It is fair to say that women’s cricket, outside England, Australia and perhaps New Zealand (where even men’s cricket is marginalized) has been treated as a mere curiosity and a sideshow compared to the men’s game. I myself am not going to pretend that I have followed the women’s game with the same sort of intensity that I have the men’s game. I can name most of the England squad purely because they get a lot of exposure in the cricket media here but apart from Mithali Raj, Ellyse Perry, Lisa Sthalekar and Karen Rolton I would be hard pressed to name professional women’s cricketers. Having said that I was under no illusion as to where the women’s game fitted into the general cricketing picture. Under-funded, under-marketed and in most cases almost all governed by men, the only time the women’s game seemed to catch the limelight was when basking in the afterglow of the men’s game.
All this is why it is especially heartening to see how the current Women’s World Cup in India has captured the attention and imagination of cricket fans of both genders around the world, including me. This is despite there being plenty of men’s cricket going on at the moment. Like everyone with a passing interest in women’s cricket, I expected the Sri Lankan ladies to be dealt with by England who are the best team in the world, and current holders. When I saw the target set by them (238, I foolishly assumed that it was too much for SL, even on pitches more in tune with what they are used to. In short, what transpired in the chase in Mumbai was nothing short of miraculous. On a par with anything that has been seen the the men’s game and perhaps even more outstanding than Ireland’s triumph over England in Bangalore 2011. Eshani Kaushalya has shown herself to be a ferocious middle-order hitter in this tournament, and feasted on the bowling during the middle-overs even as England continued to take wickets. I don’t want to make too many comparisons to the men’s side but she showed a sense of calmness under pressure that the men have found to be lacking in on too many occasions.
It was a more resolute batting display that saw the Indians knocked out (this coming after a thumping 209 run defeat to the West Indies). Kaushalya, Deepika Rasangika, Yasoda Mendis and Shashikala Siriwardene who has shown herself to be an astute captain in this tournament powered SL to 282 and an all-round bowling effort saw India only manage 144. So India go out and Sri Lanka battle on. What ever this tournament holds in store for them, they can be rest assured that they have done wonders for the country and women’s cricket in general. This is a far cry from their last showing at the last World Cup in Australia 2009. Their first match came also against England in Canberra and lost 100 runs. Then came Pakistan and a 57 run loss. Their final match was against India and a 35 run defeat. They even lost the wooden-spoon race against South Africa by 9 wickets which meant they finished rock bottom of the pile with a record of 0 wins and 4 losses. Since then, during the financial and bureaucratically mess that the SLC board have been in, it managed to get something right. The ICC forced all the national boards to take control of women’s cricket in their respective countries, and the SLC decided to move all the Sri Lankan women cricketers to the representative teams of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Whilst the pay wasn’t exactly great, they got the time and more importantly facilities to train and thus made them more professional in their work.
For the first time in Sri Lankan Cricket history, the women can look at the likes of England, New Zealand and Australia and perhaps aspire to be as competitive on a regular basis. But look elsewhere and you will find women’s cricket still playing catch up. Former India captain Diana Edulji lashed out at the BCCI (who have about two women administrators in the whole organization) for their lack of investment and sheer interest in the women’s game in cricket’s biggest market. Sure it does raise the question of where would Indian women’s cricket be if the BCCI diverted a fraction of the money generated by the men’s game the women’s way. How can a game so widely marketed and advertised in India fail to capitalize on its women’s cricketers which is a wholly untapped market for them. Multinational brands would no doubt be more than willing to put the face of Mithali Raj, one of the finest women’s cricketers of all time, on an advertising campaign. Its not like they’d have to pay her the same sum of money for her image that they’d have to fork out for MS Dhoni, and the returns could potentially be vast if done right. It could be argued that the attitude to women in society in general needs to change first and this is true, but this should not be a deterrent. The same could be said for cricket in SL, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The West Indies are perhaps the only other team who have shown improvements. They possess some of the same style and exuberance that the men’s team have with the hard-hitting Deandra Dottin, and coached by Sherwin Campbell.
South Africa perhaps show the biggest disparity between the men’s and the women’s game. The men have both hands firmly on the Test mace, whilst womens cricket in the country lacks behind everyone else. Perhaps it will take the likes of Sri Lanka, the West Indies to leave them behind to make CSA sit up and take notice. Having said that, they have done well to make it to the Super Sixes in this current tournament.
At the end of the day, I will admit that it has been slightly grating to see the England team paraded in front of my cricket psyche as the all conquering team in women’s cricket when it is well known that they have no real challengers outside Australasia. It will be more interesting to see how they fare when the temperature it turned up in terms of competitiveness. It still remains to be seen whether SLC will capitalize on the tournament that the women have had and generate revenue into the women’s game on the island, encouraging more young ladies to take up the sport. The 1996 World Cup was a catalyst for the men to establish themselves on the world stage, and regardless of where SL finish, this World Cup could do the same for women’s cricket. That would really give Sri Lankan cricket; in the words of Shashikala Siriwardene; to be “seriously super happy”.