Les Brown, an American businessman, once said, “There are winners, there are losers and there are people who have not yet learned how to win.”
The world always remembers the winners. Despite putting in plenty of efforts, the also-rans have place in the annals of history.
Cricket is a religion in India for long. Till recently, it was only the male cricketers who used to get all the attentions with women cricketers languishing far behind, but not anymore. Indian women have proved time and again that they can steal the show, given proper infrastructure and focus.
The country is still in awe of what the men’s cricket achieved since the floodgates were opened by Kapil Dev & Co. back in 1983. The team’s Prudential Cup (then World Cup) triumph, 37 summers ago, is still etched in memory of every cricket aficionado of India.
Winning a world title in any sport is no mean achievement for professionals. It was no different for the Indian eves when they launched their T20 World Cup campaign with much promise only to fizzle out at the business end of the tournament through a meek surrender against the might of the Aussies at their own backyard.
Sixteen-year-old sensation Shafali Verma, who fared so well through the tournament, flopped miserably in the final making it a cakewalk for the Australian eves. Stars Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana failed to do justice to their billing. The fact that it was Australia, who lost to India in the group league match, came back to inflict a humiliating defeat in the summit clash last Sunday.
Had the India women won the elusive T20 title on the International Women’s Day, the whole dynamics of cricket for women could have changed.
Though the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) attitude towards women cricket has undergone a change in the last few years, still it is much more the cash-rich board can do for women’s cricket to make Indian eves a formidable force in the world to reckon with.
With Anjum Chopra, Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and others making the Indian eves stand up and be counted, it’s Smriti, Harmanpreet who took the baton far. Now, the baton has been passed to the likes of Shafali and Jemimah Rodrigues, the future of Indian women’s cricket looks to be safe hands.
A full-fledged women’s IPL, which is in the offing, could take Indian women’s cricket a long way in terms of competing with the entire world on even par. A decent crowd of 20,000 at the fairly big Sawai Mansingh Stadium in the women’s exhibition IPL final is a proof of people’s enthusiasm in women’s cricket.
Women’s cricket in India attracted eyeballs in 2017, when the Indian eves missed the World Cup by a whisker following their loss to England by a paltry nine-run margin in the final. England snatched the World Cup for the fourth time denying India their maiden triumph.
However, the then vice-captain Harmanpreet’s explosive knock of 171 (not out) against Australia women in the semifinal turned the spotlight on her. Statistically, that innings of 115 balls not only knocked out the then defending champions but also earmarked the beginning of something special.
Harmanpreet’s herculean innings along with flashes of brilliance from Mandhana, Veda Krishnamurthy, Deepti Sharma and Shikha Pandey helped Indian women’s cricket to take a huge leap.
The stage was set for a celebration on the Women’s Day last Sunday, when 86,174 spectators thronged the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to witness the T20 World Cup final.
Meg Lanning-captained hosts won the toss and judiciously decided to bat and subsequently put up a healthy total of 184 for four. The call to bat first worked wonders for the hosts as the opening pair of Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney weaving a century partnership of 115 runs for the first wicket, which was enough to push the Indian side, which was unbeaten until the final, out of the match. The spin-pace combination of Deepti Sharma and Shikha Pandey were taken to cleaners by the left-right combo of Mooney and Healy.
None of the bowlers could find their mojo as the duo gradually took the match away from the Indians. The in-form Poonam Yadav, who was the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, also had to be content with the wicket of Rachel Haynes. She returned figures of 4-0-30-1.
The Australians once again showed the world as to why they are considered the best in the business. Healy’s 75 and Mooney’s unbeaten 78 (highest individual score in women’s T20 World Cup final) propelled Australia to a position from where losing was almost out of equation.
India floundered in their run-chase as they lost in-form batswoman Shafali early in their chase in the first over itself. The 16-year-old could manage just 2 runs off 3 balls, as she was dismissed by tournament’s leading wicket-taker Megan Schutt (who finished with 13 wickets.
Schutt had said ahead of the final: “I don’t wanna (want to) bowl to Mandhana and Verma during the powerplays,” especially at a time when the Aussies were without their all-rounder Ellyse Perry. However, Schutt (4/18) and Jess Jonassen (3/20) accounted for seven Indian wickets in the final.
The big guns, Mandhana and Harmanpreet’s run of poor show continued following the dismissal of Verma, Taniya Bhatia (getting retired hurt) and Jemimah. The experienced duo had a chance to bail India out from a precarious situation, with the score reading 8/2 after 2 overs, but that didn’t happen.
However, the pressure of playing a final seemed to have gripped the team as they failed to grasp the chance to emulate their male counterparts of Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni. The men’s pair had made a brilliant run-chase in 2011 men’s World Cup final against Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium almost nine years ago.
With this crushing defeat, Indian eves’ wait for a major ICC trophy continues.
Most of the cricket pundits and fans believe that India’s eight-day break ahead of the final put brakes on their winning momentum. While some felt that the washed out semifinal against England eves in Sydney denied the Women in Blue of match practice as they made it to their maiden T20 World Cup final.
Ahead of the high-voltage final, social media, particularly Twitter (in India), was abuzz with the immense difference in pay scales of men and women’s cricket. While top grade male cricketers like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma earning a whopping `7 crore annually, their female counterparts like Harmanpreet and Mandhana could only make `50 lakh annually.
With the likes of Shafali, Jemimah and Poonam making giant strides in world cricket, besides the top guns, Indian cricket graph is on the rise.
What they need is consistency, more matches, adequate training and most importantly a thorough mental conditioning.
Ankit Pattnaik, OP