It’s a cricket World Cup final on Sunday, but with a huge difference. In the last two days, Mithali Raj’s spirited Indian team has done very well to virtually wipe out “news” relating to Ravi Shastri, assistant coaches, consultants, the Committee of Administrators (CoA) and Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC).
Harmanpreet Kaur is now the name people are familiar with. Google search, Twitter feeds, interviews, stats, everything possible on Harmanpreet has been fleshed out. Some say she is a combo pack of Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli.
Thank God, the ICC women’s World Cup is taking place in England and she will be slightly insulated from all this. Harmanpreet, the girl from Moga, Punjab, who played cricket with the boys is now the cynosure. Her blistering knock of 171 is being compared with Kapil Dev’s 175 at Turnbridge Wells in the 1983 Prudential World Cup. To be sure, Kapil and many other male cricketers - past and present stars - have lavished praise on Harmanpreet.
This has been a brilliant World Cup for the Indian women. Mithali Raj, one of the survivors from the 2005 World Cup when India lost to Australia in the final, must be dreaming again. The same goes for Jhulan Goswami, the other lady who was part of the 2005 final.
Harmanpreet Kaur, the girl from Moga, Punjab, who played cricket with the boys is now the cynosure.
That World Cup was in South Africa and today’s final at Lord’s is truly historic. To be playing the hosts in a huge arena will be a big thrill. There is a huge difference between the Indian women’s team of 2005 and today. These girls are supremely fit and have done things according to a plan.
They started well in England, lost a bit of tempo and then picked up steam again with the Derby ground becoming a favourite haunt. Beating New Zealand in a virtual quarter-final, whacking the Aussies in the semi-final and now facing England, a team they beat in the league phase, is the moment of truth.
A lot of hype has been created, though not of the same proportion one witnessed last month when India played Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final. Yes, England will be under pressure and they have reputation at stake.
In contrast, Mithali, Harmanpreet, who hit the biggest knock of the tournament after being promoted to the number four slot, bowlers Deepti Sharma and Rajeshwari Gayakwad have fired when needed. Jhulan Goswami, the world’s leading wicket-taker, has performed below par.
But then, this is the dream final, competing at Lord’s. The women will hopefully do everything it takes to come out firing on all cylinders. Normally, after one big win, players get drained out, physically and emotionally.
Ideally, after the win against the Aussies, the Indian team should have just focused on training. There has been some amount of distraction for them and interviews given to radio in India could have been avoided. It takes a lot to peak in sport and doing it on a continuous basis is impossible.
For her part, Mithali has batted like a machine. Three fifties and a century, she has been on fire. Yet, to expect Harmanpreet to produce one more innings of epic proportion would be putting too much pressure on her. The same goes for the entire team, which will walk into Lord’s fully aware they have a huge dream to fulfill.
Skipper Mithali Raj has batted like a machine.
On the eve of the final, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced a cash prize of Rs 50 lakh for the Indian team. Why the BCCI was in a hurry to do this is not clear, but even this is a distraction for the girls.
Women’s cricket in India is now being talked about because the team has done well. Otherwise, this team does not get even one-tenths of the attention which the men’s team gets. There is no proper domestic tournament structure for Indian women’s cricket, there is no IPL style glamour event and they are not doing huge commercial endorsements.
To the contrary, even at the grass-root level - school and college sport - girls playing cricket has gone down. According to stats provided by the Delhi University this year, football has overtaken women’s cricket. It’s a myth that women cricketers in India do well.
In February, the Indian team had travelled to Sri Lanka for the qualifiers. They won and returned. Former Indian captain Purnima Rau was then the coach. However, shortly before the team left for England, Purnima was unceremoniously removed and Tushar Arothe made coach.
With the team doing well, one cannot find fault with this decision. Unlike the hype over coach Shastri and his Jumbo-sized assistant coaches, talk of women’s team revolves only around performers. Maybe, there is a message in this for the men’s cricket team and captain Virat Kohli.
(Courtesy: Mail Today.)
Also read: Mithali Raj will easily break many records in women's cricket, but sadly not gender prejudice