Chance for BCCI to help expand women’s Tests
Being the financial powerhouse, the Indian board should unilaterally organise more Tests now that the women's team has repeatedly proved themselves against superior opposition.
The stadium is packed with 25,000 paying spectators, cheering for the Indian team. They sense that India will beat their less experienced opposition. Among that crowd is an old woman. Close to 90, she can’t walk easily, so she is brought into the stadium on a chair. The Indian opening batter sees this, amazed.
You’re probably thinking that this stadium is Edgbaston, and the Indian team are the men in 2019, competing in the World Cup. The opposition would be Bangladesh, and the old woman must be Charulata Patel, who broke the internet that day. The opener, Rohit Sharma—who went and embraced the old lady after play.
Try again. The venue is the Moin-ul-Haq stadium in Patna. The 25,000 are cheering for the Indian women’s team. The year is 1976, and India are on the brink of their first ever Test win against the West Indies. The grandmother is unnamed though remembered by opener Shobha Pandit, an incident recounted in the book ‘The Fire Burns Blue: A History of Women’s Cricket in India’.
If there had been internet in the 70s, the pioneering Indian women’s Test team would have been social media stars. They routinely attracted crowds in the thousands who paid to watch them play (the Indian women’s team of today usually plays with free entry). But they were stars in the dark. To borrow a line from author Gideon Haigh, back then the only things that went viral were viruses.
This is one small slice of India’s Test history. It is also a scab that itches when India women play so few Tests today. Sure, times have changed, and T20 cricket is the vehicle that will grow the global game. But the last three months have given us many reasons to ask for more Tests for India, and nostalgia is the least of them.
Let’s look at India’s last four Test, spread over seven years: In 2014 at Wormsley, India out-bowled a newly professional England and aced a fourth innings chase with eight debutants. Later that year in Mysore, Harmanpreet Kaur’s part-time googlies took nine wickets in the match as India bowled South Africa out twice after asking them to follow on. In Bristol this June, 17-year-old Shafali Verma was unleashed in whites, striking 96 and 63 on debut. Following on, India were rescued by then-unheard-of Sneh Rana, who battled for 80* to secure a draw. And last week we all saw the mastery of 38-year-old Jhulan Goswami, who taught the teenage Aussie pace attack a lesson or ten. India were two wickets away from asking Australia to follow on, and outscored Australia in terms of runs and run rate. If there were any questions about whether India can entertain in the longest format, they now lie six feet under.
The BCCI have not been unmoved. Secretary Jay Shah tweeted congratulations to Smriti Mandhana on becoming the first Indian to score a Test ton on Australian soil. But the BCCI now has a chance to go a step further.
Cricket tours are paid for by the host nation, who earn money by selling broadcast rights. There certainly is interest from broadcasters in India’s Tests. After the drama at Bristol, Sony Sports Network decided to expand their coverage for this Pink Ball Test, adding Hindi, Telugu and Tamil feeds. Adding Test matches as a part of tours by visiting sides could be a revenue source for the BCCI, especially as we near a new-media rights cycle (leave aside the fact that the BCCI doesn’t need to worry about the costs). The multi-format series template has proven engaging. And the wider effects of such a move could be landscape-changing.
Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine are living legends of New Zealand cricket. They have never played Tests. Stafanie Taylor, captain of the West Indies team that won the T20 World Cup in 2016, has never played a Test. Chamari Athapaththu, the Sri Lankan leftie whose favourite pastime is plundering Australia’s bowling, has never played a Test. If the BCCI hosts women’s Tests as a part of tours by visiting teams, with no expectations of reciprocal Tests, we could get to see some titans of our game finally wear whites.
There is an opportunity for the BCCI to grow the longest format for women globally, an opportunity that exists by virtue of being the financial powerhouse of world cricket. How it would gladden the hearts of the pioneers of women’s cricket, who broke fixed deposits to keep the game running. But this is not about the format’s past. This is about its future.