Indian women's cricket team: Poor cousins of the million dollar babies
One quiz question: How many players can you name from the current Indian women’s cricket squad? You remember Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, maybe? After thinking a lot, you may have come up with Karu Jain, too. Any more? Try harder. Thirush Kamini? Shikha Pandey? Harmanpreet Kaur? Not sure who they are?
And Maria Sharapova was supposed to know about Sachin Tendulkar. Blah. What hypocrisy!
If only this question would have been about the men’s team, most of us would have remembered the batting and bowling averages of the players, too.
Being a cricketer in India is considered a respectable profession, and why not, when it is the most popular sport in the country and the highest paying, as well? But not so much if you are a woman. Because, frankly, no one is interested. Not the sponsors, not the viewers and, most of all, not the BCCI.
England Test series
Last week, the Indian men’s team and women’s team played a Test match in England against their English counterparts. If MS Dhoni and his men weren’t embarrassing themselves at Old Trafford, no one would have paid close attention to the events unfolding at Wormsley.
While everyone was worried about Anushka Sharma staying with Virat Kohli, a team of inexperienced women led by Mithali Raj were creating history in this small picturesque town. Playing a Test match for the first time since 2006 with as many as eight debutants in the team, a strong-willed woman took her team to victory against much better trained and richer opposition.
In terms of men’s cricket, this is almost equivalent to Bangladesh beating South Africa in South Africa. Gasp!
I remember Dhoni saying something about how ‘inexperienced’ his side was. Excuses, excuses.
The first official Indian cricket team was formed in 1911, and they toured England to play against their county teams. But it took 62 years for the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) to be formed in India, in 1973. Nearly 39 years after the English and Australian women had already played their first Test match. It took another three years for the Indian women’s team to play their first Test match: in 1976, against West Indies. Since then, the team has played 203 ODIs and a paltry 34 Tests. Ishant Sharma has represented India in more Tests than that.
The state of the team was so bad that in 1982, when the team was set to play the World Cup in New Zealand, the players were asked to come up with Rs. 10,000 to take care of their travel expenses.
BCCI take over
Things looked optimistic when the WCA was merged with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in 2006, but the bubble burst very soon. As soon as the BCCI took over women’s cricket, they scrapped the Under-16 and Inter-Zone tournaments.
To add insult to injury, the board refused to send a team when cricket was included at the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010. With Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan winning gold, silver and bronze, respectively, calling it a missed opportunity would be an understatement. Point to be noted: India have won all four Asia Cup tournaments ever held.
The board gives only Rs. 15,000 as pension to the eves and that too to only those who have played 5 Tests or more. The players are not even given a central contract. Most of them have jobs in Railways and have to take time off for training and competitions.
When N Srinivasan, the former BCCI chief, was asked to give one-time benefits to the ex-players, his reply was, “Why should we give you money? What have you all done?” This man never stops giving reasons to hate him, does he?
In 2009, Diana Edulji, arguably the most popular Indian female cricketer, was the team manager when the team was touring England. Due to the weather being too cold, she called the BCCI and asked them to send jumpers for the team. The cringeworthy response she got was, “It is not in the budget.” But she refused to listen to them, and her adamant nature made sure the team was given jumpers for the first time ever. Yay!
The situation is so miserable that sometimes the players are not even given new kits. They are made to play with the ones left by the men’s team, and the sizes often don’t match; sometimes, patches are needed to cover up the players’ names. This, from a board that was in the news recently for paying for the stay of its “millionaire” batsman’s equally rich girlfriend in London.
Poor Cousins of Million Dollar Babies
In 2010, a documentary film was released in India about the plight of Indian women’s cricket, titled ‘Poor Cousins of Million Dollar Babies’ from where this article gets its name. But no one took notice of it because it did not have a superstar, suave coach as its lead and also none of the major production houses was promoting it.
But it had the real stars of Indian cricket like Anjum Chopra, Goswami, Rumeli Dhar, etc. It also had Priyanka Roy, the only female cricketer to take 5 wickets in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Twenty20 World Cup in 2009, and she did this before Umar Gul achieved this feat in the men’s tournament.
‘Poor’ got a new meaning, when, in 2013, a women’s World Cup game was shifted from Wankhede Stadium to accommodate a Ranji match.
Recently in an interview, Harmanpreet Kaur, the current captain of India’s ODI team, rued the fact that no one recognizes them. In her own words, “Now in most places I have to introduce myself as an international cricketer, but I hope in future I don’t have to do that and people will recognize me.”
We hope one day this girl from the small town of Moga in Punjab gets her wish, but this cannot happen till the time the BCCI stops behaving like the evil step mother to women’s cricket Cinderella. Organizing more tournaments, giving them international exposure and central contracts so that they can concentrate on their games would be a starter.
And the board that can go to any extent for its male team’s pride and ego certainly can take some positives steps for the future of their female counterparts.