The Indian women’s cricket team is in great form on the back of memorable wins over Australia and T20 series. With the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2016 in full swing, it’s a perfect time to put the spotlight on how well these girls are doing, where they stand in the game and if they are finally beginning to get their share of the spotlight, even it means taking a little away from the men in blue. We catch up with Gaurav Kalra, sports journalist and senior editor at ESPNcricinfo who is batting for the women’s team.
What are your expectations from the Indian women’s cricket team for the ICC World Twenty20? What do you pick as the team’s strengths and weaknesses?
Gaurav Kalra: They have been playing really well this year. They won a series in Australia and T20 series earlier this year. And, that’s a big achievement because Australians have been world champions multiple times. They are the best team in the world. So, I think that performances away from home make all of us hopeful that a tournament at home with a success story behind…they’ll surely do well.
To be honest, the biggest strength of the team is some of the young players have shown great performance lately. Indian women’s cricket team was always identified with few players, like Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami who have been in the field for a while. But recently in some matches we’ve seen some younger girls doing quite well. Smriti Mandhana is one, also Harmanpreet Kaur. I think as a unit they have a lot more strength. And that is what going to be their biggest advantage as well. But they are not relying on individual grooming, so one or two players are there to win the matches.
Please brief us on what do you think about Mithali Raj’s form so far and how can India’s women’s cricket team can utilize her best qualities to win the ICC World Twenty20?
Mithali is one of the best batsman in the world. And, she is been around for a very long time on the circuit. She’s got a great record in all formats and she’s developed an excellent form recently after the win over Australia. They have really done well again against Sri Lanka and Mithali scored there. Because she’s now quite settled as a batsman and has a wonderful coach, Poornima Rao.
the biggest strength of the team is some of the young players have shown great performance lately
She also has the support of cricketer Jhulan Goswami, who has been captain before. Practically Mithali [Gaurav's interview with Mitali here] has emerged as an extremely strong leader and I think all these strengths will work in India’s favour. Although her experience is one of the main advantages that will be very useful.
This is an unique time for the women’s team as both the men’s and women’s T20 teams will be playing at the same time. Usually the women’s team doesn’t get the kind of attention the men’s team gets… Do you think that’s set to change in some way? What kind of coverage can the women’s team expect?
This is not a new thing. This has happened in the past as well. In the previous Twenty20, the men and women, both the teams had played together. In Australia this time when women team played just ahead of the men’s matches. I think this is a very good marketing strategy because it makes women’s team available to a bigger audience. People may be coming to the ground to watch men’s match, and with same encouragement they can actually watch women playing as well. It’s a very smart move.
This time Finals and semifinals of the tournament will be played at the same time. I think this a good move to encourage more audience to cheer women’s cricket. I think we have a good viewership. What they expect is to build a certain amount of curiosity and to get respect as players. They basically want to grow their talent and with a great movement like this, it’ll happen in the future.
Would you say that it’s the best women’s cricket team we have today?
It’s very difficult to quantify it like this because we must accept the fact that women’s cricket doesn’t get a lot of TV coverage and must understand that their gaming plot is not as good as the men’s team. But development is very clear from the result they have showed lately.
This time Finals and semifinals of the tournament will be played at the same time. I think this a good move to encourage more audience to cheer women’s cricket
The main point I want say here is if you look at women athletes in India, we have so many successful stories. We have Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, some of the shooters have done really well in SAG, women’s hockey team is being qualified for the Olympic Games. In terms of that, Indian women’s cricket team hasn’t quite had the same impact on our mindset. Performance concerns? That would be the cue. These women may become household names in India over the next couple of years and I think that’s going to be their real victory, just that if they could focus in the same manner like other successful players.
What can be done to engage more women into sport?
I think it’s an organic process which is already in progress. As I mentioned earlier, seeing performances of other women athletes like Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, shooter like Apurvi Chandela, and shooter in the past like Anjali Bhagwat, they have all done well. It creates a certain enthusiasm for the sport. I think if the girls go ahead and create history, create a bit of buzz about them, it will definitely influence other women and generate interest amongst them to get into sports.
One of the best thing to mention here is that The Indian women cricket players are in contract now. They are professional cricketers. So they have an assurance of income. This is very important because let’s face it, at the end of the day you need to earn enough for furthering your passion right, for potential sake. I feel it’s very positive step.
When I’ve recently spoken with Mithali, she said that the girls are much more assured and confident now because they seem to see a future lying ahead. When there’s an assurance, we expect more girls to be playing in the next few years, more tournaments should get organised for them and most importantly they should be feeling that we girls are given an opportunity to play like professionals. They should be allowed to play Asian games which they’re not allowed now. So that they can develop their ranks higher.