There are many big questions surrounding women’s cricket in India. When will a game-changer like the Indian Premier League become a reality for female cricketers? What will it take to go one step further and win a World Cup? Is cricket a lucrative enough career option for women as it is for men currently? Has the pandemic affected women’s cricket more than it has the men’s game? These are, to name a few, questions that carry so much importance in terms of the livelihood of women playing the game.
But, for now, let’s look at a much smaller question here: is the Board of Control for Cricket in India doing enough to promote the women’s game through social media?
Indeed, the contrast to the first few questions mentioned above and the one we will try to tackle here is significant. The number of tweets or Facebook / Instagram posts published, and the quality of content produced to consume digitally via these social media platforms, is nearly not as significant an issue as ones affecting day-to-day life of a cricketer.
But look closely enough and one inescapable fact emerges: the sentiment is that not enough is done in this regard and it is, arguably, the easiest question to find answers to. All it would take, to borrow an intangible that is increasingly more frequent in the cricket discourse, is intent.
Have you seen a cricket match being played at the John Davies Oval, Queenstown? Even on television, it really is quite a sight. The mountains, an airport not far away in the background, picture-perfect sights pretty much everywhere the camera takes us. It lends itself to wonderful content, all you would need is a smartphone camera.
The Indian team, led by Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj, have been playing at the venue since February 9. But there’s been barely any post about the team arriving at the venue, practising there.
There are the basic social media posts for pre and post-match (toss, playing XI, result, etc) and on Twitter, in addition to all this, there are automatic live score updates. It would not take a social media expert to know that this is not ideal, especially with a World Cup not far away, and that it is underwhelming, the timezones and logistics notwithstanding.
“A good social media presence is important for the board to promote the sport, for the players to reach fans and potential sponsors, and for sponsors who attach themselves to women’s sport, which offers fast-growing commercial opportunities world over,” Karunya Keshav, Digital journalist and co-author of a book on the women’s game in India titled The Fire Burns Blue, told Scroll.in.
“The BCCI are far behind the zeitgeist when it comes to social media. In the last few years, private companies have identified the commercial and marketing potential of female cricketers and women’s cricket, but the BCCI have been slow to do so. The other big teams have in-house content creators just for their women’s teams, along with a media manager to facilitate external media requests. The Indian team at most has one person travelling with the team trying to do everything, but on some tours, there is nobody,” Karunya, who also co-authored The Equal Hue report for Indian women’s cricket, added.
Indeed, a quick look at the video section of Indian cricket team’s Facebook page will tell you that – at the time of writing this – the last content that was posted was towards the end of January when the team departed to New Zealand and a few days before, Smriti Mandhana was named ICC cricketer of the year 2021.
If the logic is that the World Cup is still far away and Indian women are *just* playing a bilateral series for now, a quick look in the row below will tell you that had not stopped content being posted for the men’s team from net sessions and “headshots time” before India’s rather contextless ODI series in South Africa recently.
“I feel we can do a little better in terms of the media and promoting the game. Like I see the other countries, they are more visible. It’s not like we are not doing but especially, on the social media platforms, we can be more visible,” former India captain and coach of multiple domestic teams Mamatha Maben told Scroll.in during a recent interview, where she spoke about a wide variety of topics.
“Yeah it can be a little more active (during the ongoing series). That is what I would’ve liked to see and when you’re seeing that the other social media handles, are pretty much more... Let me put it this way, they are packaging their women cricketers far better. Whatever is happening from our front is mostly the sheer weight of the players. They are the ones with the sheer tint of their presence drawing the eyeballs but I think we can package it a little better. It’ll help the cause.”
Interview: Former India captain Mamatha Maben on talent pool, WIPL and a women’s administrative wing
A quick look at what the other participating teams have been doing in the lead-up to the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup starting in March, also tells you a story:
The most successful women’s side in international cricket belongs to Australia and it cannot be a coincidence that they arguably promote the game better than anyone else. Right from the official hashtags they use during a match to the video and text content through cricket.com.au (a production of CA Digital Media – a division of Cricket Australia), they lead the way.
“Mirroring their on-field presence, Australia appear to be the clear leaders with regard to their use of social media to promote their women’s team,” John Leather, cricket statistician (@hypocaust) who ardently keeps track of international women’s cricket around the world, said.
