Uncertainty Looms Over Future of India’s Women’s Cricket Team
India’s women’s cricket team’s next known official outing is the ICC World Cup in 2022.
While the country is busy revelling in the success of the Indian men's cricket team after their sensational victory Down Under; little do they know, the Women's team too was set to tour Australia in January.
However, the ongoing crisis due to the pandemic has stalled international cricket apparently only as far as the Indian women's team is concerned.
8 March 2020 marked a glorious chapter in the history of Indian cricket as the women's team reached the ICC World T20's finals for the first time and the Indian eves were supposed to have a busy year post their run with the four-team Women's T20 Challenge followed by a bilateral series against England in the month of June and July.
While the England Cricket Board were optimistic of staging the series – despite the pandemic – and were in talks with the BCCI on the bio-secure bubble along with the safety precautions, the Board simply decided to cancel the tour citing health concerns.
A Better Effort for the Women's T20 Challenge?
World cricket came to an absolute halt this summer with a growing number of series either cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic. However, such is the aura of the game that even when things had been stalled, the BCCI managed to stage the Indian Premier League, providing the fans plenty of reasons to cheer.
The tournament also provided the women's cricket players with a chance to showcase their talent albeit in a short four-match tournament- the Women's T20 Challenge.
While the series helped the domestic players prove their mantle at the world stage, the tournament clashed with the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) robbing some of the top Indian stars an opportunity to compete in a premier domestic league.
A four-match ‘tournament’ or a full-fledged one month long event in Australia? It would not take much to answer which event any international cricketer would prefer to play but who could stand up and defy their own home board?
In the past, the WBBL has been a blessing to the Indian team as Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur graduated from plying their trade for their respective franchises to become match-winners for the Indian team. But this year, they had to skip the tournament and head to the UAE instead.
Lack of Practice Hurt Women's Players
This edition of the T20 Challenge was also slightly different as the players were clearly out of match practice leading up to the competition. While the fans of the game were clearly disappointed with a 47 all out in the second league game, it is crucial to understand that playing competitive cricket after a gap of almost eight months was never going to be easy.
As a professional cricketer, it is absolutely impossible to compete at the international level with just a handful of practice sessions under your belt. After being away from the game for a considerable period, the players need a significant amount of time and sessions to physically and mentally get into the groove.
While the franchises managed to squeeze in over a month of the practice session for the men’s team, the women’s contingent competed with only four practice sessions making it difficult for them to get accustomed to the conditions.
Even then, despite the various challenges thrown at them, the girls managed to exhibit immense talent in the women's game by putting together a closely fought tournament.
Impact of This Hiatus on The Game
Lack of clarity on the future of women's cricket has been one of the major concerns for the players and fans. While uncertainty looms largely on the prospect of witnessing the girls in action post the T20 Challenge, the management has decided to defer India's tour to Australia scheduled later in the month to next season.
The Board will need to put in a lot of efforts to ensure women's cricket is treated at par with their male counterparts and help in the resumption of the international series. While it has been in talks with Sri Lankan cricket on a possibility of a series either home or away in February, nothing seems to be confirmed.
However, with the future of women's cricket in limbo, the least the BCCI can do is organise a camp featuring the top players of the country.
With most of the players training individually, the camp will help the team come together and gel as one unit. It will also create an ideal opportunity for them to work on their skills sets and physical fitness under the watchful eyes of the best coaches and the support staff.
Despite the lack of competitive matches, the players can still benefit from various match simulations and inter-squad contests to gain experience and develop match temperament.
The likes of Shafali Verma and Jemimah Rodrigues are relatively young in their international career and playing competitive cricket throughout the year will prove to be a massive benefit for them and the Indian team.
They can also benefit from tours featuring the India A side home and away whilst creating a solid bench strength by restructuring the domestic circuit.
The BCCI can also mull the possibility of adding the three day format to the domestic schedule. Competing in a longer form of the game will help the players grind through the challenging phase of the game and ensure they are physically and mentally equipped to deal with the nuances and the pressure of international cricket.
What’s Next For The Team?
The only confirmed assignment for the team is the World Cup in 2022, starting on 4 March in New Zealand. With almost a year to go for the quadrennial event, the Indian eves have a young team and need to begin their preparations in the bid for their elusive World Cup title.
The team had a fairy tale run the last time around, falling agonisingly short in the final frontier and will need the board's support to go a step further in the upcoming edition. One of the notable things in the last edition was the number of matches the team played in the lead up to the iconic event.
They were involved in the qualifiers just before the tournament which proved to be a blessing in disguise. It allowed the players plenty of opportunities to play competitive cricket and helped the management try out a few combinations before settling into the final playing XI.
With the ever-increasing popularity of women's cricket coupled with the team's stellar performances at the world event, the BCCI needs to capitalise on this and lay a solid foundation of professionalism in the women's game.
If India aims to become a dominant force in the women's sport, they will need an immense amount of support from the Board. The Girls in Blue have time and again delivered defying all odds, and it is an ideal time for the BCCI to invest in the women's game and help it gain the necessary credit and recognition.
(Shweta Haranhalli is a cricket enthusiast, who plays and writes about the sport. She was the captain of the Mumbai Under-19 team that clinched All India Championship for the very first time.)
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