Compare the following scenarios:
Scenario 1: It is the first match of the ODI series between India and South Africa. About an hour before the start, the television programmes are in full flow with cricket experts and former players discussing the pitch, team combination et al. There is a TV crew at toss, a brand-sponsored segment aired, online ball-by-ball commentary, Twitter trends, the works.
Scenario 2: It is the first match of the ODI series between India and South Africa. Till the toss, nobody, not even former cricketers, know which channel or online streaming service is showing the match. Actually, many people don’t even know whether the match will be telecast on TV. Barely any word on Twitter, not even updates on the official handle.
There are no prizes for guessing which scenario is for which series. Both the Indian men and women cricket teams are playing a One-Day International series in South Africa. The men are taking on the Proteas in a bilateral series and the women are competing in the first fixture of the all-important ODI championship to qualify for the next World Cup.
But while the highlights of the men’s ODI are still running, the first women’s ODI (which India won by 88 runs) was not even shown on TV.
The reason? According to BCCI, it is because they do not have the right to produce matches outside India, which puts the onus on Cricket South Africa. On their part, CSA have been tweeting regular updates about the match on their Twitter handle but no live visuals. However, they confirmed to The Field that there will be no telecast or live streaming of the first five matches of the women’s tour.
The CSA handle also released a four-minute long video highlights package on their YouTube page, indicating that there is indeed a camera set up in place, just not for Live telecast.
Both Sony and Star have also clearly stated that they do not have the rights for the women’s tour. However, both BCCI, CSA, and Sony have informed The Field that three of the women’s matches in South Africa will be telecast... when they play the three double headers Twenty20s. “The last three T20’s will be televised live as part of the double headers being played in Johannesburg, Centurion and Cape Town,” CSA told The Field.
Read: Only the three matches where the women and men’s team play on the same day on the same ground, will be on TV.
Onus also on BCCI
The Diamond Oval in Kimberly, where the ODI series is being played, is not some far-off ground difficult to access. The stadium has had matches shown live on TV and it can certainly be done for the women’s matches... if the boards were so inclined.
This was a series planned in September, almost four months back. Surely CSA could have worked out a way to get a basic camera feed out, if not a produced package?
The Board of Control for Cricket in India is the same body that reportedly made South Africa play their Boxing Day Test against Zimbabwe. Surely they can persuade CSA or at least take the initiative for live score updates for the women’s team? Or take a cue from Cricket Australia that makes it a point to broadcast even tour or practice game on their website.
Even the International Cricket Council, which has ensured continuous cricket with the ODI Championship model, needs to make the boards accountable for the broadcast of said championship.
But here the message is clear: The reception and recognition and hype after India’s World Cup final run was just tokenism. The bottomline is that there are no takers for women’s cricket. No point in investing in a camera set for telecast. No need to even tweet scores and updates from an international game.
Importance of broadcast
The players themselves have spoken multiple times about the importance of broadcasting the matches live and how it would help women’s cricket.
This is what Mithali Raj had said the last time India were in South Africa
“It is important that we market the sport. If we are playing a series, or a bilateral series, it is important that it is broadcasted because a lot of people back home are so inquisitive to know the result of the game.
While there are a handful of fans who watch women’s cricket online, Raj urged the board to telecast the matches, “They do follow it over the net, but if it is broadcasted, it can make a huge difference for the profile of the game as well as for the players.
Unfortunately, that (the issue of broadcasting) depends on the home board.”
This was in May 2017, when India had beaten South Africa by eight wickets to lift the Quadrangular Series. Almost eight months later, nothing has changed. The fact that India fought all odds and apathy to reach the finals of and come as close as nine runs to winning the World Cup means nothing.
When many fans, this writer included, switched on their TVs on Monday afternoon, there was a sense of hope that even though India hasn’t played in more than six months, things have changed since Lord’s 2017.
This was the perfect time to build on the momentum the team has created in England; the fans are coming in, make it count and provide a platform for the team to reach a new level. Bring the game to masses, make them care about it like they do about the men’s.
But sadly, the apathy towards women’s cricket continues. It is an established fact that India women barely get a chance to play as much international cricket as their peers of both genders.
The disparity in the number of matches between the men and women’s team have played is highest in Indian cricket. The men’s team has played 87 more matches than the women’s team since 2015.
That is almost one-and-a-half years’ worth of matches. In 2017, Virat Kohli and Co played 54 matches across formats. The women, only 20 ODIs, mainly because it was a World Cup year.
But if you cannot arrange for telecast in the measly number of matches they play, how do you expect to get an audience for women’s cricket? Even from a purely monetary sense, an audience is the basic, first step.
There are people who still talk about how they never saw Kapil Dev’s iconic 175 in the 1983 World Cup due to a BBC strike. What if Monday’s ODI had another explosive knock from Harmanpreet Kaur? Or a hat-trick or a double hundred or some insane record? All of it would be lost, because two boards of two of the biggest cricket-playing countries, one of which is the richest, didn’t care enough to produce a basic, one-camera feed for an international game.
It all comes down to one simple fact – nobody cares enough to invest in women’s cricket. There is no question that the resources are there, but there is no inclination to set up a live system to show it.
The subtext is there for all to see: Receive felicitations when you perform well but don’t expect much when actually playing. Don’t wait for television coverage or people to follow it. You’ll get TV coverage eventually, when there is a double header with the men or when you play in India. Till then, wait for the boys to play, you can you have your moment then.