Monday, July 24, 2017

Cricket-Hers!!!

Once I played against a team, in my hometown, which had a girl as its captain. I don’t remember much about her barring the fact that she was of my age but much taller and stronger than I was. Oh well, I still am much shorter and weaker than people of my age. She had short hair, quite like Karishma Kapoor’s hairdo in one of the songs her debut film Prem Qaidi, kept wickets and batted.
I did play lot of cricket when I was a kid. Lot of competitive cricket. These weren’t any club matches. We guys often gathered 11 people, formed teams and played against similar teams. Normally one block of the area I lived in had one team. Although it were us building the team but one had to be good enough to come in final 11. Every match was played for a prize – paltry sum of money or the ball with which we played. The winner would take away the money or the ball. All of us had to contribute from whatever money we had. Being kids of middle class families, we didn’t have the luxury of well-defined pocket money. Hence we used to save from whatever avenues possible for these matches – walk back home from school instead of using paid transport to save money, use the money often guests gave us as gifts or things like that.
Since money was extremely hard to come by, we had to ensure we don’t lose it. And that was the motivation behind picking a perfect 11. No favors. No free cherries. And we fought tooth and nail to ensure not only we avoid losing whatever was on the bet but also to snatch it away from the other side so that we could have some buffer to play more of such matches. The matches were competitive. Very competitive. Sometimes they did end in a brawl with people losing blood and tooth in it. Hence not only teams needed guys who were good in cricket but also strong enough to fight in case there was a brawl at the end of the match.
So when a girl, often considered too weak to play this game, not only played but also led a side – it sent the eyes rolling. I remember quite a big crowd had gathered just to witness her play.
While she was a decent wicket keeper, what impressed everyone was the power of her shots and the command he had over her team. She was the captain of the side. Her shots, they were ferocious with full of power. When she hit our ace fast bowler, who later got an offer to play for a professional club which was quite a big achievement for people in my city, for three consecutive boundaries – he was hooted. He was hooted so badly about being hit by a girl that he lost control and bashed up someone from the crowd. Then he became abusive towards the girl.
That was my biggest surprise for that girl to play the game which was not just dominated by us males but owned by us. I had never seen someone from the other side of gender divide playing cricket. I wondered that even if she was a good player, how would she cope with such things at the ground. Didn’t she or her family worry about her safety? After all my part of city was, in fact the city itself, was full of rowdies.
Few months later we were going to participate in a tournament. Captain of my side wanted her to play for our side. So we visited her house. Her mother told her that she had given up playing cricket because it was not a girl’s game at all. One of her team members, we all had hit the teens, had misbehaved with her and the family didn’t want such things to reoccur.
That was the last I heard of her. But every time I heard about women’s cricket I did think about her. I wondered what would have happened to her.  Maybe she took the same route all of us did – moving cricket from the shelf called passion to the shelf called hobby and moved on with our lives. Maybe she did convince her family and played at some respectable level. I do not know. But all I know is that she was the only girl I had seen in person who played any kind of competitive cricket.
Hence whenever I hear about India’s women cricket team, I always wonder where do these cricketers come from. What would be the level of their passion to follow a sport which surely is a religion in the country but hardly has any space for women.
Because of my 8 year old, I have visited a few cricket coaching centers. I was pleasantly surprised by the kind and amount of cricketing talent those centers had. Oh well, how many times you see a 10 year old playing a perfect upper cut or a 9 year old playing a revers scoop or my own 8 year old playing a perfect helicopter shot? How many times do you see a 8 year old bowling with a perfect leg-spin action or kids learning to bowl googly just by watching Shane Warne videos?
What I do not remember is seeing a single girl in those centers. Need I has I have never seen an ad for girls-only cricket coaching?
So, where do these girls come from?
Over the years, general interest in India’s domestic cricket has increased. When I say domestic cricket, I do count IPL in it. IPL has given not only us but other countries too many talented cricketers in different ways – some got recognition through IPL, some got redemption. More importantly, it has increased the base at highest level. Now, one can dream of having just an IPL career instead of an international career. If you are good, monetary benefits are quite good. And it can always open the doors for international circuit.
Alas, women’s cricket do not have an IPL. I don’t know what is the status of their domestic cricket. While even a domestic cricketer, male, can make decent money these days thanks to BCCI’s hard work over the years, I am not sure what does a female cricketer at domestic level make. At international level, a grade A contract female cricketer makes 15% of their male counterparts. There are no other visible commercial benefits most probably. The fame is almost entirely missing. A Mithali Raj, quite the Tendulkar of women’s cricket, can still walk on the streets of Mumbai without getting noticed – high chances of that. I don’t know about the facilities even at the highest level. Where do they stack up with cricketers of Australia or England or South Africa? I have no clue but I can guess they aren’t really comparable going by the budget available for player’s salaries.
Process isn’t promising. Like the coaching facilities available in different parts of the country or domestic. End result isn’t too encouraging like money or fame.
So, what eggs these girls to take up cricket? Where do they come from?
The answer lies in passion and love for the game which take form when the mind is too innocent to recognize the existence of hurdles which may come in future. Like Harmanpreet Kaur said in her interview that she started playing and fell in love of the game even before she was old enough to recognize the fact that there is a gender divide in this world. But once she was in it, she game a damn.
Answer surely lies in the support the families of these cricketers provide to them. Even being full aware of the hurdles, they do promote and encourage them. Veda Krishnamurthy’s father moved from a small town in Karnataka to Bengaluru so that his daughter could play cricket.
And yes, credit has to be given to ICC for asking BCCI to take charge of India’s women’s cricket. Credit has to go to BCCI for giving it a structure, whatever form it is in, which will surely take time in gaining strength.
Right now India’s women’s cricket is somewhere where men’s cricket was in 70s or 80s – not much money, fame for only a few, struggling to keep pace with other sports and not much motivation for kids to pick it up as a career. At least men’s cricket had some heroes and 1983 world cup win with advent of TV in India transformed everything for them. Women’s cricket does need a strong impetus like that.
Oh yes, there have been chants about women’s IPL. While it does look like a noble idea, how to make it real and sustainable will hold the key for lot of answers in future.
From being ranked 7th in the tournament to being runners up is no mean achievement. That’s what we did in this year’s world cup. But we lost that match we should have won easily. We did what men’s team used to do so regularly in 90s. It was disappointing. It was disheartening.  
But yes, team did well. Really well. That is how the current sentiment is – “So what if we lost. We did really well”. That is a mature way to look at it which, to large extent, has come in fans for men’s cricket too. But that happened after a phase of immature fanaticism. The fanaticism which made the game the rage it is now in the country – remember all that effigy burning et al which doesn’t happen anymore, almost. I do not support it but for women’s cricket to evolve the way men’s cricket has done in the country, maybe it will have to go through that kind of craziness once. Maybe.
But more importantly, women’s cricket shall need to achieve sufficient amount of success, on and off the ground both, to inspire a generation of girls to start seeing cricket as a career. It shall have to generate enough career avenues, like IPL has done, for parents to see different possibilities for their daughter.
The process shall take time but if BCCI manages women’s cricket as well as it has done with men’s cricket. Such a day is more likely to come.
I just hope there is a day when a loss like yesterday doesn’t make me, the average cricket fan, feel like – “So what if we lost. We did really well”.  I hope it hurts and disturbs me. I hope it makes me lose sleep.
That would be the real victory for women’s cricket. Even in a loss.

 Image courtesy - Indian Express