On the face of it, it’s hard to find a silver lining in the current drama that has been unfolding around the Indian women’s cricket team. Mithali Raj, captain of the one-day side, has accused coach Ramesh Powar and Committee of Administrators (COA) member Diana Edulji of being biased and trying to “destroy” her career in a letter to the BCCI after being dropped for the semi-final match against England in the T20 World Cup earlier this month. But even as the accusations and justifications continue, women’s cricket, it has become clear, has imbibed the essence of the sport as it has played out with its male counterparts.
Given that the women’s team has made it to the ODI World Cup finals twice and the semi-finals thrice, its cricketing credentials require little justification. But, sport is never that simple and in India, cricket is not just cricket. The “sigh of the soul in a soul-less world”, the game provides heroes and villains, treachery and triumph. So, when in 2005-06, erstwhile captain and multiple shera bangaali award winner Sourav Ganguly battled, quite publicly against coach Greg Chappell, everyone from serious fans and nosy novices of the game had an opinion and took a side. Even a player as great and cerebral as Anil Kumble had his share of troubles coaching the Indian side. Infighting, personal fiefdoms and even corruption all formed part of the reason for the Supreme Court-mandated COA to take charge of many of the administrative functions of the BCCI. In fact, for at least two decades, controversy and gossip have been inseparable from the game.
A common lament about women’s cricket has been the step-fatherly treatment it has received in the past — ranging from negligence to a patronising attitude. The men’s team has always had the fame, fortune, and yes, talent, to prop up massive egos — both for players and those behind the scenes. If the nation-wide interest in the fraught relationship between a senior player and lead administrators is a clue, it seems that women’s cricket, too, is now a phenomenon to reckon with.