Women power

India must broaden its base in women’s cricket to challenge the likes of Australia

India’s campaign in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup may have ended on a disappointing note but it was not without positives. The crushing 85-run loss to Australia in Sunday’s final did highlight a few weaknesses: the batting came undone in a high-pressure chase, while the fielding and the running between wickets were mostly pedestrian. But Harmanpreet Kaur’s unit became the first Indian women’s team to make it to the T20 World Cup final, a fine achievement in itself. That it secured a place in the title decider following a rained-out semifinal against England should not be held against it. India was undefeated in the group phase, something England did not manage and ultimately paid the price for. The emergence of the cherubic 16-year-old batter Shafali Verma was the biggest plus. Barely six months into her international career, Verma carried India’s batting almost single-handedly and thrilled one and all with her expansive stroke play. It was a pity that the form did not rub off on her team mates. But to lose to this Australian team is no shame. The nation’s status as a cricketing powerhouse, especially in the shortest format of the game, needed no fresh proof. But the fact that Australia has captured all but one of the last six T20 World Cups should settle that debate.

The symbolism of Sunday’s spectacle, though, went way beyond the result. Everything about the setting at the Melbourne Cricket Ground seemed just about right. Played on International Women’s Day, it saw Australia, a pioneering country in women’s sport, meet India, a driving force of world cricket. The legendary tennis player and women’s equality crusader Billie Jean King was in the stands, as a near-capacity crowd — 86,174 to be precise — cheered the players on while a country of more than a billion were glued to their television sets. The attendance was the highest for any women’s sporting event in Australia and it proved that a standalone women’s competition can be a resounding success if marketed and executed well. It was best captured in the words of Alyssa Healy, the player of the final, who said: “You couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face, even if we had lost this game.” It is this energy that India needs to harness. India’s run to the 2017 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup final had generated significant interest leading to a number of girls taking up the sport. Now, with the buzz at an accentuated state, it is imperative for the BCCI to carry out structural reforms at the lower levels to broaden the base. The Women’s T20 Challenge, first held in 2018 as a one-off match, has now grown into a small tournament. But a bottom-up approach is a must to ensure a firmer footing for the women’s game.

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