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INDIAN CRICKET’S PERENNIAL DILEMMA

Since 1976, the Indian women’s cricket team has played only 37 Test matches, the most recent coming after a seven-year gap.

“What we think, we become.” This thought is commonly attributed to Gautama Buddha, commonly known as the Buddha. As human civilisation gets ready to enter a new chapter, with technology dominating all facets of life and the buzz regarding modern values triumphing over old archaic values at an all time high, the present and the future in store for us seems quite bright. But is it really so?

Let’s examine it through the eyes of our beloved game, cricket. Though cricket has been said to be invented during the Saxon times by children in England, it started gaining ground in the 17th and 18th centuries mainly as a boys’ game as defined in a dictionary in 1611. The year 1744 saw the first laws of cricket being written and around the same time, in 1745, there was a report in a local newspaper about a women’s cricket game being played between villages in Surrey.

As the years passed on, the game evolved and gained popularity with local tournaments being arranged both for men’s and women’s cricket in England and later in Australia. The first men’s Test match was played in 1877 and the first women’s Test in 1934. Though club cricket was quite visible in women’s cricket before 1934.

Fast forward to 2021 and cricket is now played by many countries. India is now considered as a superpower in cricket with huge popularity and stature in world cricket. In fact, Indian cricket is considered to be in its golden period right now with the team performing exceptionally well and its bench strength is widely considered as one of the best in the world. Cricket experts are often seen citing its efficient domestic structure for its rise and have credited the Board of Control for Cricket in India for this, the richest board in the world.

With all these in place, one is bound to think that Indian cricket is flourishing with the best domestic structure in the world. While this might be true for the men’s setup, it is not a true statement for Indian cricket as a whole. For, when we talk of Indian cricket, it constitutes both men’s and women’s cricket. Unfortunately, the narrative around the cricketing world is that when it talks about Indian cricket it primarily considers only men’s cricket and the state of the women’s game is often ignored.

Historically, while the men played their first Test match in 1932, their female counterparts got this opportunity only in 1976. Since then, the Indian women’s cricket team has played only 37 Tests. The recent draw with England in Bristol was India’s first Test in seven years. This, after we have seen many cricketers talking about Tests being the ultimate format and how it should be preserved. Are they referring only to the men’s game?

One viewpoint is that the lack of popularity of women’s cricket is because of their lack of performance, but they fail to see that the Indian women have won Test matches in England (2006 and 2014) and just drew against the odds in Bristol. And let’s not forget India’s appearance at the final of the 2017 50-overs World Cup and the 2020 T20 World Cup. Should such performances not warrant more four-day matches and robust white-ball tournaments which can help Indian women’s cricket reach bigger heights and create a platform for more sustainable development?

Instead, there have been no inter-zonal three-day games after 2018 from the world’s richest and most powerful board. Also, the annual contracts provided to India’s female cricketers are still nowhere compared to their male counterparts.

So the important question here is, what are the possible reasons for women’s cricket in India not getting its due recognition and respect? A lack of equal treatment by the BCCI in terms of their attention to domestic structure of women’s cricket? Scheduling of international games? An overall lack of desire and interest among prominent media involved in cricket in India, which in turn creates less buzz and interest among common people? Creating a cycle where these factors keeps affecting each other and thus affecting the overall structure and quality of women’s cricket?

All of these, one feels, are factors. But one thing which is common in all these factors is the mindset of the people. Though India has progressed over the years and the condition of its women has improved compared to some decades back, still there are many people who consider women playing sports, or even going out in public and talking in public as problematic. The effect of this mindset can be seen in almost all institutions in the country with women representation still lagging far behind their male counterparts. This very factor has affected women’s cricket where we see a lack of support and interest among common people, media persons and other who are involved with game because somewhere down the line there is a tendency to undermine female participation in sports and in overall public sphere. The state of Australian and English women’s cricket is an example of how the overall nature and mindset of society helps in creating more parity in sports and in this case, cricket.

Thus, for Indian cricket to reach bigger heights, it is critical that women’s cricket is given its due recognition and respect and all the stakeholders involved, from officials to media and general public, all contribute and come together to improve the structure and condition of women cricket and the first important step we should take is to change our mindset.

Written by Aashay Chopade

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