An action-packed home season awaits the Indian women’s cricket team starting December. Heavyweights Australia and England will come visiting to compete in a total of two Test matches, six T20 Internationals and three ODIs.
The action, though, will be confined to two venues less than 40 kilometres apart. That is a dampener.
Last week, the Board of Control for Cricket in India confirmed that India will host England for three T20 Internationals at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and then play a four-day Test at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. Australia will begin their tour with a Test at the Wankhede, followed by six white-ball matches at the DY Patil Stadium, beginning with three ODIs and ending with three T20Is.
The season will also kick off with the resumption of A tours, as India A host the England A team for three T20s at the Wankhede Stadium.
It is not clear why the BCCI is intent on keeping Mumbai and Navi Mumbai as the designated venues for women’s cricket. Last year too, the Australian women’s team visited India and the bilateral series was confined to the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai and the DY Patil Stadium as the venues. The inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League was also played exclusively at these two stadiums.
Confining 14 games to two venues cuts down travel time and costs. It also means that players are not required to adapt to new conditions after every match.
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But that, one could argue, is exactly what makes cricket worth it. The Indian women’s cricket team, who are not on the road as often as the men’s team, at least would not have those complaints.
It was understandable for the Women’s Premier League as the BCCI wanted to gauge the response and viewership to the inaugural event. They were in largely untested waters, after all. The WPL helped promote the game and surely increased the popularity of the game and the players. Mumbai and Navi Mumbai were safer bets.
The Indian women are now Commonwealth Games silver medalists and more recently, Asian Games gold medalists. The upcoming home season, therefore, was an opportune time to spread the field and let fans in different parts of the country watch their national team in action.
Confining tours to a location or two, though, is a growing trend. In the last three years, India has been on six overseas tours, to England, Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Barring England, all the other hosts chose to play the visitors at one or two venues.
But India has more at stake, considering the growing popularity of women’s cricket.
While the iron was hot, there was a chance to break free from this trend and spread out the matches across the country. Currently, it appears that despite boasting a rich cricket culture, India is allowing just one traditional centre to promote women’s cricket.
In the past few years, several Indian players – Harmanpreet Kaur, Shafali Varma, Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues – have been contracted to play in foreign leagues such as the Caribbean Premier League, Women’s Big Bash League in Australia and the Hundred in England. They have gotten a taste of touring different venues in cities with different teams.
Then there are players like Kerala’s Minnu Mani and Assam’s Uma Chetry who are the first, and so far only, female cricketers to represent their states in the national team. There is no denying that the game is growing.
So it’s a shame that the BCCI has kept a pan-India team from getting pan-India exposure by playing on different pitches in different cities in different conditions.
Taking women’s cricket to other parts of India is an easy, sure-shot way of appreciating the game and the players, and inspiring more people to take it up and grow it further.