For a country that claims to breathe cricket, a country that thrives on the adrenaline rush that surges as a result of a nail biting last ball victory, a country that collectively breathes a sigh of unbridled relief when Virat Kohli is dropped on 99, Indians are surely closeted hypocrites. We parade our cricketers as incarnates of Hercules and delight in their glorious exploits with utmost pride. Sadly, the elite faction of cricketers that enjoys superior status is confined to only the males; the bouncers don’t let the females enter this club. Our hypocrisy as a nation is blatant in that we care so starkly differently about people playing the same sport, separated only by their gender.
The predicament in the Indian scenario can be regarded as multifaceted. The principal areas of focus when we speak of the troubles faced by Indian women cricketers can be defined as the lack of recognition and approbation, the privation of financial stability when representing their country in cricket is considered their occupation, and the dearth of experience.
Indian women have been playing cricket since the 70s, but then how many people actually knew of them until last month? In fact, the World Cup for women was incepted before the tournament of the same name for men. Everyone knows Umesh Yadav, but how many people know Jhulan Goswami, a prolific and extremely talented woman who has 36 wickets to her name from 28 matches and is the best bowler in the world at the moment? Literally how many Indians have even given a thought about celebrating Mithali Raj, whose batting average of 54.2, had she been a man, would have been given so much attention to? An endless list of such questions and comparisons can be drawn, but the fact of matter remains the same; that Indian women cricketers have been around for a long time, but enjoy not even a recognizable proportion of the adulation that the men are privileged to.
Recognition is one aspect of the spectrum of the injustice meted out to them. The other, more acutely impacting facet is their financial woes. On an average, a Ranji level player pockets an annual salary of 10 lakh, which, when extrapolated to the female side, equates to the retainer fee of a Grade B International player. Conversely, a Grade B International player for the men’s squad earns 1 crore, in accordance to the latest hikes, which is a humungous sum when placed next to 10 lakh. The fact that the highest level of retainer fee for a woman playing for the International squad is roughly the same as that of the match fee for one Test match played by a man tells us of the real magnitude of the problem. Cricket cannot financially sustain these women, who strive as hard as the males, but reap such paltry rewards. The scales are tilted against their favor in a very unjust modus.
Experience most often delineates the best from the good. The Indian women, compared to giants like Australia and England, end up falling short due to their deficiency in experience. The talent is there, the vigor is there, but the final touch is rusty. This fine-tuning will only come with more matches being played on an international level. As of now, Indian women play a little over five games in a year, which signals a gross deficit that needs to be corrected.
The current squad, with Mithali Raj at the helm, ably supported by coach Tushar Arothe, is a motivated group of women, ranging from the young and bold Harmanpreet Kaur, to the wise Jhulan. It is very heartening to see that this team is catching up for all the years lost in the shadows and proving a point; that they are to be given their due recognition. Though their campaign in the tournament ended unsuccessfully, that is only a myopic view of things. They have brought the seldom acknowledged women’s cricket to the discussion table, which is a good step in the direction of improving the same so that it scales new heights. The fact that this team has toppled the likes of Australia and New Zealand this World Cup, with all the odds stacked against it, shows that a little help could take them places. If the BCCI could see the potential in this group of women and give them their much needed impetus, the sky is hardly the limit for them.In a lot of ways the current Indian women’s set-up reflects strongly on National sentiments – strong, confident and set to conquer the world, the only thing standing in their way , sadly enough, is a bunch of narrow minded Indians themselves.
Adithi ‘Buttercup’ Shankar
Self Proclaimed Agent of Satan