India hope women’s team replicates 1983, 2007 feat
Among those who attended the Women’s T20 World Cup final was the winner of 38 Grand Slam titles, Billie Jean. Inviting her was a splendid decision taken by ICC, Cricket Australia—and whoever else—because it gave the occasion greater gravitas.
Billie Jean has achieved iconic status, as much for her wondrous tennis achievements as for being an unrelenting activist for gender equality over five decades. She may be 76, but her words carry weight.
She has fought many famous battles to bring women, on and off the court, to the forefront in sport, the best known being the celebrated contest against Bobby Riggs, a former Grand Slammer himself, in 1973.
Riggs was 26 years older but had bragged he could beat women players half his age. He beat Margaret Court, then the world’s top female player, before being beaten by Billie Jean.
Billed as `The Battle Of The Sexes’ Riggs versus Billie Jean drew a big TV audience. Billie Jean won the match in straight sets. Smarting from the defeat, for months Riggs clamoured for a rematch, which Billie Jean, having proved a point, refused.
“I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem,” she was to say later. Women’s tennis was never the same again.
I have dwelt on this in some detail because I believe the T20 World Cup could be the defining moment in women’s cricket if everything that transpired before and on March 8 is something to go by. The tournament was promoted aggressively. It got support from male cricketers too, most demonstrably from Mitchell Starc, who left the ODI series in South Africa midway to watch wife Alyssa Healy play the final.
Having the final on International Women’s Day was a masterstroke. It made the touted quest of packing MCG with more than 91,000 fans—a world record—almost a reality. The final figure was about 5000 short of the record. But the attendance number becomes academic in terms of the impact the event had.
I stayed in the same hotel as Billie Jean and seeing her at breakfast on the morning of the final fulfilled a long time wish to meet her, as well as open up conversation on cricket.
She’s never been to India but is eager to visit because there is “so much happening in these countries” and also to see how women are faring. “Do women in sport in India get equal money?” she asked. I think she knew the answer.
Billie Jean’s brief inquiries about Indian sportswomen centred around Saina Mirza and women’s cricket captain Harmanpreet Kaur. “I have no favourites for the final, but hope we see a good match,” she signed off.
The final turned out to be an anti-climax with India thoroughly outplayed by Australia. True, Australia had home support and were defending champions, but when it came to the crunch, India crumbled.
For a team that had been unbeaten in the league phase, including against Australia in the opening game, expectations of a thrilling contest were not misplaced. There is no shame in losing, but sustaining consistency till the task is completed is the learning they must take away from the tournament.
There are some examples of this in men’s cricket in India. In the 1983 World Cup, India beat West Indies in the first game as well as the final. In the 2007 World T20, India beat Pakistan in the first game and also in the final. Cricket was never the same again in India after these results. The sport awaits India’s women to achieve something similar.
The hurdle that needs to be crossed is about self-belief.
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- Sibley played a patient hand and scored an unbeaten 56. He was aided by the cavalier batting of Jos Buttler at the other end, who scored 46 priceless runs in 48 deliveries as England swept the series 2-0.