‘Nothing like ever before’: India women cricketers savour golden debut

By, Hangzhou
Sep 25, 2023 09:46 PM IST

India women cricketers rejoice after claiming the Asian Games gold, beating Sri Lanka by 19 runs in the final of the T20 competition in Hangzhou

India skipper Harmanpreet Kaur has played 155 T20Is, leading batter Smriti Mandhana has 122 caps and Jemimah Rodrigues 86. However, it was only on Monday at the Zhejiang University of Technology Cricket Field that the leading figures of Indian women’s cricket had a gold medal around their necks for the first time in their careers. And they were loving it.

The Indian women cricket team with their gold medals on the podium during the post-match presentation after the finals of Asian Games Women's T20I in Hangzhou
The Indian women cricket team with their gold medals on the podium during the post-match presentation after the finals of Asian Games Women's T20I in Hangzhou

“Winning a gold medal for India feels special, and that too in China,” beamed Rodrigues after India beat Sri Lanka by 19 runs in the final on Monday to cap their domination in the Asian Games competition. Batting first, India scored 116/7 in 20 overs on a pitch of some uneven bounce where the ball turned sharply as well.

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Indian bowlers then struck early as they restricted Sri Lanka to 97/8. Young seamer Titas Sadhu wrecked Sri Lanka’s chase by grabbing four wickets for six runs in her four overs.

“This gold medal has ensured we will enter the history books as the first Indian team to win an Asiad gold. That’s quite cool,” said Rodrigues, who scored 42 and raised a 73-run stand with Mandhana, top-scorer with a 45-ball 46.

Women’s cricket was part of the Asian Games at 2010 Guangzhou and 2014 Incheon, Pakistan winning gold on both occasions. Hangzhou is the first instance of India fielding their men’s and women’s teams. While the men’s squad is a bit depleted with the marquee players busy with the ODI World Cup that begins on October 5, the women's squad was in full strength.

With international cricket largely a bilateral affair that is mostly restricted to ICC full members, the chance of the top Indian men’s cricketers getting a window to participate in quadrennial events such as the Asian and Commonwealth Games is slim.

The Indian women though enjoy that opportunity, and Monday provided the first crowning moment. India missed out on gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games after losing to Australia in the Birmingham final, besides losses in ICC ODI and T20 World Cup title clashes.

“Competing at the Asian Games means a lot to us. Being at a multi-discipline event is a whole new feeling. We’ve played so much for India but it is not every day that we win a gold medal. It is a different feeling. The entire vibe of the Games is something we have never experienced before,” said wicketkeeper Richa Ghosh.

Rodrigues agreed. “It was a whole new experience for us. Winning a gold medal is something unique in our sport. There is a sense of pride in donning an India jersey but winning a gold medal for the country feels surreal. We have contributed to the overall medal haul of the country, which feels amazing,” the 23-year-old added.

“We don’t travel as much as the men but overseas tours have increased manifold over the past three years. It was great that the schedule allowed us to participate in the Asian Games, and especially after winning the gold here, there is no reason for us to not want to be a part of it next time too,” Rodrigues said.

The women’s cricket team did not stay in the Athletes Village due to logistical reasons and was put up in the same hotel as the men’s football team. They also went to watch India’s football opener against China.

“It is amazing to know that so many athletes from different disciplines are assembled in the same city. It feels like a proper celebration of sport,” Ghosh said.

The 19-year-old wicketkeeper-batter also ran into football captain Sunil Chhetri a few days ago and picked his brains on mentally preparing for matches. “It was a short but useful chat. We kept bumping into the footballers,” she said.

Mandhana, whose innings helped India post a competitive total, also expressed delight. “We loved playing here. It was a different kind of experience…the gold medal and the flag going up. I would love to be back again for the Asian Games,” she said.

Rodrigues signed off with a message for the Ruturaj Gaikwad-led men’s team that will begin its campaign on October 3 from the quarter-final stage: “Win the gold medal, it feels amazing!”

The victory capped Harmanpreet Kaur’s 100th T20 international as skipper, having returned to the side after sitting out the first two games due to an ICC suspension.

India coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar said: “We rank this gold right up there because it adds to the country's tally of gold medals. So, I think it's very, very important that we directly contribute to the country.”

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    Shantanu Srivastava is an experienced sports journalist who has worked across print and digital media. He covers cricket and Olympic sports.

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