Friday, July 28, 2017

The Women In Blue

The World Cup is done and dusted and we are back in the familiar environs of an India-Sri Lanka bilateral series. For one whole month, for a pleasant change it was the Indian women cricketers who were in the spotlight while the Men took a back-seat. 

One victory followed another, as the Women in Blue became the new darlings of the Indian Social Media. Good on-field performances ensured lots of positive coverage as the team went onto reach the Finals. England, West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka were easily tackled before hiccups came in form of losses to South Africa and Australia. But with a semi-final place at stake they got their most emphatic victory over New Zealand to qualify for the knock-outs. A sensational Harmanpreet Kaur century got them into the Finals. However, they faltered at the very last step. Mithali Raj said they panicked. To regular cricket followers, this was simply the classic South African choke which their men's team regularly brings on display at the big tournaments.

Leaving aside the stumble at the last step, it was a remarkable tournament for the Indian team. And not just from a cricketing perspective. After all, they have been runners-up before. But this was the first time that the Women's team was in (well deserved) limelight.  Live coverage of the games, England being in a very Indian viewer-friendly timezone, well promoted, backed up by solid social media coverage and good on-field performances all combined to ensure that for the first time ever, many Indians actually watched a Women's cricket match.

And then there were the players themselves. Mithali Raj lead from the front, batted well and spoke even better. Dismissing a reporter's query on favorite male cricketer, also nonchalantly reading a book while waiting for her turn to bat, dancing alongwith Veda Krishnamurthy to the DJ music, becoming the all time leading run-getter - all combined to make her a fan favorite. Then there was Harmanpreet Kaur's innings - many immediately compared it to Kapil Dev's 175, such was its impact. And that "celebration" on getting a century! Poor Dipti Sharma was at the receiving end. Jhulan Goswami's ball to dismiss Meg Lanning. After a smashing start to the tournament, Smriti Mandhana was declared as India's national crush??? And then there was the wicket-keeper Sushma Verma, who also had the extra responsibility of taking the team selfie!

Now for the big question. Where does Women's cricket head next? Awards and promotions have been announced, felicitations have been organised, they also have the average follower's attention. But how does BCCI build on all the goodwill generated for the team. More centrally contracted players, more coverage for the national matches, a women's tournament on the likes of the IPL. I, for one, don't know when the next international series is. However, one thing they do need to avoid is to keep comparing with the men's game. The gulf is too stark for any meaningful comparison at this stage.

And all these measures if done correctly,this World Cup would be remembered as the one in which women's cricket became just cricket! After all, if in a matter of just three years if Kabaddi can raise it's profile to become one of the most viewed sports in the country, there is no reason why women's cricket can't.

P.S. Random Articles
Jarrod Kimber's article on how to watch women's cricket [Link]
The Importance of Harmanpreet Kaur [Link]
Sharda Ugra talking about the next steps [Link] (Basically an article doing a much better job of what I intended to do in this blog]