With the first season of the women’s premier league becoming the second most prosperous season of cricket in the world, it becomes imperative to take a walk down memory lane of the journey of women’s cricket in India.
Traditionally considered a gentleman’s game, women’s cricket in India had a slow start. Mr. Mahendra Sharma pioneered it by establishing and registering the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) under the Societies Act at Lucknow in 1973 under the Presidentship of Begum Hamida Habibullah. In the same year, WCAI was officially recognized by the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC), thereby boosting many aspiring women cricketers in the country.
Once an official body for women's cricket was established, the country saw the first inter-state cricket competitions held for women in the summer of 1973. In its subsequent editions, more teams entered the field, with Air India and the Indian Railways each forming their respective teams. By the end of the third edition, the number of teams had gone up to fourteen, thus proving to be a significant milestone for the development of women’s cricket in the country.
Soon thereafter, in 1974, other tournaments were added to accelerate the growth of women’s cricket at the grassroots level and to bring in talent from all over the country. The inter-zonal limited-overs tournament by the name of Rani Jhansi Trophy held at Kanpur, the inter-university tournament held at Rajkot, the sub-junior (U-15) and junior (U-19) tournaments conducted were some of the competitions that helped women’s cricket flourish at the regional level. The winners at the regional levels then played the Indira Priyadarshini Trophy, and the winners of the Nationals played against the Rest of the Indian team for the Rau’s Cup.
With women’s cricket having a successful run at the national level, it was time for Indian women cricketers to step up on the global stage. The first-ever bilateral women’s cricket series was played in India in 1975 when the Australia U-25 team toured India to play a three-match test series in Pune, Delhi, and Calcutta. Subsequently, the Indian team then played against New Zealand, the West Indies, and England. Interestingly, viewers could see a striking contrast between the two uniforms: while the Indian women stuck to trousers, foreign women sported skirts, which attracted huge crowds to the cricket stadiums, an indicator of the unfamiliar novelty that beset the country at the time.
The country’s first international win came in 1976 when India beat the West Indies on home soil under the captainship of Shanta Rangaswamy. At that time, test matches were played for three days, and unfortunately, India went down against the West Indies in the last test match, where the latter won by an inning and 24 runs. Nonetheless, it was a great effort by the team, and their win strongly foreshadowed that their journey was far from over.
In 1978, our “Women in Blue,” as they are fondly called, made their ODI debut opposite England on January 1st at the Eden gardens of Calcutta. The ODI series, hosted by India, was played by three major teams: England, Australia, and New Zealand; however, unfortunately, India lost against all three and was out of the race. In the same year, WCAI was officially recognized by the Indian government. After an arduous loss, India had a much-awaited ODI win in the Centenary Celebration of New Zealand Cricket in 1995, where they beat New Zealand by two wickets in the finals. This win proved a big morale booster for women's cricket in the country.
Simultaneously, many Indian women cricketers were setting global records: Sandhya Agarwal made a world record by scoring 190 runs in an inning in a Test match in England in 1986.
WCAI hosted the second world cup in 1978 and another in 1997. The latter was a turning point for women’s cricket in India since a record eleven countries participated. Moreover, the entire event was sponsored by Hero Honda, which generated considerable interest among spectators. The cultural program organized after the final made the entire event all the more fascinating. All this was pivotal in changing the country's mass perception of women’s cricket.
Another major victory for the women’s squad occurred in the Cricket World Cup finals held in South Africa. The final happened on April 10th, 2005, when India played against Australia and was defeated by 98 runs. This was the last match played by the women’s team under the WCAI, shortly after The Board of Cricket Council in India (BCCI) took over the responsibility of governing women’s cricket in the country (2007). Since the takeover, the body has been instrumental in reforming and improving women’s cricket.
Hopes of the beginning of a new era by women’s cricket enthusiasts were soon crushed after complaints of little to no exposure and unequal treatment between male and female cricketers. In comparison to men, women cricketers in India only played 31.67% of the total ODI matches. (Source)
However, BCCI ‘s contribution to the growth of women’s cricket cannot be overlooked.The governing body brought better playing conditions, tech superiority, and monetary compensation for women athletes. As a result, cricket began becoming a viable career option for women.
The BCCI’s decision to give equal pay to men and women cricketers in October of 2022 was a landmark decision in promoting gender equality. The BCCI pays men ₹15 lakh for test matches, ₹6 lakh for ODIs, and ₹3 lakh for T20I per match. The last few years have been golden for the women’s cricket team, as they have set global records, won consecutive championships, and proved their merit on the world stage. Some of their recent feats include a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games 2022 and their winning streak at the Asia Cup (except for the 2018 edition, where Bangladesh triumphed by three wickets). India has also made the finals of the T20I World Cup on one occasion (2020) and the semi-finals on four occasions (2009, 2010, 2018, and 2023). As of October 2022, they have played 301 WODIs against twelve different opponents and have the fourth-highest number of victories (164) for any team in the format; they have recorded 81 wins and have been the fifth most successful team in the T20 format.
Another feather to the team’s hat would be the Women’s premier league launch on March 4th, 15 years after the launch of the Indian Premier League, which has become a fan favorite ( A decade-long wish coming to fruition indeed). The WPL, which has already become the second richest season cricket in the world (with only four teams in its bag), is hopeful of raising the standard of women’s cricket in the country. It will enable female cricketers to establish their identity and gain better exposure and, in turn, more significant monetary gains than before.
Reema Malhotra, WPL Expert, Sports18 and JioCinema told Mint that with the launch of WPL, more families would push their daughters to play the sport, knowing their futures can be secured. "I believe we will also see cultural change where women cricketers will have the same level of respect and recognition off the field as the male cricketers. We will see many more girls playing at stadiums and academies, and all these changes will shape gender inclusivity in the sport," she added.
From 1973 to 2023, the journey of women’s cricket in India is the epitome of empowerment, breaking conventional stereotypes, and relentless hard work for the love of the sport. These fifty years have gifted us with many star players, such as Anjum Chopra, Mithali Raj, and Jhulan Goswami, who have contributed to the sport immensely.
With the women’s team reaching for new horizons, it will be riveting to see what they accomplish for the country next. A decade to look forward to, indeed.
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