Three years ago in England, India reached the final of the World Cup for the second time and came as close as nine runs to being world champions. But the runners-up finish sparked a first-of-its kind revolution for women’s cricket in India.
A lot has happened since then and the sport has benefitted with an increase in support from BCCI as well as popularity and relevance in India, something that was often ignored in the past by the game’s governance. India reached another World Cup final earlier this year, the T20 World Cup final viewership broke records and a bunch of talented young cricketers have risen up the ranks.
But the new threat of the coronavirus pandemic and the old issue of indifference now threatens to derail all the good work and set women’s cricket back in India by a few years.
The BCCI has pulled the women’s team out of the tour to England citing logistical problems, such as travel restrictions and assembling of training camps amid the coronavirus crisis. At the same time, the same board is working on a rescheduled India Premier League in UAE.
See the difference in standards?
It’s not technically new or surprising given how the women’s cricket in India has been treated for years. At present, the Indian women’s cricket team is without a selection committee or a contact person in BCCI after the resignation of Saba Karim as GM of cricket operations. An advertisement for selectors was put up in January after the term of the Hemalata Kala-led committee ended earlier this year but no appointment has been made as yet.
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Meanwhile, women’s domestic cricket in England has returned with the London Cup, weeks after the England and Wales Cricket Board facilitated the resumption of men’s international cricket with matches in bio-secure bubbles. Women’s international cricket is set to return soon as well with South Africa going on their England tour and extending it to fill in for India. The Proteas will begin their training camp for it next week and New Zealand has already begun.
The loss is all India’s and it can’t be blamed on the pandemic alone.
As ODI captain Mithai Raj predicted a few days back, Indian women’s cricket seems to be taking backwards steps.
“Unfortunately, women’s cricket may have been set back by a couple of years by this pandemic as some of the momentum that had been built between India’s success in World Cup 2017 and World T20 2020 has been lost,” she had said.
This momentum was immense as the T20 World Cup final in March broke records in India with 9.02 million fans watching the final.
But the team has played no match since then and with lockdowns in place, training has been sporadic and left to individuals.
The next ODI World Cup, if things go according to plan, will be held from February 6 to March 7 in New Zealand next year and even in these tricky times, there has to be an increased focus on preparation for it. India have qualified directly for it this time. An inexperienced squad finished runners-up last time but the lack of match time should not be a reason for loss again.
An invitation from England for an overseas tour would therefore have been crucial at this time. The ECB’s model has been proved successful with the West Indies series in full swing and Pakistan already there for the next one. The protocols in place are strict and have worked to not spread the virus further.
However, unlike lesser affluent cricket boards like West Indies and Pakistan, India seems hesitant to take the leap.
There is no official confirmation given for why India has pulled out except the logistical one but the underlying issue seems to be that of money. The age-old question of why invest in the women when men bring in more revenue seems to be raising its head again. And finances are a key point here as sports worldwide suffer due to the lockdown.
It stands to reason that a tour would require participation from both parties – ECB and BCCI – perhaps when it comes to the added cost of isolation in the bio-secure bubble and the safety precautions before travelling. Additionally, it would mean appointing a selection panel first up and that involves a lot of planning in the back office as well.
The IPL is understandably a hugely lucrative tournament for the Indian cricket board and therefore all resources are diverted towards it, even if it involves taking hundreds of people to another country. But if cricketers from eight teams can be assembled for the proposed IPL, surely a bunch of 20 international players can be brought together for a training camp?
The Indian women’s cricket team is not known for bench strength and there would not have been too strenuous coordination involved to gather the core squad. But the fact that a selection committee was not in place suggests that there was no plan for cricket to be staged soon.
It also brings up the question of whether the planned IPL in UAE will include the Women’s T20 Challenge as it would have had when it was to be played in the Indian summer. Even for a basic, week-long tournament, the involvement of international cricketers is needed and that would mean more planning for BCCI and the IPL Governing Council. But are they up for it?
Ultimately, it’s a question of initiative and investment for women’s cricket. The backroom situation and partiality in India is not a secret. But as the team goes from strength to strength at world events, the system seems to take another step back.