Mithali Raj & Co were stars after the 2017 World Cup, and yet the women’s game is not viewed as a commercial projectDileep Premachandran
On February 6, the 60th anniversary of one of the saddest dusks sport has ever seen, my daughter asked me why we hadn’t seen the women play yet. As she nears her seventh birthday and becomes aware of the casual sexism that is all around us, I’m frequently asked why all the sport I watch features men. Why, for example, don’t I watch Liverpool ladies play? Why does cricket coverage primarily mean Virat Kohli and his sidekicks?
Last week, I promised her that once the Indian women’s team started their series in South Africa, we would watch them. But where? Forget the main sports channels, the games aren’t even available on YouTube. As ever, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is a convenient lightning rod for social-media angst, but the reality is that broadcasters haven’t shown the slightest bit of interest.
Last year, July 23 marked another #MeToo moment, albeit in a positive sense, with every Amar, Akbar and Anthony climbing aboard the women’s cricket bandwagon. Mithali Raj’s team may have lost a World Cup final they should have won – as well as Anya Shrubsole bowled, India fluffed their lines with one hand on the trophy – but by beating England, New Zealand and Australia on their way to the summit clash, they did more for the game’s profile than a decade of BCCI largesse.
But what has happened since? Where did the wellspring of support go? The ODI in Kimberley, which India won with ease, was their first international outing since that final more than six months ago. In the interim, they’ve toiled in anonymity in a couple of domestic tournaments, while two of them — Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy — had distinctly underwhelming Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) seasons.
And while some of the Under-19s, coached by Rahul Dravid, have just earned multi-crore Indian Premier League (IPL) deals, the women are no better off than they were before the World Cup adventure. Almost predictably, the media hasn’t walked the big talk of July. While half a dozen publications were represented at the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand – hardly an inexpensive trip – there wasn’t one Indian journalist on the ground in Kimberley. There are more than a handful of Indian scribes in South Africa right now, but they’re all following the Kohli caravan.
In that sense, things are no different from the summer of 2014, when there was almost no attention paid to the women’s first Test in more than eight years at Wormsley. Only one Indian journalist made it to that picturesque venue to watch what turned out to be a historic victory, and even he was there for just one day.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) have just lost millions of dollars thanks to the fiasco that was the Global Cricket League. They haven’t arranged a telecast. The BCCI’s broadcast partners in India haven’t either. During the World Cup, you could at least watch the live stream on the ICC website. For bilateral games, that isn’t an option, unless the host board sets up basic two-camera coverage.
It boils down to will. If we can invest so much in Under-19 coverage – the Kohlis of the future – surely we can spare something to make sure that India’s best female cricketers don’t have to fly under the radar. It may not be a money-making enterprise now – the BCCI didn’t make a dime from men’s cricket until the early 1990s – but nothing attracts sponsors and advertisers like success. And if the screens are blank, they aren’t exactly going to be queueing up.
These are grim times in terms of cricket economics, and there’s great danger in putting all the eggs into IPL and Kohli baskets. In the last financial year, while the Indian captain raked in well over 15 crores in endorsements, not one of his teammates took home more than two. That should be a warning sign. And if you as a nation claim to be so proud of what the women achieved last summer, then show us the money. Or shut up with the platitudes.