The way the Indian women’s team has played in this World Cup, they have captured the imagination of the country. I was in Delhi on Friday for a BCCI/CoA meeting and the bellboys at the hotel came up to me and said “the women’s team is playing the final. All the best.” It made me feel so proud. For me, irrespective of the result, the girls have already won the World Cup.
They had their backs against the wall but registered back-to-back wins against New Zealand and then Australia in the semifinals. Remember, Australia had thrashed India earlier in the tournament. Before the girls left for the World Cup, I told them that “if you perform you, will strengthen my hand. If you don’t perform, then everyone will be at my throat saying ‘what are you talking about women’s cricket?’” I have been telling the BCCI that these girls are good and they need this and they need that. And the BCCI has agreed to everything we asked for. The women’s team has vindicated my position.
What has changed is that there was not much of a think tank in the team earlier. No doubt some of the past coaches had given performances. But you needed a little more strategy and out-of-the-box thinking. I am not trying to run down the women coaches we have had, but I was always of the opinion that we should have a male coach. Because somehow or the other, if there was a female coach, one could bully her. The senior players could get away with a lot of things.
That’s what was happening with this team. Not enough discipline, there was no ambition to reach the top. Cracking an ICC trophy, that is the icing I would say. Because only then will people look up and take notice. You may win a tri-series, a bilateral series or an Asia Cup, but that does not get the whole country together the way this has.
Ahead of this World Cup, we changed the whole set-up. Everything from the coach downwards, the support staff, we have given them new physiotherapists and trainers. The set-up had been in place when we went to South Africa for the Quadrangular tournament and this team is gelling very well. They are looking happy and united, and it is showing on the ground. Each one is ready to put up her hand and say ‘look I am there’. It is not one person who is carrying this team. It used to be Mithali (Raj) and only Mithali all the time. There was so much pressure on her. But now you have someone like Punam Raut getting a hundred, Smriti Mandhana getting a hundred, Harmanpreet Kaur getting a hundred. The standard of women’s cricket has improved.
Things have changed for the better when compared to our time, and I am happy for it. Like I said, over the years, there was never this burning ambition that we now see in this bunch of girls.
There were a number of reasons but I think one of them was that we were never treated on the same level as the men. Before the BCCI took over women’s cricket, it was even worse when we were part of the Women’s Cricket Association of India.
We had to pay from our pockets and play, travel in unreserved compartments, sleep in dormitories. Once at the KD Singh Babu Stadium when the Railways team went for their first nationals, we were sleeping on the floor. Two teams in one room, 30 people in one room and the toilets were flooded. There was this one time when we were in Lucknow and people would knock from the toilet doors for the bucket and the same bucket was used to get food out in camps.
I am very happy that the girls are now staying in five-star hotels and flying club class, I was fighting for this for long and would also like to praise ICC because they have gone all out to promote the women’s game this year. They have increased prize money and made everyone fly club class.
The media coverage, both print and electronic, is unbelievable and this is what is needed. Until the media comes out, people won’t be able to market this game. BCCI must take advantage of the momentum these girls have gathered and go all out and ensure the girls get more tours. I also want lot more attention on the Under-19 and India ‘A’ players. We don’t have much bench strength. So we need a system like what Rahul Dravid is doing with the boys and churning out players, especially pacers because after Jhulan Goswami goes out we don’t have a third pacer. Once the World Cup is over, we will sit with the BCCI and chalk out a future tours programme and look at how we can go about it.
Diana Edulji spoke to Nihal Koshie.