“Both the quantity and quality of coverage is a significant step up compared with other nations, and that coverage is maintained whether the team are currently active or not. The national women’s team, as well as domestic women’s competitions, come across as an important and fully integrated part of Cricket Australia’s online presence, with their promotion appearing enthusiastic and unforced.”
This is not just an exercise in pointing out what other teams are doing better. The BCCI digital team has improved too, as we saw during the team’s tour in England last year, where the women and men’s assignments followed each other.
It is worth noting here too that, as many aspects are with women’s cricket in India, the BCCI era has changed things for the better.
“There’s a lot more care now in ensuring the language is more inclusive, and there’s at least token representation in media,” Karunya said. “Something like a jersey reveal for instance generally makes sure there’s representation for both men’s and women’s teams. Some BCCI members have done an excellent job in promoting the women’s events they host, be it internationals or the T20 Challenge or local leagues; the CAB T20 league and draft last week comes to mind.”
As seen historically too, things certainly are trending upwards.
“A lot more screen time, social media itself has changed the face of women’s sports where the players are familiar faces,” Ankit Verma, freelance writer who is passionate about women’s cricket history research, told Scroll.in.
“Advertisements in accordance with a landmark multi-format series reach casual viewers. The reimagined Cadbury’s campaign was a welcome move. The visibility for the team in both digital and print media has been a welcome progression. Back in 2002 when Mithali Raj scored a record-breaking double hundred, the coverage was pitiable. The story is entirely different now. Indian women playing in WBBL and The Hundred are being covered well,” Verma added.
But the consistency in quality is perhaps what the fans find hardest to digest.
“A social media handle is supposed to give us information, promote the game, create a connection between the team and the fans, audience,” Poulami Das, women’s cricket enthusiast and co-founder of Cricket Queens told Scroll.in.
She added, “We often need to rely on other country’s handles for tour announcements or articles in different media for player information, while now fans are doing the job of promoting the matches (in New Zealand). When we see the BCCI men’s handle and how it operates, can’t help but think that BCCI women’s handle is just there for the sake of it without any real interest or intent.”
What can be done?
As mentioned earlier, a lot of this could be resolved by a simple, earnest desire to do more. No need for grassroots change, major administrative course corrections... or any other fancy solutions you could think of for more deep-rooted issues.
“With men’s cricket, fans have a deep connect where they are more familiar with the cricketing history and the legacy of the national outfit since its inception,” Verma said. “They have a lot of literature and media to go back to. The pioneers of women’s cricket in India are strangely absent from the eye of the casual viewer. There is very little information available about them. I’d like to see more content about the yesteryear stars and their stories. Their involvement would educate the growing audience about the rich history of women’s game in India and how far back it goes.”
“Most of the content we see now is restricted to the past decade or so. I hope the BCCI official handles make an effort to introduce more content about the bygone era,” he added.
For Karunya, the stories matter. “I’d also love to see the BCCI take the lead in heroing their female players, creating stars out of them, and helping change perceptions about girls and sports in the country – and to do this across languages,” she said.
All of this essentially boils down to a couple of points. It is a phrase used a lot in sporting parlance for a variety of contexts: you cannot be what you cannot see.
More importantly, men’s cricket is already deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of a vast majority of Indians. Women’s cricket has some way to go to get there and that means, if anything, more effort is required to create a connect with newer fans.
“We would love the handle to provide information about the tours and the updates during the tour. Create a connect between the team and the fans,” Poulami said. “Promote the team, create content around them so that it interests fans to go and watch the match. They did that for the England tour when the men’s team was traveling with them. They have the resources for men, they should have the same for women as well as they may be needing it a little bit more.”
The dream scenario would of course be the administrators recognising the untapped potential of reaching out to more fans through these doable avenues. And then, soon, it gets to a point where it is just organic growth from there.
As Maben said, “Soon the time will come. I just have this feeling that once this IPL (for women) gets going, this will kind of explode to another level. Then, it will be on its own. You don’t need any push. The game itself will kind of warrant that kind of coverage.”
With reporting inputs from Samreen Razzaqui