Women's Cricket

Dear Mr Thakur, why has the women’s national cricket team been relegated to ‘domestic’ status?

A former cricketer pens an open letter to the BCCI president asking him why the men's and women's cricket teams are treated separately on social media.

Dear Mr Thakur,

I’ve been meaning to write this letter for a long time. Some of the things I will say, I have already mentioned on Twitter, but I will reiterate them here, a less constricted forum.

First among these, congratulations on all the small things you have done right for women’s cricket so far. You brought in an Under-23 tournament. You finally brought in central contracts for the women’s team. You broadcast a women’s domestic tournament and an international home series, both firsts. You said your vision for the team was for them to be the No. 1 side in the world by 2020. This stuff means a lot to us well wishers of women’s cricket. Brilliant. Please keep it coming, in this, we are with you.

I was also happy to see the BCCI’s primary Twitter handle (@BCCI) tweeting scores of the Indian women’s team during the World Twenty20.

It was a refreshing change from the previous two series, against Australia away and Sri Lanka at home, where the scores of the Indian women’s cricket team were being tweeted from the BCCI’s domestic cricket handle (@BCCIDomestic).

So you can understand my disappointment, when I saw that the BCCI seemed to have taken a step backwards on Thursday.

West Indies are not a domestic team  

You obviously know this, but most people do not, so I will mention it here: the West Indies are in India. Their women’s team will play India in three One-Day Internationals and three Twenty20 Internationals, all at Vijayawada. Again for the benefit of most people, some context: The last time these two teams met, the West Indies denied the hosts a semi final berth in the WT20 in a low scoring thriller. They then went on to win the tournament, making history.

India won the first ODI at Vijayawada on Thursday, and the win lifted my mood a great deal. What had dampened it, was the scores were being tweeted by the domestic handle. Again.

Something does not sit right here, I am sure you would agree. An international fixture being tweeted by a handle with the words “Domestic” in it. That is a mistake. One that had been corrected during the World Twenty20.

Right?

Leave aside what I think about it. “Domestic” is not a word our visitors, the ladies from the Caribbean would want being flashed alongside their scorecard, is it? They are after all, World Champions. Nothing domestic about that. We owe them that much, surely. Atithi devo bhava, no? And everyone knows the Board of Control for Cricket in India is among the best in the world at taking care of visiting teams.

Unique identities  

I imagine you will tell me the most obvious reason behind this; that the two matches are on separate handles since the men’s team are playing at the same time. And this was not the case during the World Twenty20, thus both were on the same handle then.

Sure, I hear you. There is some logic there.

But here is the thing.

Those Australia and Sri Lanka series I mentioned earlier? There was no overlap with the men’s team then. And yet they were on different handles.

Right, I hear you; you did not want the tweets about the women’s team to be lost among the tweets about the men’s team, that is why they are on different handles.

Just one thing, though. The BCCI’s main Twitter handle has in excess of three million followers. The BCCI domestic handle has some 75 thousand odd.

That is 2.25 million possible viewers the tweets about the women’s team were “lost” to.

If we want to take our women’s team to No. 1 by 2020, surely we need to let the whole country know when they are playing, right? If not the whole country, at least those three million Twitter followers, for starters?

Do not get me wrong. I have no issues with separate handles. If you want to make a separate handle for the women’s team, that is fine with me. Yes, I know what you are about to say. A women’s handle will have even less followers than the BCCI domestic handle to start with. True. But building up those followers is then our job – and when I say our, I mean three parties.

The first is you and yours, the suits and staff of the BCCI, by taking women’s cricket to the grassroots, and to the big screens.

The second is me and mine, the members of the press and media, by looking at it as cricket, not women’s cricket, and giving it its due.

The third is our women in blue. Nothing attracts followers like wins; just ask the Australian women’s team (Three World Twenty20 titles, 31.2k followers). Our Indian team needs to win more matches; the hearts will follow.

There’s an easy solution  

There are other issues I would rather be writing you about. Like how women’s cricket desperately needs an Under-16 tournament again. Or how the criteria for pensions for female cricketers should include ODIs (women hardly play Tests). Or how the domestic system is so lopsided.

These issues are bigger, more urgent, and will do more to lift women’s cricket. What I’m writing about is trivial in comparison, and I know it.

But it is also simpler to fix.

To hold a tournament costs lakhs of rupees every year. Revision of pension criteria will take a number of meetings, and a significant change in policy. And do not get me started on the domestic system.

All that is needed for what I’m asking for though, is a nod from you, and the push of a few buttons from your digital team.

That is not much to ask for, is it, Mr Thakur?

We, female cricketers, have a habit of not complaining. Not about the domestic match fees. Not about the tiny season. Not about the lack of a Corporate Trophy. Not about the Under-19 team in the Challenger Trophy (Alright, so maybe I did complain about that a little).

Most of us, we are “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can” kind of people.

I am only asking the same of you. A switch to the primary handle will cost you nothing, and gain our team a readymade audience. If they keep winning like they did on Thursday, those tweets may inspire fathers and mothers to take their little girls to the cricket.

Nod your head, push a few buttons, and suddenly, more young girls on grounds. That does not sound so bad, does it, Mr. Thakur?

PS: Hours after this article was written, the BCCI announced plans to reintroduce the U-16 tournament in the next season. Again, congratulations Mr. Thakur. But please do not stop until our team is No. 1. In this, we are with you.

Snehal Pradhan is a former women’s international cricketer. She tweets here.

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