I was a part of all the previous ICC Women’s World T20s right from the first one in 2009, when I was leading the India side. Those were tournaments held alongside the men; yes, people were watching, and there was good publicity for the women’s games, but what I found was that by having it simultaneously with the men, the women would be in the shadows.
Before the semifinals, people would not be aware about the women’s games, as only the semifinals and the final were televised. So, we didn’t get the publicity that we should have received.
Now, with this being the first ever standalone ICC Women’s World T20, it will be great publicity-wise, and people would be much more aware. The fan following that has grown since the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 will love to watch this tournament.
So it’s a huge step forward taken by the ICC. Now, that I’ve retired from this format, I’ll watch it on TV and cheer for India, and enjoy cricket from the outside for a change. I’m especially happy that every game is being televised.
There’s been such a massive change to women’s cricket since I started playing. I remember staying in an accommodation with bunk beds for my first World Cup, in 2005. For domestic matches, we often travelled unreserved in trains, and played on grounds where getting injured would have been very easy. There were countless junior tournaments where we stayed in dormitories and slept on mattresses on the floor.
I recall so many funny memories when I think about multiple teams sharing one bathroom. Back then, the IWCC (International Women’s Cricket Council) and the WCAI (Women’s Cricket Association of India) did a very creditable job with the resources they had. But we could really see the difference in the 2009 World Cup in Australia, which was the first one organised by the ICC.
All of a sudden, we had the best hotels, great grounds, a daily allowance. Even for domestic tournaments, the BCCI’s entry meant that flights replaced trains. Instead of fighting other passengers for a place to sit, we fought with each other for window seats! On the field, we got good umpires and less bruised elbows. The passion of the cricketers was just as much as it was before, but off the field so much has changed.
The ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 took things one notch higher, and it was one of the best World Cups I have played in. In terms of facilities, there was hardly any difference between a men’s World Cup and a women’s World Cup.
We travelled in business class, got rooms in five-star hotels, inter-city travel was in luxury buses with internet and daily allowances equal to men’s event. All we had to do was go express ourselves on the field.
The TV coverage and the tremendous traditional and digital media meant there was unprecedented hype – otherwise sometimes the public doesn’t even realise when an ICC Women’s World Cup comes and goes.
For the final, there were more viewers in India than there were for the Olympics badminton final featuring PV Sindhu. That tells you how important cricket in the subcontinent is now. There was a time when one subcontinental international team could not afford to come for a tournament because of a lack of funds.
Now teams have become so competitive, they are preparing really well and everyone is planning years in advance. The brand of cricket in big tournaments has just been getting more watchable, and the last year in particular has set the bar very high. I expect that to go even higher in the ICC Women’s World T20 2018.
One reason we see this brand of cricket is domestic T20 Leagues, and hopefully India can join the party. This summer we played a women’s exhibition game during the IPL in Mumbai, and it was very competitive, going down to the last ball.
This is the kind of cricket people want to watch. So the upcoming event in the Caribbean is important for India for two reasons: Firstly, everyone is saying India is not a good T20I side, and this is a good chance to prove them wrong. Secondly, a good performance by India at this time will be one step closer to a Women’s IPL.
I’m expecting flat pitches in this tournament, so I’m going to keep an eye on Smriti Mandhana. Her performance outside Asia is really strong, and I expect her to perform just as well as she did in in the ECB Super League. She can change the momentum of a game, that’s the most important thing.
Another player like that is Lizelle Lee of South Africa. Her counterattacks are very entertaining. And when Australia toured India this year, Ash Gardener caught my eye. She looks a good all-rounder: She bowls quality off spin at a good pace, and comes out at No. 3 and tries to play all kinds of shots. Among the Australian group, she was the one who stood out. All three are players who can counterattack, and I like those kinds of players. I can’t wait to watch them in this tournament.
This column was originally published on the ICC website here.