Why the Indian women cricket team are already icons
It was the 23rd July of 2017 when the Indian women team were on the brink of history at the iconic Lords Cricket ground. At 191-3 chasing a target of 229, the feeling around the ground was that Indian team has the game in their bag. On the same ground in which the fortunes of the men's team changed forever in 1983, it seemed that the Women were about to repeat the feat. The World Cup trophy was in sight. However, the hosts England staged a dramatic comeback as India fell 9 runs short of the target. On the day, Indian hearts were shattered but despite not having the trophy in their hands, the team had made a big difference.
On their arrival back in the country, they received a hero's welcome. Thousands of people gathered at the airport for their arrival and a grand felicitation by the BCCI followed. It was hard to figure out that the team had not won the World Cup.
However, such was the margin of the defeat that the loss still hurts the team. On Thursday Night, the women team will once again take the field against England in an important ICC game. The World T20 Semi final offers this team the perfect opportunity to avenge the loss from a year ago. The opportunity to take part in another big final is in touching distance for the Indians.
So far, India has had a dream run in the West Indies so far. The Women in Blue won all four of their group stage encounters. This included comprehensive victories against Australia and New Zealand who are number one and three in the world ranking. Despite the overwhelming success of the men's team in cricket, the women have historically never reached the same level. More often than not teams like Australia, New Zealand, and England have been too strong for India. However, quite clearly that is no longer the case. This team is good enough to compete with the best.
Not only has the current group of the Indian team become competitive, but it has also made the sport popular in the country. This team plays a fearless and attractive brand of cricket which has caught the attention of the cricket loving public at home. Women's cricket is now something, Indian public watch and follows with keen interest. This team has made the world take the notice of them and won the hearts of the nation.
There are individuals who deserve credit for making people take interest in the women's game. One person, in particular, is the T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur. The 29-year-old is a true rock star of the sport. Her batting is reminiscent of watching Yuvraj Singh in his prime. Her ability to hit sixes is something that makes people want to watch her bat time and again. Not only can she hit big shots but she also produces big knocks when it matters the most. Her knock of 171 in the World Cup semi-final against Austalia last year is something that will remain in memory for a long time. Similarly, Kaur's century against New Zealand in the opening game of the WT20 set the tone for the tournament.
Another similar player is opening batswoman Smriti Mandhana. The left-hander is another aggressive batswoman who likes to play her shots. It was her knocks of 90 and 105 in the opening two matches of last year's World Cup gave India momentum in the tournament. Mandhana and Kaur, aside from being extremely potent batswomen, are entertainers. These are the kind of players that make people want to watch the sport. Both of them have also earned contracts from overseas T20 leagues.
Despite the new generation's takeover, the effort of veteran players like Mithali Raj and Jhulani Goswami should not be forgotten. Both of them have carried the burden of the team on their head for more than a decade and played a huge role in ensuring women's cricket gets the support it deserves. Their efforts over the years have set the platform for the team to try to become the best team around.
The game's health is better than it has ever been in the past. The emergence of youngsters like Jeminah Rodriques is a testimony to the fact. A lot of these players are household names in India by now. Such is the popularity of these players that a Women's IPL looks quite likely. If the tournament does happen, the landscape of women's cricket will change forever both in India and the world. For ensuring, Indian cricket is at a stage to make that happen, this team deserves all the credit. It's their performance on the field which has made it happen.
For this reason alone, this team will not need a trophy to certify their status as heroes of the game. The success of future teams will be their legacy. If the team can lift the World T20 trophy in West Indies, there will be nothing better but even if they are unable to do so, it should not take away from what they have achieved to do.