The debate around women’s cricket in India is often centered around the structures in place. The Board of Control for Cricket in India is the richest cricket body in the world and has accordingly empowered its associations. Therefore, money is not always the issue when it comes to investing in the women’s game.
Nor is talent pool a roadblock, as the Indian team has proved by reaching the final of the last ODI (2017) and T20 (2020) World Cup, with a fragment of the preparation and planning that was put in by the eventual champions, England and Australia.
However, it is a question of inclination and interest from stakeholders such as the state associations that counts in order to build a professional and accessible system for women’s cricket in India. This will, as the last few years have shown, is lopsided and sometimes even lacking.
This was the assessment of the BCCI’s two former General Managers of Game Development, Ratnakar Shetty and Saba Karim, in a panel discussion at the The Sports Law & Policy Symposium 2021 on women’s cricket and gender issues in sport.
Discussing the pathways for women’s cricket with Indian cricketer Sushma Verma and retired pacer-turned journaist Snehal Pradhan, Shetty and Karim gave the insider’s perspectives on why Indian women’s cricket is perhaps lagging behind from an administrative standpoint.
“Financially the state associations are strong. Money is not the problem, it is the will. Well established associations are doing it on their own. BCCI should allot former cricketers to do their bit. In some states systems are already in place and girls are coming up on their own,” Shetty said when asked if incentives were a way forward to increase matches.
“The associations should realise women’s cricket is as important as men’s cricket. Make women feel there is a lot of scope for women’s cricket,” he added.
Andhra as an example
Karim added that during his tenure in the BCCI, he had tried to get things moving to set up a more proactive domestic structure. “Some North East states are great examples and although they are hampered in terms of finance, they have the will. Other bodies should also follow the system,” he said.
Andhra Pradesh is a leading light in this regard. They have built a structure for youngsters and it’s showing — having won the Under-19 state tournaments twice, they were runners-up in senior level twice and runners-up in the U-19 domestic T20 tournament as well.
Srinivas Reddy, a women’s coach at the Andhra Cricket Association, explained how the process was propelled by an administrator Narendranath, who was passionate about cricket and owned a college. He gave ACA a ground and then they installed a building for women’s cricketers, providing basics like changing rooms.
“We sent women coordinators to rural schools, summer camps were set up in all 13 districts. I was there but we needed a woman so we brought in former India coach Purnima Rau and we travelled for two years. In 2010 an exclusive women’s residential academy was set up,” he explained.
India international Verma said something similar happened in Himachal with Anurag Thakur leading it. “Under his direction, the first residential academy was established in Himachal Pradesh in 2009. No one had ever played professional cricket before…The academy gave equal importance to academics too ,” she explained.
The drive to do more
However, not all states are inclined thus, including cricket cradle Mumbai as per Shetty.
“Well-established associations are doing it on their own. In some states, systems are already in place and girls are coming up on their own. BCCI should allot former cricketers to do their bit,” Shetty suggested.
Karim also stressed the need to understand that women’s cricket will be different than men’s.
“Men’s cricket, the entry-level is very early, and they only exit in their late 30s. They have no obstacles on travel, no safety issues that women face. We need to ensure no obstacles hinder the growth of women cricketers and, gender sensitisation of coaches, athletes, etc. is undertaken by state associations. The issues girls face are different from what boys face and we need to understand and address that. This will help them remain in the system and maximise their potential,” he added.
Financial viability becomes another crucial factor. Shetty pointed out that Railways are the only employers for women cricketers now. Andhra does give a stipend to women but central contracts at the state level are still a pipe dream in India.
An IPL for women
Which begs the question, wouldn’t something like a women’s Indian Premier League open up avenues?
Karim agreed. “I don’t see any roadblock for a women’s IPL. BCCI should create a structure, so many cricketers will get opportunity through IPL. Eventually, we should look to have a full-fledged women’s IPL. The best way is to have simple and state contracts in place first. The policy that Andhra took should be taken by other states.”
Shetty too stressed on the need for domestic investment when talking about the need for an Under-16 competition. “We should note that the men’s team is doing well because of the investment in the domestic level tournaments and such investment must be made in women’s cricket too. Identification, promotion and support are what is to be provided.”
The ideal blueprint to grow women’s cricket is in place, whether following the example of Andhra or Australia. But, evidently, it all comes down to the various moving parts of cricket administration and an collective will.