An oasis in the middle of a desert is a comforting illusion and a thriving modicum that lets the world feel the vibe in a way nothing else can. Women’s Cricket in India, out of nowhere, has found that dimmed light and, if anything, it has come as a celebration of a whole lot more.
A recently-released Zee5 Original Chintu Ka Birthday is a fascinating retelling of a hair-raising story. The 80-minute film, written and planned by the now-defunct comic group All India Bakchod, talked about a migrant family stranded in Baghdad amidst the US invasion of Iraq and how a father wanted to teach his son that kindness is humanity’s most potent weapon. The message might sound very familiar and vague but the premises made it a sweet melodrama that only a few movies have managed to capture in recent times. It is a story that tells us the life and tragedy of the lower-strata of people in society - the non-creamy and underprivileged.
Well, with the fear of being judged, I still write Women’s Cricket in India is that family in Baghdad, whose government claimed they had rescued all of their countrymen stranded when, in reality, it was nothing but a torrid tale of disappointment and pain. Will a Birthday cake suffice for Chintu? And in a similar context, will the Women’s Challenger event be enough to help take the women’s cricket profile notch higher?
Of course, in an ideal world, it won’t and it shouldn’t. Because what these bunch of players from India have achieved in the last three years is enough to push the case for a full-fledged Women’s Indian Premier League. And the way talents are coming through - you need to look at one Shafali Verma shot to understand this phenomenon - it would be vague to believe why the Women’s IPL, in any way, will be lesser than their Australian and English counterparts.
But this is 2020, a year of extraordinary times and a year of jostling for space amidst Quarantine and bio-secure bubbles. This is not an ideal world and anything that comes through is a bonus and should be embraced with open arms. Even if that means a clashing of two events - one marquee in its own way and the other with the money power, trying to stay ahead of the curveball - to ensure the women’s cricketers around the world get a fair representation.
Dwelling upon that over and over and over again, I found two of the finest women’s cricketers of the modern-era Alyssa Healy and Rachael Haynes’ comments a little disorienting and seeing it from my perspective, a little disturbing even. Even after extending the benefit of the doubt. Mind you, the Women’s Big Bash League had announced the fixtures for a while already, but how could they question the intention that the BCCI - perennially money-minded as the Aussies think it is, conveniently forgetting the sly archaic oligarchy that they had over the ICC and cricket as a whole for the longest time - have this time around.
The Men’s event is the biggest cricketing carnival in cricket and the sheer enthusiasm with which spectators and advertisers treat this event is purely the stuff of dreams that other boards can only dream of. While the outer seemed like a contour filled with dramatic manoeuvres, the process that goes behind making this a success is grand in its own way. Fundamentally, it is Steve Elworthy into 10 and when International Management Group (IMG) puts in a shift to fix the logistics, they do it on a scale that can only be challenged by a few. This year, there will be a bigger problem - firstly, any IPL outside of India means the cost goes through the roof and, in the time of Coronavirus, it would mean the risk factor grows manifold as well.
In such a scenario, it only makes sense to host the three-team Women’s exhibition event by taking the advantage of the pre-existing logistics instead of having a stand-alone tournament to satiate the Women's Big Bash League clashing. As I said earlier, in an ideal world, it shouldn’t have happened, and, as Haynes suggested, women’s cricket is still not in a position to have two leagues running concurrently. Because, eventually, it is not Me vs You. Rather, it should be striking a middle ground where everyone gets their fair share. This shouldn’t happen again but aversing to the idea in 2020 is plain stupid.
Healy, Haynes and Suzie Bates have a valid point but that has actually been driven by an idealistic mind, gazing for success in their own avenue, making a one-upmanship - an idea that is as bad as ignorance. Even if all the top Australian, New Zealand, and England players failed to show up for the 2020 Women’s T20 Challenger in the Middle-East in favour of a more lucrative and definitely more competitive Women’s event, it would only mean the glow of the tournament being compromised. But that would also be a symbol of the time. Women’s Cricket in India needs a push and it will be achieved more if it gets its own sweet little air time more than it would be sending a couple of players to play in Australia and England.
For example, Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues have achieved considerable success to break their game through the ceiling and have admitted by themselves that it gave them a distinct edge too. But that said and done, the overall growth can only be attained when the diametric story finds a square level field. This could have been achieved this year through a Women’s T20 Challenge and kudos should be extended to the BCCI for not putting the Challenger aside. Because as someone had said when the pandemic struck, that we are all in this together and now, more than ever, we should be together for the bigger picture.