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Indian women's cricket in 2021 - The story so far

Led by Harman, Smriti, Poonam and Shafali, Indian women's cricket has seen exponential growth in the last few years.

Indian women

Indian women's cricket team (Source- BCCI)


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 25 Aug 2021 2:43 PM GMT

"When I first went for practice, post the lockdown I was extremely apprehensive," said Smriti. "My mind was plagued with self-doubt and I wasn't sure what it will be like to bat 213 again. But my first practice session was much better than I had expected it to be. The ball started hitting the middle of the bat fairly quickly and I was extremely pleased by the end of the session."

That she was in good nick was evident in the finals of the women's T-20 challenge. It was her innings at the top that set up the game for her team, with Smriti shining as both batswoman and captain.

Led by Harman, Smriti, Poonam and Shafali, Indian women's cricket has seen exponential growth in the last few years. The team has made two ICC world cup finals, money has come into the sport with the BCCI raking in 20 crores as sponsorship revenue from the 2020 Women's T-20 challenge and we have seen the emergence of new stars to back the experienced duo of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. The improvement under coach W.V. Raman was striking enough for analysts to suggest that in a year or two India could challenge the hegemony of Australia and England in ICC competitions.

Smriti Mandhana (Source: BCCI Women)

The momentum, however, was somewhat lost because of Covid with the girls not playing international cricket for a year. With no women's cricket between March 2020 and March 2021 except the T-20 challenge in Dubai in November 2020, while there was a detailed FTP in place for the men, added to the anxiety surrounding the future of the game in the country.

In the absence of credible information in the public domain, a lot of the frustration was justified. Without a detailed plan, it was only expected that all or most of the girls would lose steam and the murmur of negativity would grow louder. Social media for months was abuzz, accusing the Sourav Ganguly-led BCCI of not doing enough.

And when the fixtures resumed, poor selection calls resulted in India losing a 50 over home series to South Africa 1–4. When men's cricket is at an all-time high, these results do not augur well for the women's game. While the selectors did not speak on record, the only explanation available was that players like Shikha Pandey, Ekta Bisht, Tania Bhatia and others were rested as the Neetu David-led selection committee wanted to try out new talent. Frankly, when a team was returning to international cricket after 12 months, it couldn't have been a stage for experimentation. In international cricket it is always winner-takes-all. To see a youngster like Monica Patel picked over Shikha Pandey, who was performing consistently for Goa in domestic cricket in the same period was shocking. Not only was Patel not ready for the international stage, by picking her over the experienced Pandey the selectors had done Indian cricket a disservice. It was only natural that poor performances will continue to haunt her, creating serious selfdoubt going forward. With Jhulan Goswami injured for the all-important fourth game of the series against South Africa, India had to go in with 4 spinners and one seamer because the captain and the coach had no faith in Patel. And the lone seamer in Mansi Joshi looked confused in the absence of Jhulan's guiding hand. That's where Pandey's experience could have made the difference. Again, Radha Yadav, preferred over Ekta Bisht, was dropped after only one game, a clear sign that the team management had little faith in her abilities in the 50 over format.

Going forward, the selectors need to realise three things. First, they hold public office and are discharging an important public duty. Second, the Indian team is associated with national pride and the selectors are accountable to millions of Indian cricket fans. Third, they need to give the captain and coach the team they want and not impose selection choices on them, which makes the team's think tank look lost and frustrated.

The truth is the game has been pushed back by a few years because of incompetent selections and correctives are an immediate necessity. It is of utmost importance that the 215 Sourav Ganguly- and Jay Shah-led BCCI sit down with the captain, coach and the selection committee in figuring out a vision plan for the women's game leading into the 50-over World Cup, which is about 6 months away from the time this chapter is being written. Indian women's cricket has serious potential and it will be a travesty if fundamental mistakes cost us at the World Cup a few months from now.

Some will however scoff at this plan and argue that the BCCI has little interest in women's cricket. Without really going into the backstage, Sourav will be labelled the fall guy and held responsible for the problems the game finds itself mired in.

However, conversations with the stakeholders reveal not everything is as bad as is made out to be. In fact, it might be a tad harsh to accuse the BCCI of being chauvinist and completely ignoring the women's game. While some of the conversations weren't on record, enough information was available to try and make sense of the plans in place and if some of them are implemented in 2021, there is enough in the pipeline for our women.

Book cover. of Mission Domination: An unfinished quest

This is an excerpt from the book Mission Domination: An Unfinished Quest, co-authored by Boria Majumdar and Kushan Sarkar. The book gives a ringside view of the making of a new Indian men's cricket team, giving readers a behind the scenes glimpse into the mindsets of the players, both the youngsters as well as legends of the game like Virat Kohli, R Ashwin and Rohit Sharma. You can purchase the book online from here.

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