Sounds of cheers and whistles filled the office, not surprising as Team India was playing and the batter was scoring runs. Shots sailed over the fielder’s head for a six. Sounds of applause and shouting reverberated the newsroom as the batter made a scintillating 171 runs not out. The camera zooms in and the audience gets a glimpse at the very determined face of Harmanpreet Kaur. The Indian vice-captain hit her career-best score at the most crucial time – the World Cup semi-final against defending champions Australia. It was hailed as one of the best knocks in cricket ever.
Things changed for women’s cricket after the 2017 World Cup in a manner, what the sport has not seen in a long time. People started paying attention to women’s cricket. Now, Mithali Raj was not being seen as the Sachin Tendulkar of Indian cricket, but had created her own identity. People started taking interest in the sport and soon, the cricket boards all over the world started paying heed to women’s cricket.
It is safe to say that this is the best time to watch the Women in Blue play. The team has a terrific balance of young talent and experienced players who shoulder the responsibility of the team. The players are finding their rhythm and are playing as a unit with both batters and bowlers doing their bit in contributing towards the success of the team. The 2017 World Cup brought forth the delight of watching women’s tournaments in India, especially if the national team is in good form and is winning matches. The Indian eves’ performance at the quadrennial event held in England was a prime example of that, even though they lost to the hosts in a heartbreakingly close match at the Home of Cricket, the team proved it is capable of winning high-pressure games in International tournaments.
After the tournament, everyone had one specific question in their minds: When will we see them in action again? Will it be televised? The second part of their question had a lot of stake as women’s cricket had not broadcast because of viewership, broadcasting rights and other related issues.
There is a long history of women’s matches not being shown on TV despite its popularity but things are looking to change. The reason is the popularity of the players both on and off the field. But the World Cup final proved to be a shot in the arm for women’s cricket. The high-octane summit clash became the highest rated women’s sports event ever on television. The nail-biting final played on July 23 saw an average viewership of 19.6 million.
The Mithali Raj-led team became instant heroes and were received to a champions welcome back in India, they became the toast of the nation, their popularity rose significantly. The players were seen on TV shows talking about their wonderful run-up to the tournament finals. Everything they said; the dressing room gossip, the way they celebrated after every win and their methods to relax before facing a tough opponent, all got huge media coverage and appreciation from the fans in this cricket-crazy nation. People wanted to know more, and they got more. They were seen signing endorsement deals and gracing the covers of magazines. Even the BCCI realised that it was time for them to bring women’s cricket to the forefront and make them at par with the men’s team.
The BCCI for its part is ensuring that the matches are getting enough eyeballs. The Women in Blue played South Africa for ODI and T20I match series; all the games had a dramatic finish and were a treat to watch. India won both the series. The clamour to see the team in action grew back home, the BCCI swooped in and signed a contract so that the last three T20 matches could be televised much to the delight of the fans. The cricket board will organise exhibition matches for women during the upcoming season of Indian Premier League (IPL).
The Indian team recently had to face a whitewash against Australia in the three-match ODI series and will now play in a triangular T20I series which involves world champions England as well. The BCCI made sure that both the series are televised even if it meant that some matches of the T20 series had to be rescheduled.
However, the team’s dismal performance against Australia has also raised questions about its inconsistency. Even though there were valuable contributions from some players it was not enough for the Indian side to win a game. The players are young and need time and exposure at the international level to be able to play better under pressure. They need time to nurture and adapt to the international circuit so that once they play the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand, they are all set to set the panic aside of playing the final and win the coveted and prestigious trophy for India.