated, for most of these years.

Since India first played in the ODI World Cup in 1978, they finished fourth on three occasions, were semi-finalists twice, runners-up in 2005 and got a third place-finish in 2009.

At the Asian level, Indian girls have excelled consistently, bagging the Asia Cup four times — thrice on the trot from 2004, with the last victory coming in 2008. And they haven’t done badly in the T20 World Cup either, ending up as semi-finalists on both occasions they played.


It needs better management
Sunita Sharma

Sunita Sharma is the first woman cricket coach to pass out with a coaching diploma from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala. She has trained a number of national and international players, and a large number of Ranji players — both among boys and girls. Her most famous trainees include former Indian wicket-keeper Deep Das Gupta, Ajay Jadeja, Gagan Khoda and members of the present women’s team Anjum Chopra and vice-captain Amita Sharma. She has the distinction of coaching the women’s cricket team for a number of years, and is presently one of the top-end coaches of the Sports Authority of India.

Sunita was awarded the Dronacharya Award in 2004-05 for her overall contribution to cricket, but now when the BCCI is looking for a national coach for the women’s team, her name rarely crops up.

“I am not sure whether the Board is aware of my existence,” says Sunita, whose coaching centre at the National Stadium was an epicentre of many famous regular visitors, including Sachin Tendulkar’s coach Ramakant Achrekar.

Sunita says women’s cricket can get a real makeover only if most state associations take interest in the development of the game, like the Delhi and District Cricket Association is doing. She says top players should be employed in their respective states, instead of all of them serving the Railways, as is presently the case, so that the game can be developed across the country in a systematic manner.

Sunita Sharma was awarded the Dronacharya Award in 2004-05 for her contribution to the game. Photo: Mukesh Aggarwal

“Women’s cricket should be introduced at the school level. Only then a proper, solid base could be created,” she avers. She said the Indian team should have been put through long coaching camps before embarking on the World Cup campaign, as the girls were short of match practice, which really reflected in their game.

Fitness was another problem with most girls, which was exposed through their ponderous and sloppy fielding. She said an unfortunate part of the women team’s training was that no coach with technical knowledge was attached to the team to correct the flaws during the camps and guide the girls on a proper course.

“We have a very good team. What it needs is proper guidance and correction. My trainee Amita Sharma is now more of a batswoman than a medium pacer (though basically she is a seamer),” notes Sunita. She said as the Railways employed all good players, it gave a lop-sided competition at the domestic level, because the Railways canter away with most of the honours in the absence of worthwhile challengers.

“Spread the game across the country as more and more girls are willing to take to cricket, now that the facilities and cash are adeqaute, though not at par with the men,” concludes Sunita. — MSU