Will the Women’s Team Now Go Back to Being the “Adopted Daughter”?
India’s Mansi Josh  after India lost the ICC Women’s World Cup final match against England
India’s Mansi Josh after India lost the ICC Women’s World Cup final match against England(Photo: AP)

Will the Women’s Team Now Go Back to Being the “Adopted Daughter”?

The stage was set. The clouds had cleared over Lord's. The Indian tricolour fluttered away on top of the iconic balcony. The entire scene was in many ways synonymous with the immense pride we Indians were feeling. Then, the National Anthem was sung – goosebumps. And so it began – India’s best chances to win their maiden Women’s World Cup silverware. The two best teams competed at the best venue. Neither gave an inch to the other.

Mithali tossed the ball to her trusted aide, Jhulan. And then magic descended; that white ball dispelled the gloom over London, that white ball epitomised the spirit of this Indian team, that white ball was always Jhulan's best mate – it thumped its chest and made sure England remembered it forever.

With Jhulan leading from the front, India restricted England to 228. A gettable score.

When the chase started, the scales were India’s favour, with Punam Raut (86) and Harmanpreet Kaur (51) adding a 95-run partnership for the third wicket. In the 34th over, however, Kaur had to walk back and that started India’s batting collapse. From 191 for 3, the wickets fell like a pack of cards and India were soon all-out on 219, losing their best chance of creating history by 9 runs. There was a major heartbreak at Lord’s. What followed were heartrending visuals.

Dejected India players after England win the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 final match against India at Lord’s in London.
Dejected India players after England win the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 final match against India at Lord’s in London.
(Photo: AP)

Shattered Dreams

Harmanpreet Kaur – the girl from Punjab who was snubbed by the police for not being a Harbhajan Singh when she applied for the post of DSP, the girl who went on to smash an unbeaten 171 in the semi-final despite cramps – was seen sitting numb at the dugout. As if everything she had ever wanted eluded her. She wore no expression on her face. The visuals hurt us. The sorrow was contagious.

Behind Harmanpreet’s chair, a miserable Ekta Bisht hid her face. Who Ekta? The girl whose father had to become a tea seller to give wings to his daughter's dream of becoming a cricketer. Coming from a humble background, fighting mighty financial odds, Ekta conquered the 22 yards. She is the girl who took a fifer against Pakistan to give you bragging rights. The visuals of a dispirited Ekta sent waves of grief across the watching fans. She did all she could to bring us the trophy, but it simply escaped her.

The lenses next focussed on Punam Raut. Here’s her story. Belonging to a family with limited resources, Raut lived in a chawl in Mumbai. And she could not have afforded her first ever playing kit if not for financial aid from her father’s boss. She is the girl who smashed a 106 against the mighty Australian bowlers during the group stage. The visuals showed Raut sitting with her head in her hands, her face shrouded by tears. As if it was the worst day of her life. And before the camera could move from her, we moved our eyes.

Next, Jhulan Di, our beloved Jhulan Di, was seen resting her grief-stricken face on Mansi Joshi’s shoulders, the kind of face heroes don’t deserve to have.

However, the most unbearable visual was of Mithali Raj. The captain, the leader, the legend, who was playing her fifth and last World Cup. She did not exhibit any signs of gloom on her ever-smiling face. The legendary batter concealed the pain as effortlessly as her excitement after winning. But can we even imagine how hard it will be for Raj, the most consistent Indian performer who fought tooth and nail for the cup, to return home without it?

We found ourselves in tears over the loss of a team we didn’t recognise till last month. That was the magic their journey to the finals.

A Remarkable Journey

India’s Sunday performance may disappoint fans but their journey to Lord’s will leave many very, very proud. Especially considering the team had to go through a qualifying tournament to even book a spot in the World Cup.

From the first match against England on 2 July to the final at Lord’s, the team has created many records.

Mithali Raj became the highest run-getter in women’s ODI after she reached 6000 runs against Australia. Harmanpreet Kaur registered the highest individual score for Indian women in World Cups – the 171 against Australia. Ekta Bisht’s 5/18 against Pakistan became the best by any Indian in Women's World Cup, and also the best against Pakistan. The only 20-year-old Smriti Mandhana, after her century against West Indies, became the fifth Indian player to score more than one ODI 100. Jhulan Goswami’s 3-23-3 became the fourth best bowling figures in the history of Women World Cup finals.

The best of all records is that India became the only team to upstage the three biggies – England, Australia and New Zealand – in the same edition of the World Cup.

Where to From Here?

Popular football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” and that holds true for most of us fans. We wanted Mithali to lift the cup, nothing else mattered. And what’s cricket without winning anyway? If the winning team wasn’t that important, we could do without reserve days and super overs.

But India toiled hard, very hard, the cup just dodged them. Much like life, there is no equality in sports, and we will soon make peace with it. But does Anya Shrubsole’s six-wicket haul in the final eclipse Jhulan Goswami’s record of being the highest wicket-taker in ODIs? No, it doesn’t. Will Natalie Sciver’s half-century in the finals take away Mithali’s record of being the highest run-getter in ODIs? No, it won’t.

Our team has legends, and legends are not made of trophies.

In return for all the beautiful moments the runners-up gave you, the high scoring affairs that pumped your blood, the mighty sixes that made you clap, the victories and records that swelled your chest with pride, they just want one thing in return – they want you to remember them.

But the question is, for how long will we remember their feats, or remember them alone? They will remain in the news for the next few days, there will be felicitations and media interviews. But what after that?

For how long did we remember our Olympic heroes? Defying all odds, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar and many others became the unforeseen heroines. But how many of us know Sindhu won the Hong Kong Open and Indian Open recently? Or that Sakshi won silver at the final of the women’s 60kg event of the Asian Championship?

This is scary. Will our cricket stars enjoy a similar fate? Will they go back to being the adopted daughters when their male counterparts take on Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa in their upcoming fixtures? Will we forget the women we cried along with?

Before your interest in women’s cricket withers, read about the struggles the girls braved to bring you glory. If not their feats, their stories will definitely inspire you to follow their upcoming games. From nowhere to the finals – a feat like that is bigger than the trophy.

(Umaima Saeed is a self-confessed introvert who binges on cricket and lets her writing do the talking.)

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