Indian Women’s Cricket – What is the first word that comes to your mind hearing this? Harmanpreet Kaur’s blistering 175*? Smriti Mandhana’s formidable form? Jhulan Goswami’s firing spell or Mithali Raj’s captaincy?
But in actual, Indian Women’s Cricket is much more than this.
We should be thankful to Aloo Bamjee, the Parsi lady who started India’s first Women’s Cricket Club in South Bombay (Mumbai) – ‘The Albees’ and Diana Eduljee was one of the known faces in the club. At the same time, in Sion, Neeta Telang decided to play cricket. Along with Nutan Gavaskar and with the help of other girls, they started Indian Gymkhana.
It started in a different way in Madras. Three classmates Fowzieh Khalili, Sudha Shah and Susan Itticheria went to watch Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Pat Pocock and Geoff Arnold during England’s tour of India in 1972-73 and smitten by cricket, they thought to start playing cricket.
However, all these initiatives found a common platform when Mahendra Kumar Sharma started the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) and registered it under the Societies Act of Lucknow. The first tournament was ‘National Ladies Cricket Championship’, where Bombay beat Maharashtra by 10 wickets in the final. Sharma started trying to get the International affiliation and finally got their affiliation in 1975.
The association decided to invite an international side and Australia U-25 team visited India for a series. Playing some away series against New Zealand and Australia, Mahendra took the responsibility to host the Women’s world Cup in India in 1978. However, his decision proved wrong when Madras withdrew it’s name from hosting the last game.
The game was then shifted to Hyderabad but local association started arguing over the confirmation. Moreover, India players refused to play against Australia as they didn’t receive their payment of last year. With much frustration, Mahendra resigned from his post. Australia won the World Cup.
From 1978-1982 World Cup, India didn’t play any International games apart from a tour of young England players in the 1981. A poor management restricted the growth of Women’s Cricket at that time in India and all were hoping for a change in administration. Surprisingly, WCAI didn’t have money to send the players for the 1982 World Cup and the players had to raise the funds.
India’s first ODI win came in 1982 World Cup. But lack of interest in Women’s Cricket and a disorder in association cost the progress of Women’s Cricket as they were not able to send India team to 1988 World Cup. A whole new bunch of players made their debut in 90’s – Anju Jain, Purnima Rau, Mamatha Maben, Neetu David, Anjum Chopra etc.
However, the 1993 World Cup proved a significant role as India finished fourth. From 1994-95 to 2003-04, India won a few series but their growth somehow got restricted due to lack of funds. While India got one of the best wicketkeeper batters in the form of Anju Jain, Anjum Chopra led India for the first time in 2002 against visiting side England and whitewashed them with the team where seven players were debutants. Anjum is the first Indian player to play 100 ODIs. She has played four 50-over World Cups and two T20 World Cups for India and currently working as a commentator.
In 2003, former India player Shubhangi Kulkarni was handed over the post of secretary of WCAI. Her hard work was seen in 2005 when Mithali Raj led India reached the final of 2005 World Cup and they had won the Test series in England in the next year.
Around that time, ICC passed an official instruction to all its members as they have to merge with their respective women’s cricket boards and the BCCI was the last to do so in 2006. All were expecting a huge change as Kulkarni’s vision was about to get the support from BCCI. Inter-state T20 competition and Challenger Trophy were included that time and Kulkarni had a vision of 2009 World Cup.
Sharad Pawar, the believer of change in a positive way, helped his best to promote Women’s Cricket. Along with Shubhangi Kulkarni, they prioritised to build a strong domestic side.
However, this growth had decreased after the end of Pawar’s term in 2008 when Kulkarni left the committee and N. Srinivasan came in, who maintained “If I had my way, I wouldn’t let women’s cricket happen” attitude throughout his term. He didn’t mention anywhere about the 2013 World Cup which India hosted. BCCI spent 45 times less than the budget they spent on 2011 men’s World Cup. Women’s team got to play only 26 ODIs between 2009-13 World Cup.
Moreover, they shifted all the games to another game to host the Ranji Trophy Final at Wankhede. Even the association promoted the game so poorly that only 2000-odd children were present in the final; who had been given a free entry. Apart from them, there were hardly a few people at the venue.
Until 2009, India never lost to West Indies, Sri Lanka or Pakistan in ODIs. Since 2009, they have lost to them also for the first time. India’s performance suffered since 2009 and that was mostly because of poor planning, implementation, lack of match practice and BCCI’s policies. With no professional contracts and not assured of their places in the squad led them to more losses in the game.
However, there was a sudden change seen under Anurag Thakur when he introduced central contracts in 2015 and gave permission to the players to participate in T20 tournaments in Australia and England. The result was there in front of everyone as India won 16 consecutive ODIs– the second most behind Australia; who have the record of winning 17 matches and reached the final of 2017 World Cup. Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana got the chance to play in Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) and Kia Super League (KSL). Along with them, Veda Krishnamurthy also featured in WBBL in one season.
2017 World Cup was a wake-up call for BCCI. From getting their due attention to lucrative deals from the famous brands, India team was successful to make a revolution by their performances and their dedication and hard work paid off. Mithali Raj became the first player to score 6,000 ODI runs and Jhulan Goswami became the first player to take 200 ODI wickets. Currently, they are the highest run-getter and highest wicket-taker respectively in Women’s Cricket. Along with them, Harmanpreet Kaur became the first Indian player to score a century in T20I.
BCCI started taking more care of the Women’s Cricket and made the calendar for the ICC Women’s Championship (2017-20) where India had won against South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and England. The new faces like Jemimah Rodrigues, Radha Yadav, Taniya Bhatia, Priya Punia, Harleen Deol etc. have come into the limelight.
BCCI even thought of a tournament like Women’s IPL and an exhibition match was held last year between Supernovas and Trailblazers. This year too the tournament will be played with three teams in a round-robin way.
On the domestic front, BCCI added Under 23 league and increased the number of games. With these increasing numbers of game, the domestic structure has also been evolving. But there are still few gaps between the domestic and International front which need to be bridged.
An Under-16 tournament or age group World Cup might help in this regard as there is a huge difference between India’s domestic structure and other countries’. If India wants to compete with the world class teams like Australia, England, New Zealand etc., they need to raise their bar high and BCCI needs to invest in the grassroots level as well.
References: ESPNCricinfo and ‘The Fire Burns Blue’