Vanitha VR writes: 'PV Sindhu changed women's sports, CWG debut massive push for cricket'
As women's cricket makes its debut at the Commonwealth Games, former Indian cricketer Vanitha sets down the expectations from the Harmanpreet Kaur-led team and what the sport's inclusion in the year's biggest sports extravaganza signifies.
I remember how PV Sindhu's silver medal at the Rio Olympics changed the entire perception of women playing sports in India. How the entire country rallied behind her when she kept on fighting even in defeat to Carolina Marin in the final. Women need to come up with exemplary performances to catch the attention of our country. That was one such.
The number of enquiries on how to start playing badminton grew exponentially after that match. It was the most watched Olympics match on TV in Indian history (17 million viewers). That record was broken by the Women's World Cup final in 2020 (75 million viewers), but the mark Sindhu left was indelible. It's a nice feeling when women achieve laurels for the country on the biggest stages, and a matter of pride for the country as well.
It's been almost a year, but when I think about Neeraj Chopra's throw in Tokyo which got India's first ever Olympics gold in Athletics, I still get goosebumps. I've grown up watching events like the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games - watching Michael Phelps, seeing Usain Bolt come up and rock the scene. To now see our very own Neeraj on that stage is amazing.
I have seen how hard Satish Sivalingam, who medalled at the last Commonwealth Games, trained for events like these. He used to train in the same centre in Bangalore as me. Niranjan Mukundan, who will be part of the opening ceremony tonight, also trains at the same place. I'll wish him all the best for his race some time before the opening ceremony. I know how to train for these events from seeing these athletes from up close for many years, but never in my wildest dreams did I think the women's cricket team would also be on the same stage.
I suppose playing in the CWG would be almost like playing in a World Cup. It's a huge step for the women's game because these sort of events which have the whole world watching have a different sort of aura. Representing the country in front of the entire globe would be a very proud moment for all the players.
But of course, at a World Cup, it's all about you. It's organised just for you. In the CWG, there are so many other sports and so many other countries. Some of which may not even be familiar with cricket. It's a more fun tournament than a World Cup. But the value of the sport increases when it is showcased alongside so many other sports.
This push for the women's game into the CWG comes at a time when a lot of good things are happening in women's cricket, especially in India. The BCCI is taking steps and taking an interest in giving equal attention to the women's game and the men's game. Jay Shah has given a massive push to the women's game, even at the grassroots level. The announcement of the women's IPL is just one more proof that the current administration is interested in growing the game.
Shafali Verma will set tone for rest of match
Coming to the Indian team, I believe the girls will add one medal to India's overall tally. But which colour that will be only time can tell. A top-3 finish is what I expect.
Of course, team selections will always draw diverse opinions, but it's clear that the team management have a plan in place and that everyone is in sync with that plan. The team used to carry 18 players earlier, the new rule means that we could only have 15. That makes it a difficult job for the selectors, but we have to be optimistic because the same team played and won in Sri Lanka recently.
With Jhulan Goswami going out, lack of experience may come to bite the Indian team, but that has been the case for a while now. The team is in transition and the seamers who have been selected need to be backed instead of keeping them on the bench. Let them grow through what they go through. This will also be ideal preparations for deciding the squad for the upcoming T20 World Cup.
As a spectator, I'll look forward to Shafali Verma opening the batting the most. What she does at the start of the innings is unbelievable. How she sets the tone for the whole match in the first six overs allows the rest of the team to go about in their own way. I might have been known as aggressive during my time, but someone like her was unheard of back in my time. It shows how much the game has changed and how T20s are building cricket's future.
But she's fearless, not irresponsible, there's a big difference. We should not try to criticise the young girl. It's not been an entirely easy ride for her, she has come through the ups and downs and she plays hard to get the runs that she gets.
(As told to Dipankar Lahiri)