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Looking for Chak De: Indian women fighting for more than WT20 trophy

A lull descended on Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla stadium as India lost their first wicket with just three runs on the board while facing the third over from Pakistan in a World T20 clash.

world t20 Updated: Mar 21, 2016 12:09 IST
Abhimanyu Kulkarni
Pakistan women cricket team celebrates after winning the match against India during the ICC Twenty 20 World Cup at Ferozshah Kotla Ground in New Delhi.
Pakistan women cricket team celebrates after winning the match against India during the ICC Twenty 20 World Cup at Ferozshah Kotla Ground in New Delhi.(Mohd Zakir/HT Photo)

A lull descended on Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla stadium as India lost their first wicket with just three runs on the board while facing the third over from Pakistan in a World T20 clash. A child in the audience decided to dish out some advice to the new batter, Smriti Mandhana. “Chal Smriti, four maar (Come on Smriti, hit a boundary),” he shouted.

This little inspiration was all the 60,000-strong crowd needed to show its support for the home team. Chants of “India, India” and “Mithali, Mithali” rang out loud. India loves its cricket and its cricketers.

All those who had turned up to witness the match realised soon enough that they couldn’t hope to see as many sixes as one does in the men’s game. As the day progressed, what they also learnt was that run-fests aren’t the only form of entertaining cricket. The women in blue fought tooth and nail in the second innings despite setting Pakistan a meagre target of 97.

It was a refreshing change to see so many turn up to support the home team. Most of the women’s World T20 matches have had a handful of spectators.

From four-year-olds to 70-year olds, fans of all ages turned up with flags and jerseys to show their love for the team and the game. An enthusiast had even come from Lahore and was the only one in the stadium wearing Pakistani colours.

“Everybody supports the Afridis and the Kohlis, but these athletes need our love too. After all, they are also representing the nation, aren’t they?” said 27-year-old Talha Dar.

Talha Dar (3rd from left) had come all the way from Lahore to support his team. (HT Photo)

The spectators had come to see India win. And nothing could get them to leave before the last ball was bowled. They braved India posting a low total. They huddled together when it started to rain. They even survived the disaster of the snack counter running dry with more than an innings to be played.

“Ma’am, please, let’s wait for another over. Jhulan (Goswami) is bowling. If I don’t watch her bowl, how will I become a fiery pacer like her?” 14-year-old Vedanshi told her teacher who was asking her to leave as the clouds darkened the sky.

Read: Women’s WT20: Pakistan defeat India by 2 runs on D/L method

“These women are braving all odds to win laurels for India. Buying a Rs 250 ticket to show them support is the least we can do,” said 26-year-old Harish who had convinced four of his friends to come along.

The match, that took place hours before the men’s clash between the two nations in Kolkata, was cheered on not just by the excited fans at the stadium but also by hundreds on social media.

“The men’s team should learn a thing or two about fielding from these women. They are pouncing on every ball,” said Talhat about the Pakistani fielders.

India lost the rain-battered match by two runs through the Duckworth-Lewis method.

“As a team, we did not play according to our expectations. This is part of sports, but it is disappointing (to lose via D/L method),” said India captain Mithali Raj.

Read: Lost in first 6 overs of both innings: India women captain on WT20 loss

The Indian women are still favourites in the tournament as they beat Bangladesh comprehensively in their opener. They are in blazing form, having won seven of their last nine T20 international matches.

But, despite the success, they have somehow not drawn the level of media attention that their male counterparts have. Winning this tournament could be their “Chak De” moment.

Women in all other sporting disciplines have made a mark on the global stage.

Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal and MC Mary Kom have become household names. Why then, in a cricket-crazy nation, does women’s cricket not command the hype and respect of women’s badminton or tennis?

Since the women’s team came under the BCCI’s ambit in 2006, they have regressed dramatically. While the administration kept pouring riches into the men’s game, the women got step-motherly treatment.

The moment BCCI took on the reins of women’s cricket, it scrapped the under-16 and inter-zone tournaments. A women’s world cup game in 2013 which was to be held at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium, was moved to accommodate a Ranji match for the men.

Read: No ‘Chacha Cricket’ in India-Pak match for the first time since 1998