March 10, 2023: The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should be complimented for organising the Women’s Premier League. It was inaugurated by some dance sequences by young Bollywood stars, however, it sparkled through a dashing innings played by India’s captain, Harmanpreet Kaur. This was the ideal beginning to a tournament that could change the face for the betterment of women’s cricket in India, forever.
The WPL being played in the line of the fastest-growing sports event in the world, the Indian Premier League, is a platform that highlights professionalism to the core.
In India, cricket has always had a serious following, however, it was looked upon as just a sport to play and enjoy. ‘Amateur’ was the way in which it was perceived and professionalism came about once it was suitably commercialized. The early days of Indian cricket were a good example of cricketers going to England to play in various club and county leagues to earn money during the Indian off-season.
The great Indian all-rounder, Vinoo Mankad, opted out of an Indian squad that was to tour England in 1952, because of his commitment to play for a club in the then-famous Lancashire League. His retort to everyone was that he needed the money to live.
Fortunately for India, Mankad’s club allowed him to represent India and they were compensated for the matches that he missed while doing so. After a serious and humiliating loss that India suffered at Old Trafford against England, Mankad was recalled to bolster the side. He stood out like a knight in shining armour through his stupendous feat at the Lord’s, his brilliant performance being the best-ever by an Indian cricketer.
Indian cricket still did not accept professionalism. Russi Surti and Farokh Engineer were both not considered for selection for India’s tour to the West Indies in 1971, solely because they were playing in Australia and England, respectively.
One saw the gradual change of recognition and realisation that came about in Indian Men’s cricket. They were seen as professional athletes and were being compensated for their efforts. The multi-media world gave them a stardom image and Indian men’s cricket grew exponentially. It is truly heartening, therefore, to see that the women cricketers too have finally made their mark. However, with such exposure, they need to completely change their mindset and approach to the game.
In the initial matches of the WPL, one can see that apart from a few top Indian players, foreign players are hogging the show. The issue that arises is that as paid professionals, the mental approach to how one plays changes quite significantly. Playing for one’s country, state or club team is totally different from being paid to play. This is why in the earlier days male cricketers went overseas to play professional cricket.
Unfortunately, the simplest calculation that arises is the money that one is paid vis-a-vis one’s performance on the field. This brings about pressure which is quite different from what one normally encounters.
The Indian women players, apart from a few, are still in a nascent stage as regards the game of cricket and their mental approach to it. The system in India has still not been fully put into place to deliver 57 quality players. The 30 foreign players have played franchise-based cricket before and are therefore more well-versed in how to approach their game. This is where many of the young, unknown and inexperienced Indian players are finding it difficult to cope.
A couple of areas that need significant improvement amongst the Indian cricketers are fitness and fielding. Playing under lights in a stadium full of loud energetic spectators can be quite unnerving. Furthermore, one is also aware of the millions watching one’s every move on the multi-media platforms and this too can be frightening for one not yet at ease with it. One is, therefore, seeing plenty of fumbling while fielding as well as dropped catches. Nerves play a big part in it.
The WPL, like the IPL, will be superb for the growth of women’s cricket in India. Parents, many of them reluctant to let their girls play the game because of various reasons, may look at it as more acceptable. To see one’s daughter or relative on television and earning while doing so, is in itself a wonderful feeling for one’s near and dear ones.
The platform is now set for Indian women’s cricket to progress by leaps and bounds. However, there is still a long way ahead for them to reach the quality of cricket which will make them proud. To do so, a proper structure of academies, tournaments and infrastructure needs to be put in place.
The BCCI have the capabilities and funds to make their dream come true.
The spark that has been ignited in Women’s cricket through the WPL needs to light a flame that will keep it burning for years to come. Cricket will now not be called a ‘Gentleman’s game’ but one which is played by ‘Gentleladies’ as well.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)