I was a little girl when Javed Miandad hit Chetan Sharma for the infamous last-ball six in Sharjah.
When connected with the ball, I remember the shock, the disbelief and the complete silence. Till one Hindi expletive broke the silence – and for the next few minutes, there was just noise. Hurt, anger and swear words – the aunts keeping up with the uncles and to their credit, even out cussing them.
In my family, the men and women were equally involved cricket spectators – my aunt would always have a thing or two to say about Ravi Shastri’s slow strike rate, my mum constantly shouted out instructions to Kapil Dev and the men were sometimes asked to leave the room because they were bringing bad luck to the team.
It is no surprise then that I grew up to be a huge cricket fan. Sharjah scarred my school years, match fixing allegations broke my heart, and Sourav Ganguly’s boys taught me to hope again.
Cricket wasn’t just a sport – it was part of who I was. None of this passion however translated into any interest in playing the game though. The thought never even crossed my mind. There are several reasons for that – a big reason could be I have zilch sporting ability and limited motor coordination skills.
But part of the reason could also be there was just no infrastructure in my hometown which made it possible for a girl to play cricket. And there was no woman cricketer icon that I looked up to. My dad told me once about Diana Edulji – he said, she is like a ‘female Kapil Dev’. I think what he meant was she was the captain of the team like Kapil Dev was. But I didn’t care too much – about women’s cricket or women cricketers.
To be honest, I still don’t. Even though, there is definitely more awareness about the sport now. I have a perfunctory, polite interest in women’s cricket and I say the right things. I know there are a host of biopics being planned on Jhulan Goswami and Mithila Raj. I might or might not watch them. I will however, watch Ranveer Singh’s 83 on the day of release.
I am not emotionally invested in women’s cricket. The politically correct, woke side of me might be. So when the news first broke of the new BCCI retainer contracts to the senior men and women teams, I was indifferent.
There was a huge pay gap – a grade A male cricketer like KL Rahul gets five crore rupees annually, and a grade A female cricketer Hamanpreet Kaur gets fifty lakhs.
My initial rationale was that if you don’t have the viewership interest and the revenues the boys get, you don’t get paid the same. Simple. And then it struck me quite suddenly. It wasn’t the job of the women cricketers to ensure spectator interest. It wasn’t their job to get women interested in playing cricket. It was the BCCI’s job. I am not taking an emotional feminist pitch on this – in fact, I am going to try and mansplain my way through this one.
There is a school of thought that says look at the men and women teams as market products and pay them based on their revenue potential.
By that token, men get paid more, and women less. Fair enough? No, not quite.
This is the inherent weakness in this argument. Should we wait for the market to decide a person’s worth? Then, no affirmative action programme would ever work because the already powerful tend to perpetuate the status quo.
There is a line of well- meaning thought which says don’t get too worried about equitable pay, instead invest in domestic women’s cricket at the grassroots. Get women on the same level as the men and it will eventually be an equal playing and paying field.
I have news for you. It doesn’t work that way. The two have to go hand in hand. Investment in domestic women’s cricket at the grassroots AND equitable pay are not delinked. It is pure economics, and not an abstract woke argument.
The investment cycle works like this: raise pay for female cricketers, more girls think this is a viable career and raise their game.
Fortunately, investment in infrastructure means they have the means to do that. Then, better skills means more sponsors who can’t afford more expensive sports zero into women’s cricket like they did with football and kabaddi. This in turn means more advertising and a wider telecast and involved spectators. This means more sponsorships for players and the virtuous cycle of investment sets in. It also means that the BCCI could make still more money off women’s cricket instead of treating it like a politically correct charity they support.
Women’s cricket doesn’t need to be CSR. It can be a revenue stream.
There is a book that we could all read. It isn’t about cricket. It is called Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World created by Men and it is by Caroline Creado Perez. This makes the simple point that hard, cold data is often presented to make a neutral case. Without realising that there is a gender bias implicit in data already – ‘it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems’. Therefore, if you use existing data to gauge the earning potential of women’s cricket, you are choosing data which is tailored for a man’s world.
There is no reason to accept a situation where women are given crumbs – if you dole them out peanuts, do not expect a five course meal.
(Naomi Datta tweets at nowme_datta and watches cricket selectively these days. Nothing will convince her T20 is legit)