Still got the blues
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Still got the blues

The Indian women's cricket team continues to exit on the periphery. People are getting to know about the game and some of its leading players by name, if not by face.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2006 20:17 IST
Piyush Roy (HT Style)
Piyush Roy (HT Style)

If you thought cricket was a gentleman's game only, check out these ladies in blue in action. The current tour of the 'male' Indian cricket team to Pakistan may be courting the necessary media buzz, but just a week ago their female counterparts retained the Asia Cup by thrashing Sri Lanka by 97 runs with captain Mithali Raj leading from the front with an unbeaten century. Spirited, hard working, and no less dedicated, they have been steadily climbing the success ladder, sans controversy or media overkill to become the number two team in the world today, after they became the first Asian team to reach Women's World Cup finals last year.

"Things are changing for the better, though at a snail's pace. People are getting to know about the game and some of its leading players by name, if not by face. The sniggers, 'Oh women too play cricket?' too have become rare," observes Mithali, who's been playing the sport since she first got into a cricket summer camp in school with her brother in class five.

Former captain and current coach of India's women's cricket team, Sudha Shah says, "Ours is a very talented team in the average age group of 2325, with inter national level record holders like Anjum Chopra, Neetu David and Jaya Sharma, apart from Mithali. It's been an easy job for me as the players are highly motivated and are ready to go that extra mile."

Indeed motivation and liberal dollops of it are needed, to keep the conquests coming, and the records breaking in a game that pays peanuts to its stars. And one thought we were a cricket crazy nation.

"Last year while our final match against Australia was being shown live in Australia and the host country South Africa, no channel in India bothered to cover the game at all," rues Subhangi Kulkarni, secretary, Women's Cricket Association of India (WCI) and Asia's representative in the ICC Women's Committee "Our matches are generally covered by DD Sports, which isn't watched by many as most of the viewers get their game from channels like ESPN and Star Sports, which don't cover women's cricket.

"Though we attract more crowds than women cricket players from other countries, our counter parts in other countries earn more than us. Forget projecting our endeavours, it would be nice if the media just covered us like any other sport, instead of those brief write-ups that appear only after we reach the finals," suggests Mithali.

The apathy isn't limited to the media either. Only last year did Sahara enter into a three-year contract as the team's sponsor, mostly covering kit and clothing. Compared to the ostentious salaries of the male cricketers (not discounting the endorsements) "Women players get paid Rs 1,000 for oneday matches and Rs 2,500 for test matches," informs Sudha. "Even a Ranji player ear ns more than us and we cannot sustain ourselves by playing for the country alone. A reason why many potential star performers in the past had to let go of their passion for career calls," says Mithali.

As regards recruitment opportunities, most of the players are employed with the Indian Railways, while Air India recruits some on contract basis. "It would be nice if more MNCs and private Indian fir ms took interest in women's cricket," says Kulkarni. Case in point is Infosys, which regularly provides accommodation and training facilities for the women's sport camps at Infosys, Mysore, apart from training in leadership and team skill programmes.

The current functioning of the BCCI and WCI as separate entities isn't helpful for the women's cricket either, given its limited resources. “Often we don't even have decent grounds to play as they are booked for the men's cricket, practice sessions and under-19 matches. We don't have qualified match referees or third umpires. If all boards are under one body, the players get more series to play and hence more practice. A merger between BCCI and WCI will get us better grounds, equipments and training facilities,” recommends Kulkarni.

And yet, the spirited ladies keep the laurels brimming; so what keeps them going? "It's simply the love of the game and not the money or fame. When I left active cricket, I felt that I still had a lot of cricket within me, which I wanted to give to the girls and that's why I am here," says Shah. Echoes Mithali echoes, "I enjoy playing cricket, and representing the country is the biggest motivation that gets us girls to give our best out there. And if men's cricket is more powerful and aggressive, ours is high on technique and race." Kudos to these 'gentle' ladies who are all set to give the gentlemen's game a run for its name.

First Published: Jan 09, 2006 20:17 IST