Breaks by default galore in the time of Mithali Raj
Gap years are for college students from first world countries. Gap years are for burnt out employees who are tired of syncing calendars and who need to sync body clocks. Mithali Raj is none of those, and yet she knows all about gap years.
A tweet by @_hypocaust brought my attention to the valleys in Mithali’s career. Not cracks in form—of which there are precious few—but the canyons between games. After her ODI century-on-debut, way back in 1999, she had to wait 508 days to play another ODI tournament. Not because she was injured. Not because she was dropped. But because India didn’t play any matches in that time. And the tournament India did play next was a World Cup.
Yes. India went into the Women’s World Cup in 2000 having not played cricket for 508 days.
Where’s your jaw? Leave it on that floor. Because immediately after that World Cup, the talent of Mithali had to wait another 398 days to play another ODI. So, in her first 926 days of international cricket, Mithali played only seven ODIs.
If you think that was a one off driven by a lack of means (the cash-strapped Women’s Cricket Association of India ran the game back then), I can only say I wish that was true. Despite the riches of the BCCI, Mithali and her team went into the 2013 Women’s World Cup—as hosts no less—having not played an ODI for 204 days.
204 days. More than six months. Is it any surprise that we were knocked out of the first round of our own party?
More gaps to gape at: After helping India to a third-place finish in the World Cup of 2009, Mithali couldn’t play an ODI for 336 days. And after the high of the 2017 World Cup, where Mithali led India to their second final, there was no cricket for almost 200 days. And as of Monday (February 1, 2021), it has been 453 days since Mithali has been given a chance to showcase her genius. It has been 328 days since the Indian team has played international cricket.
Gap years are for those who want time and space to find their calling. Not to the Mithalis of India, who have found it. And please let’s not cry wolf with howls of Covid. Last July, the Indian women’s tour to England was cancelled because of the pandemic, despite England’s willingness to fund the tour and send a chartered plane to our doors. All we had to do was get players to the terminal. Didn’t happen. Yet in less than a month, male cricketers were milling to airports to head to the UAE for IPL.
Since then, promised tours have not materialised, and scheduled tours of Australia and New Zealand have been cancelled. There are no signs of any home series. Meanwhile, neighbouring Pakistan women are currently in South Africa, while England women are in New Zealand. Did I mention how much cricket the Indian men have played?
The relationship between a cricket board and a cricket team is ideally symbiotic. The more matches the board schedules, the better the team gets. The better the team, the more money it earns the board through broadcast revenues. But what happens to teams that don’t fit this model? What happens to the women’s team, which the Board doesn’t need?
Look at the infographic. Look at Mithali’s career, the gaps and the busy periods, and remember who was in charge of Indian cricket when, and you have a powerful story. It tells you just how much the administration of the time cared, and cares. Look at their actions, not their promises.
Imagine this. You’re good at your work. Really good, the best in the world. But you need your boss to give you opportunities to show how good you are. You don’t get those. You sit at home while you see other bosses giving others the chances you want. You wait. You can’t quit your job, there’s no one else to employ you. You can’t complain, your boss might tear up your contract. So you wait. And when—three hundred odd days later—you get your chance, you make it a point to say how grateful you are for the opportunity.
I can’t speak for the current players, but I imagine this is how Indian women's team might feel. They’re performers, in an age-limited occupation, and they’ve lost a year, not entirely due to the pandemic. When they retire, we will judge their careers by their results and records. But who will count the gaps that were no fault of theirs? Who will question why those gaps exist? Let’s face it: An administration has the power to shape an athlete’s results, records, and careers, their very lives. And the Mithalis of India deserve better.
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- The Indian Premier League (IPL), to be held across six venues, will take a decision on allowing fans into the stadiums later in the tournament. The IPL 2021 schedule was announced on Sunday.