Shantha Rangaswamy is a woman of many firsts. She was the first captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, way back in 1976. She was Indian women’s cricket’s first international centurion and the first captain to win a Test. And on Monday, she achieved another significant first: the first Indian woman to receive the newly introduced Lifetime Achievement Award for Women by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
But the 63-year-old legend of women’s cricket would prefer to look at the award through a larger prism. “I feel proud, but not for me personally,” said the former Indian skipper to Scroll.in. “It’s an achievement for women’s cricket. At least, now every year, a woman cricketer will get due recognition for her efforts.”
“The Committee of Administrators decided on Monday, that for the first time, women’s cricketers would also be honoured with lifetime achievement awards,” said Diana Edulji, an Indian women’s cricket legend in her own right and part of the BCCI’s four-member administration team. “There were a lot of names discussed but Rangaswamy deserves the honour. She was an excellent all-rounder and an asute captain...one of the pioneers of Indian women’s cricket.”
‘A long overdue recognition’
The Board of Control for Cricket in India took over the women’s game in the country from the Women’s Cricket Association of India in 2006. The fact that it took more than a decade for them to implement a lifetime achievement award for female cricketers does not escape Rangaswamy’s attention. “It is long overdue recognition,” she stated. “It took 10 years for them to start this. But I would like to take this award on a positive note and see it as a good beginning.”
She does admit though that the Committee of Administrators taking over the BCCI’s administration after a Supreme Court-mandated order may have also played a role. Rangaswamy also lauded the fact that the CoA chose to honour her with the award.
“Things have been looking up [for women’s cricket in India] for the last two to three years”, she said. “But it finally took a lady and outsiders to recognise women’s cricket. But all said and done, the stage has been set for recurrence. And that can only be a good thing.”
Shilu Ranganathan, one of Indian women’s cricket’s earliest administrators summed it up, “Finally, at long last, a woman cricketer in India has been awarded a prestigious award. She strode over the game like a colossus. When we used to play in venues away from the metros, young boys would come to watch and used to ask for her autograph.”
A pioneer of Indian women’s cricket
It truly is a long-overdue recognition because Rangaswamy was a pioneer of Indian women’s cricket, taking care of it in its infancy and shepherding it through the initial early struggles. An all-rounder, Rangaswamy made her mark on the international stage when an Australian Under-25 side toured India for the first time in February 1975.
As Sidhanta Patnaik wrote in Wisden India, Rangaswamy scored 91 in the first innings of the second match and then, with Australia needing five runs in the final over with four wickets in hand, took three wickets in six balls to force a draw. On her international Test debut against the West Indies at Bengaluru in 1976, she scored 74.
Three Tests later, she led them to a fine victory against West Indies. Then, against New Zealand in an away match in 1977, Rangaswamy scored a brilliant century in an total of 177 as India managed to draw the game.
‘She could hit a six with a flick of her wrists’
“She was an excellent inswing bowler and an aggressive batter,” said a former teammate Sudha Shah, who played alongside Rangaswamy. “She led from the front. I remember in a zonal match when we were playing for South Zone, she went out and batted, despite a fracture on her little finger. She really deserves the award. She’s contributed in every sphere for women’s cricket.”
Ranganathan also remembered the aggressive nature of Rangaswamy’s batting. “She could hit a six with just the flick of her wrists. Against West Indies in 1976, she effortlessly hit sixes over the fence at the Chepauk Stadium.”
For her part, Rangaswamy admitted that she was basically an attacking batter and she would have fitted well into this current Twenty20 generation. But for her, all her feats of batting and bowling were only statistics, she found more pride in having pioneered women’s cricket in the country.
“It’s not many how runs I scored or wickets I took, it’s the fact that we laid a strong foundation for women’s cricket that was the single-biggest contribution,” reckoned the former Indian skipper. “In a sense, we were the ‘founding mothers’ of women’s cricket in India. We got it noticed and ensured that we wouldn’t wither away.”
But what took so long? Central contracts for the men’s cricket team were introduced in 2001. The same for their female equivalents only arrived in 2015, nine years after the BCCI took control of the women’s game in the country. India became the last country among cricket’s top eight teams to award annual contracts to its women cricketers.
Rangaswamy has an answer. “They were all set in their ways, their ideas. They were not able to think out-of-the-box. It has only been recently that things have been changing.”
The award-winner also told ESPNcricinfo that the lifetime achievement award will be the first monetary benefit she would be getting in her entire career. “All my expenses during my playing days were from my pocket,” she said. “We all used to play just for the passion of the game,” she explained. “Even when I got the Arjuna Award [in 1976], there was no monetary prize. They introduced it later, but the government should also think about paying previous prize-winners the differential amounts.”
The 63-year-old, however, is not content to bask in the glow of her award alone. “I’d like to remember Madhavrao Scindia, Sharad Pawar, Diana Edulji and Anurag Thakur as I celebrate this achievement. These four personalities, in their own, also played a big role in the empowerment of women’s cricket,” she stated.
And what about the current Indian women’s team who recently qualified for the 2017 Women’s World Cup and also pulled off a thrilling win over South Africa last week? Indian cricket’s first woman captain is quietly confident. “We’ve had a few hiccups,” she said. “But this is a good team and I’m confident that they will do well.” Coming from someone who has seen Indian cricket from its absolute infancy, that indeed is high praise.