Same Game, Different Treatment: Women’s Cricket In India
Becoming the only player till date to have 200 ODI wickets against his name, is enough to get a cricketer the attention he deserves. The operative word here being “he”, because Jhulan Goswami’s record-breaking feat seems to have gone unnoticed.
For those who may not know, because the apps on their phones did not notify them, or because a simple web search of “India vs South Africa cricket” did not give gender neutral results, the Indian women’s cricket team is currently touring South Africa, for an ODI series, followed by a T20 series.
The women in blue beat the Proteas 2-1 to clinch the ODI series, which was the opener of the ICC Women’s Championship, putting them at the second position on the table. The series win was driven by top performances from opener Smriti Mandhana, who scored 84 and 135 runs in two of the three matches, and leg spinner Poonam Yadav (6 wickets in 2 matches).
The team’s victory most definitely qualifies as a great achievement, but certainly not great enough to grab the attention of the national media and the paparazzi.
Goswami, in the second ODI of the series, became the only player in women’s cricket to pick up 200 wickets. Last year, she had broken the record for taking the most number of wickets in women’s cricket, after she claimed her 181st scalp.
Both the milestones got buried under the attention given to the men’s cricket team. What also went unnoticed was Mandhana’s knock of 135, which just could not keep up with Rohit Sharma’s 115.
Similarly, Yadav took 4 wickets in the second ODI to seal the series, but this too was submerged by the 4-wicket spells of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav on the same day.
Drawing yet another parallel, skipper Mithali Raj has reached an ODI average of 51, which is higher than that of any Indian male cricketer barring Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. However, her male counterparts have received much more recognition than she has. Evidently, numbers aren’t everything.
This is not to take away anything from Rohit Sharma, or even the men’s cricket team. The historic 5-1 ODI series win is truly commendable. However, it is unfortunate, that the obsession overshadows other, and debatably equally glorious, achievements.
After a good run in the 2017 World Cup, where India eventually lost to England in the finals, it was expected that finally the women’s team will get the same attention as their male counterparts. They did make some noise, but their fame was short-lived.
The fans do have a very short memory and you always need to be there to make your presence felt, as is the case of the Indian men’s team, who played over 10 Tests, 20 ODIs and 14 T20Is in 2017. Apart from this, the same team also played the ICC Champions Trophy, last year.
It becomes difficult, even for the likes of Raj, Goswami and Harmanpreet Kaur, to maintain a fan-following, if they’re away from the public gaze for such a long time.
The The Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI), which is the custodian of cricket in the country, also needs to share the blame for the way they have handled women’s cricket over the years. Apart from not organising enough matches, the BCCI is also guilty of not coming up with an IPL-type franchisee-based tournament for the women.
Both Australia and England have separate women T20 leagues – the Big Bash League and the KIA Super League, respectively. India’s T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur plays in both the leagues and has done well for her teams. In Big Bash, she plays for Sydney Thunders and in England she represents the Surrey Stars.
A win in the ODI series in South Africa garnered a feeble response from the media as well as the fans. This can also be attributed to fact that none of the matches were telecast in India.
On a more optimistic note, things seem to be looking better in the future, with the foundations gradually falling into place. Unlike a few years ago, if not all, many matches are now telecast live, accompanied by the voices and comments of top-notch commentators, such as Sunil Gavaskar. Additionally, the BCCI has a separate Twitter handle for the women’s team and tweets frequent match updates.
Hopefully, it is just a matter of time before women’s cricket is also adopted by fans with a similar enthusiasm. After all, it is the same sport, same graceful strokes and the same excitement!
(The author is a young writer with keen interest in sports writing)
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