Virat Kohli fails to recognise Mithali Raj: Gender bias at play
On Wednesday, Mithali Raj made headlines, becoming the highest run-getter in the world in ODI cricket. Her feat of scoring 6,000 runs in the 50-over format is unprecedented in the history of women’s cricket. Wisden has named her as one of the five greats of the game. Poised at the summit of run-makers, you would be tempted to think the Hyderabad-based batswoman has no other points left to prove?
Not quite. Eighteen years after she began playing the ‘gentleman’s game’ Indian cricket captain Mithali Raj still has to keep fielding sexist queries from callous journalists with a straight bat. During a dinner and media interaction on the eve of the Women’s World Cup, Mithali responded tersely when asked who her favourite men’s cricketer between India and Pakistan was.”Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is?” was her retort.
Mithali isn’t the only champion busting the ODI charts in the Indian women’s team. Jhulan Goswami, another seasoned campaigner, is the highest wicket taker on the planet. Despite this the women’s team is not on the media’s radar except when they are playing ICC tournaments such as the ongoing World Cup in England. They comprehensively won all their initial league matches and thrashed Pakistan unlike the men, who were beaten resoundingly in the ICC Champions’ Trophy final. Still, the women seldom make it to the front pages. Is there an implicit gender bias at work? Well, the last match India played against a formidable South Africa wasn’t even televised.
With a Bradmanesque career average of more than 50 (she is part of a club of five others), Mithali has often spoken about the uneven playing ground that women cricketers face in terms of attention from the media. “There are generally no reporters at our matches, either to see our team’s performances, or my dimples,” she had once famously remarked.
Why blame just the media? Their male compatriots don’t appear to be any better.
In 2015, they were both nominated for the Padmashri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award. Mithali went on to win the Padmashri that year. Still, Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli committed a major faux pas when congratulating Mithali Raj on her world record on Wednesday. On his Facebook page, in a post that has subsequently been deleted, Kohli called her achievement of becoming the highest ODI run getter as a milestone of cricket history. Only he put Punam Raut’s picture instead!
Coming from the Indian skipper to the women’s captain, the blunder speaks volumes about the kind of apathy lady cricketers face in the country. After all, it is still called the gentleman’s game!