Those magnificent women in blue
Indian sportswomen have gradually captured the national imagination. Names such as P.V. Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Mithali Raj, Geeta Phogat, M.C. Mary Kom, Deepika Kumari and Dipika Pallikal have become widely known on the strength of their performances in international tournaments. The Indian women’s cricket team—the women in blue—has now forced people to take notice of its ample talent.
The emergence of women in sports in a country that still does not adequately respect them in daily life is doubly important. One of the common themes in their extraordinary sporting trajectories is the strong parental support they got, despite the overall societal attitudes towards women achievers.
The story of how Smriti Mandhana rose from the playing fields of Sangli, a small town, to become the latest batting sensation in international cricket is a case in point. Her stroke-filled 90 runs, in only 72 balls, against England in the World Cup were a treat to watch. Mandhana was encouraged by her parents to take up cricket. And she got steadfast support from her coach, Anant Tambvekar.
Yet, an overall patronizing attitude persists. This was recently evident when a journalist asked Raj, captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, who her favourite male cricketer was. The cerebral star—who reads poetry while awaiting her turn to bat—did well to ask whether the journalist had ever asked the obverse question to a male cricketer.
The successful run that the women’s cricket team has had in the ongoing World Cup, including the 10th consecutive victory over Pakistan, should be seen against this backdrop. Women cricketers have pointed out that one of the difficulties they face is the thin international calendar, so they have to struggle to get into the groove for every Test series or limited-overs tournament. Interestingly, Indian women played an average of 1.6 Tests a year in the last decade compared to 7.2 Tests in the 1970s. That is exactly the opposite of what should happen.
How good are women cricketers? A few months ago, our data journalist Sachin P. Mampatta took a close look at the issue (goo.gl/gxahf1). The data analysis showed that women cricketers had had better Test bowling averages than their male counterparts since the 1970s. Women bowlers give far fewer runs for every wicket they take in Test matches. They also bowl more economical overs. The men do far better in the batting department. This essentially means that women’s cricket is less scoring and slower-paced than men’s cricket, an important difference in an era in which spectators have come to expect a flurry of runs, even in traditional Test matches. The slower pace of women’s cricket could be an important factor in keeping away crowds obsessed with soaring sixes.
The initial public recognition that women cricketers have now got is welcome. The national cricketing authorities need to build on this. The decision, earlier this year, by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to give Shantha Rangaswamy the CK Nayadu Lifetime Achievement Award for her services to Indian cricket was one welcome gesture. Rangaswamy was the original star of Indian women’s cricket, and its first Test centurion. Another positive was the decision to appoint Diana Edulji—the finest left-arm spinner in Indian women’s cricket—as one of the committee of administrators to oversee Indian cricket.
Like cricket in general, women’s cricket has now broken the old metropolitan boundaries and spread to smaller cities. Yet there is still not enough women’s cricket being played in India. The BCCI should apply its mind to the key issue of how to pack the women’s cricket calendar with more matches, so that there is more match practice as well as greater opportunities.
What has happened in Australia is instructive. Cricket Australia began the Big Bash League in 2011, following the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Four years later, it announced that it was flagging off a Big Bash League for women cricketers as well. There have been attempts earlier to set up an international women’s cricket league, based on the franchise model and operating out of Singapore.The Indian cricket authorities should seriously consider a variant of the IPL for women to help take Indian women’s cricket to the next level.
Should the BCCI schedule more cricket matches for the women’s team? Tell us at email@example.com