Parents have argued with me 'Why should I give my kid to cricket?': Mithali, Jhulan on challenges women's cricket faces
Things have vastly changed with the BCCI announcing a landmark decision of equal pay for its male and female cricketers. But, around 20 years ago, when a young Mithali and Jhulan were bursting on to the scene, dreaming to pursue a career in cricket was full of obstacles.
Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami have been an inspiration to a lot of young cricketers. But when you look at women's cricket in general, a particular scene has dominated over the years – where a lot of budding players would give up the sport at 19 or 20. Jobs were not easily available but they were highly talented. They would play in either schools or colleges, but when it they reached the crossroads of decision-making, it was always a very difficult choice. And here’s why. Women’s cricket in India was pretty much an amateur sport back in the day. Of course, the popularity has grown by leaps and bounds over the years but back in the day, players never really got paid given the kind of effort that was put in.
Similarly, when Mithali and Jhulan were in the initial stages of their careers, even for them, the thought came naturally. Today, things have vastly changed with the BCCI announcing a landmark decision of equal pay for its male and female cricketers. However, around 20 years ago, when a young Mithali and Jhulan were bursting on to the scene, everything from dreaming to pursue a career in cricket to eventually realising it was a journey full of obstacles, a topic which Mithali touched upon largely during the 20th edition of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
"I think that thought probably would have crossed all of us at some point and not just us, as players. At some point, cricket folk girls, we were not able to sustain ourselves because there was absolutely no money. So even if we were national cricketers, most of the help financially that we got were from our parents’ pockets or like I am employed with Railways and Jhulan is employed with Air India. So, prior to BCCI adopting women's cricket, these were the two institutions which offered jobs and Indian railways still is the only institution now which is still offering jobs to the women cricketers. I think other than this, there is no other way that a girl can continue to play cricket and even sustain, if she is not from an affluent family. Say, if they are from a lower middle class or from such a background where the entire family is dependent on them, then they are forced to change their field to look after the parents," Mithali said.
"But this move has really changed that. And of course, what she rightly said that in a way, now the society looks at women's cricket with a lot of respect. You know that is also so important, it comes with all these decisions. I think that like you also said that there were many talented players who could have extended their careers, or we could have had far better pool of players, had we had similar match fees in the past or in some way. But then it started slowly, as things coming under BCCI, things started to change. Looking at change, it doesn't happen overnight. Everything takes time, there is no sport in the history where the women started on par with men. Even women's tennis when it started, it was nowhere close to men's tennis.
"Over a period of time, you know women's tennis also has grown. So similarly, women's cricket has its own journey as a sport, the evolution of it is very different from men's cricket and people should view it as a different sport and not constantly compare it like - saying in men's cricket the essential contract is so much, women's cricket not so much or match fees isn't that great. These were talks in the past, but slowly I think now things are changing for better and this sort of an example as Jhulan said, a lot of other federations and organisations can take leaf from and try to promote women's sport. Unless and until, you promote and start somewhere you cannot take it further. The process of growth has to go on, has to continue."
Weighing in on the same, Jhulan shared her experience as well, explaining how there have been instances when parents of a kid aspiring to be a cricketer have reached out to her with their doubts. Jhulan admits that the rise and growth of women's cricket has been slow and stagnant for a long time but also acknowledges that fact that over the years it has picked up pace. And now that it has, it will only go bigger, better and stronger with time. The process has begun with women's cricket being a part of the Commonwealth Games and the BCCI announcing the much-anticipated women's IPL, reckons Jhulan.
"It was difficult to explain to them that some people used to say that why should I play cricket? Somebody's parents have argued with me that why should I give my kid to cricket? for what reason? You are not going to get anything, only that one government job and that's not enough in today's life. There is nothing there. Yes, love-affection, passion, everything is different but apart from that today's world you need to survive and everyone wants to stay in a decent amount of luxury. So my daughter will not get all those things so it's quite tough to explain them. Because when you saw few girls coming to the academy, they were such talented girls but after certain point of time, their parents said it's fine, I just put my daughter into sports but we don't give her that much time for sports, my daughter will go back to studies and we have to support her in that because we feel there isn’t much that we need. So these things were always there but I am glad that things are getting changed. Probably we thought that it will change overnight, it will not happen," the former India pacer said.
"The process was always there, the process was a bit slow earlier but now the pay scale will come up. In the future, central contracts will come up. And now in the coming year, women's IPL. So they have some other options there, if you are not able to... because only some girls will play for India what about the rest of the girls? What they will earn and domestic cricket, we are not going to earn that amount of money. You have to rely on Railways jobs because at this moment, Railways only gives security. What about the other girls, what about their security. Yes, there is women's IPL next year, and that will be a huge bonus for upcoming budding cricketers so they will come and they will take this sport as a professional and that is the important thing. And when that revolution happens, you will see the growth of women's cricket, particularly in our country because everybody understands this event, everybody knows how to play, when to play, what to do. You don't need to explain to them how to play but just give them a little bit of a nice platform, nice touch-up things. And I think, in future, definitely, it will pick the next level."