It may be small consolation, but awakening an entire nation can be no mean feat. Sunday evening was a first in many ways, with social media giving a score update by the minute as though this was the season ending El Clasico.
Losing a World Cup final by just 9 runs is heartbreak, especially for a motley crew that has reached the top with scant help from us, but finally, at long last, we had their back.
Cricket is our passion so it is hard to understand how we have taken decades to recognise the enormous talent that we saw at Lords, the fitting venue not just for the final but also our sheepish adulation.
When even “cricket captain” Virat Kohli gets it wrong and makes a faux pas by posting a picture of Poonam Raut while congratulating his female counterpart Mithali Raj, then the rest of us are just slow learners.
The big test however comes now. Will the jingoism of Sunday convert into sponsorships and more pay for these players?
Will companies run after them for promotional gigs and, as Mithali asked, a women’s cricket league? Or will we remain fair weather fans and send them back to their small towns of Moga, Nadia and the likes for some well-deserved rest and then back to the anonymous grind?
The awards will pour in, but they always do in hindsight. It is hard to get around the fact that the same BCCI runs women and men’s cricket and that women cricketers were given contracts as late as 2015-16.
It’s as though women’s cricket has always been the step-child that you keep busy but out of your sight - although even that won’t stop officials from running to take credit. Barring our fascination for male cricketers, we have always reacted and seldom been pro-active.
The Punjab government has now offered the hard-hitting Harmanpreet Kaur, whose 171 was almost on a par with Kapil Dev’s record World Cup innings at the same ground in 1983, the post of DSP. Her talent was not overnight yet we only know how to jump onto the bandwagon.
Reportedly, the Punjab Police had earlier refused to give her a job saying she was no Bhajji! If the Captain is so serious about encouraging sports in the state with its glorious past, then here is a reminder. Sansarpur, the home that gave us our past hockey glory, is still languishing.
The awards will pour in, but they always do in hindsight. Photo: AP
The road to Lords has been far from easy for Jhulan Goswami, Poonam Raut and their teammates who in the past have had to shell out personal money for tournaments. Gopichand may have revolutionised badminton and Sania Mirza is the glamourous face who parties with Bollywood when not playing tennis but by and large sport in India still requires enormous sacrifice. And more importantly, the will to be a champion against odds that go beyond the sporting arena.
The other day, my 8-year-old daughter asked me if she could learn wrestling instead of badminton which she trains for. Dangal is the only Bollywood movie I have allowed her to watch, wanting her to realise what it takes to succeed.
She coaches with girls who are mostly lower middle class, speaking in the vernacular but with an intense drive that I don’t see in any of her friends from school. Sports is a great leveller and the passion to excel is seldom in our drawing rooms. Nor is it a hobby to keep our child out of mischief - there are no short cuts in sport.
For one Abhinav Bindra, there are thousands who come from families that see sports as a means to an end, an end to a life less ordinary. The ride is not easy, but changing birth dates to compete in competitions is as normal as fudging time in domestic swimming competitions. Nor is the environment particularly favourable towards girls - shepherding them to tournaments in Meerut and Ghaziabad with shady facilities is not easy.
A friend told me once how the washrooms at one such competition were unisex and so dismal that she had to bring her child all the way back. But what isn’t changing, isn’t going away either. So, when we talk of dedication by parents such as those of Saina Nehwal, we haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg.
Then of course, there is the elephant in the room, a degree. Yes, there is gradual change, sports is no longer anathema for families but our harsh studying system will always win - we want homework done even at the cost of missing a training session.
For many of us at the crossroads still waiting to see if our child is prodigiously talented and hardworking, there is no right answer except that we play not just to get college admission through the sports quota. Easier said than done, we all exploit it if we can.
So, will these women in blue, radiating a happy vibe as though unsoiled by all things that are not flattering in cricket, revolutionise our thinking? Hard to say, since we are a stubborn race that learns nothing beyond the conservative “pade, likhega, banega nawab” syndrome.
But, the girls are coming. The unflappable image of Mithali, padded up and reading a book before going out to bat is one of the defining moments of our sport. In the days of Diana Eduljee, they were just a sprinkle but today, Deepa Karmakar and Sindhu are only the flag-bearers.
The contingent is slowly growing and the biggest respect for our players will be when someone like Sehwag is called a male Harmanpreet. That day can’t come soon enough.