We treat cricket in India to be the ultimate sport and cricketers, to be the ultimate athletes. The attention a cricketer attains from media, agencies, sponsors and viewers makes cricket appear to be an endearing career option. This view is distorting the reality as it is not applicable to women’s cricket in the country. The performance of the Indian men on the cricket field can result in a plethora of emotions. However, the performance of Indian women cricket team do not evoke the same. The attention provided to women cricket in India is paltry in comparison to their male counterparts.
Issues faced by Women’s cricket in India
a) Historical imbalance
Men developed cricket in historical times to showcase their own masculinity and male characteristics. It was to be played at the exclusion of women. As a result, men have always tilted the game in their favour and the favour of the already existing patriarchy. For any sport to succeed it needs resources as well as viewers. The former was non-existent for womens cricket associations due to the male dominated control over the game. This resulted in the latter suffering as well.
b) Lack of Resources and Viewers
Viewers determine whether advertising agencies want to be involved in fixtures. They also influence sponsors to see the worth in financing a player. The excuse given by most viewers for not supporting the women’s team is that they are just not as good as the men.
Attracting new viewers is difficult due to a lack of resources. Indian men playing cricket matches is promoted on social media platforms as a priority. This is such that even non-cricket lovers are aware of a match. Women cricketer’s on the other hand lack popularity on social media. They also do not have the available resources to reach out to audiences. This results in a lack of awareness with regards to women’s matches.
c) Lack of Initiative and Mismanagement
Indians have always considered Australia to be the pioneer in the development of the women’s game. Cricket Australia cleared the schedule of the men’s cricket team during the 2nd edition of the Women’s Big Bash League. This lead to a record high – 637,000 viewers for a match between the Melbourne Renegades and the Sydney Thunders. One of the key reasons why Indian women lose the big world tournaments, is the fact that they are unable to perform in front of large crowds. This is because they are simply not exposed to such situations regularly. This was best stated by the former captain, Mithali Raj after the 2017 World Cup final loss. She stated “Everybody was nervous and I think that resulted in our defeat”.
A separate board of cricket used to handle women’s cricket in India However, recently in the interest of the game, the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) have taken women’s cricket under their wings. The management of women’s cricket by the BCCI is poor. There is no proper Under-16 team to introduce players to the game and no test matches organized for the senior team. The situation is even more dire at junior levels. Facilities provided to women cricketers are a fallacy in comparison to the men’s. The gender discrimination is evident for all to see.
d) Need for a change in Mindset
The dream of every cricketer is to play in front of a packed audience in some of the most historical grounds in the world. The Indian women have experienced this privilege when they played the 2017 World Cup finals. This was in front of 28,000 people at Lord’s as well as in the 2020 t20 World Cup finals in front of 86,174 people at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. One can only ponder as to whether the results of these finals would be different had the women been given more resources, opportunities and experience.
Solutions to help Women’s cricket in India:
a) Raise Awareness
Modern day female cricketers are just as capable as men in various aspects of the game. This is emphasized by the performances of Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Jhulan Goswani and Shefali Verma to name a few. For example, the fielding is just as agile and eye catching as any of the men’s matches. The recognition of these female superstars and their performances is key for the continual growth and development of the game. This will begin with a change of attitude, belief and perception over the game.
The performance of the female cricket team should be an incentive for the viewers to support the team. The team has made the World Cup final on two occasions – 2005 and 2017. Indian women have also made the semi-finals of the World Twenty20 on three occasions – 2009, 2010, and 2018, as well as the finals recently in 2020. While they may not have won any trophies, the recent performances are indicative of the fact that a trophy in the cabinet is not far away.
b) Active Role by the BCCI in Women Cricket
In order to increase the popularity of the women’s game, the BCCI plays a very important role. One of the key areas of focus should be raising the awareness of the women’s game and their achievements to the general public. This would create a sense of pride among Indians. Broadcasting networks like Star sports, Sony and DD Sports must beencouraged to showcase women’s matches. This would create a following for women’s cricket in India. The cricketing boards of England and Australia are both sources of inspiration. Their initiatives on contracts, facilities, promotion and training have had a positive outcome for the game in their respective countries.
The BCCI encouraging people to watch and attend women’s cricket games by offering subsidized tickets is a possible initiative. This creates an atmosphere at the stadium similar to that in a men’s game. Holding women’s cricket matches after-work hours similar to the men’s t20 games, would surely result in a greater number of viewers as well as a greater number of people attending the match.
The introduction of a contract system for women cricketers in India is a positive step adopted by the BCCI. Woman cricketers will then be sure of their financial security and they will have an incentive to perform better and earn a Grade A contract. The contract system is the same as followed for the Indian men’s cricket team. The women earn a lesser sum of money, but it still shows significant progress.
c) Initiatives by Government for Women Cricket
It is still possible for the state governments of various state cricket boards, as well as the central government to make certain special provisions to promote the interests of women cricketers. By doing so, cricketing boards across the nation may be find more incentive to promote women’s cricket. This also instills a sense of responsibility and accountability on cricket boards like the BCCI to ensure growth of women’s cricket in India.
Fortunately, the situation is not all dire as the popularity of women’s cricket in India is on an upwards trend. More and more viewers are realizing that supporting women’s cricket is as important as supporting the men. The performance of the Indian women are justifying this newfound support. The world currently views the Indian women’s cricket team as a threat due to regular wins against the top sides like Australia and England.
We are well aware of the concept of gender equality in modern times, however, with the nation’s favourite sport and pass time showcasing clear instances of gender discrimination toward females, Indian institutions cannot sit idly. Indians must see the deprivation of the women’s game as a degradation of the sport as a whole. It is time to inject a much-needed boost of resources, coaches, facilities and advertising to women’s cricket in India.
Thus, with greater initiative from the BCCI, sports broadcasters as well as cricket fans themselves, the women cricketers of India are sure to reach greater heights and achieve the same level of fame, respect, stardom and instill the same amount of pride in all Indians as enjoyed by the Indian men’s team.