The moment that Indian cricket fans were waiting for is finally here. India starts its World T20 campaign against New Zealand in Nagpur on March 15, and the enthusiasm is palpable, because India has a distinct chance to win the coveted crown for the second time after 2007. Can the flair of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, the power of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, or the guile of Ravichandran Ashwin carry the day for Team India? The nation believes they can.
But wait. Wasn't this supposed to be an article on the Indian women's cricket team and its prospects in the World T20? Before concluding that this writer has lost the plot, consider this: We all know Dhoni and company will take on arch-rivals Pakistan in the tournament on March 19. We all are aware of the controversy surrounding Pakistan's participation in the event, and the shifting of the match venue from Dharamsala to the haloed Eden Gardens. For some time it consumed the attention of the public and the media on both sides of the border.
But how many of you are aware that there is another India-Pakistan contest that is to happen on the same day. Yes March 19. In the capital of India, no less. There has hardly been any talk on this, suddenly no opposition to the match at the Kotla had cropped up, and yards of newsprint had not been spent on it.
Why? Because the authorities may have thought, in any case, the women's game wouldn't have mattered much for them to "waste" their time and energies on. Unfortunate.
How long will we be this cold towards women's cricket? How long will we push the achievements of our women's team to inside pages of newspapers? How long will we treat them as mere adjuncts to the men?
Particularly when the Indian women's team has had achievements for us to be proud of. It made history by winning its maiden T20 series against three-time world champions Australia in its own backyard. After the famous win Down Under, the Indian women also beat Sri Lanka in ODI and T20 series. One may not readily recall, but Mithali Raj's team had also beaten former world champions New Zealand in a keenly contested ODI series last year.
When Team India's new jerseys for the World T20 was launched, a photo on Twitter showed some Indian cricketers - men and women - posing in the new kit. What comes right across is the prominence that Dhoni, Kohli and the two other male players (Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane) have in the photo, with Mithali Raj, perhaps unwillingly thrown in their midst, being the captain of the women's team. The other two women players are pushed to the margin.
When the India eves took the field for their first match against Bangladesh in the World T20, they were greeted by largely empty stands. This is particularly shocking considering that only in a few hours' time we will all be going crazy when Dhoni's team opens its campaign against the Kiwis.
Women cricketers in India has had to battle incredible odds, social stigma and lack of encouragement being the chief among them. Things have improved, without a doubt, and India's women cricketers do have a semblace of financial security, and access to modern training facilities. It is far better than when the women were asked to pay Rs 10,000 from their own pockets for going to Australia for the World Cup, according to an Indian Express report.
"If you compare the benefits and the facilities now to the era when Diana Edulji and Shanta Rangaswamy played, there is a world of a difference,” the same report quotes India coach Purnima Rau as saying.
But still, there is a lot that needs to be done to raise awareness about women's cricket India. But we are up against heavy odds. Think about it. Can we perhaps imagine an IPL for the women, and the unbelievable amounts of money involved? A long way has to be traversed to make that a reality.
We recently celebrated Women's Day, and reaffirmed (an eyewash?) our commitment to make the world a happier place for the fairer sex. We can start by supporting our women's cricketers more.
Perhaps what the women's team needs is a big title win, which would drive the public towards it. In fact, the popularity of even the men's team was never what it is now, before the World Cup triumph as rank outsiders in 1983. The World T20 can give that opportunity to the eves, who have home advantage on their side.
It is your stage girls. Go get it.