The Women's World Cup deserves better
Preparations for the tenth Women's Cricket World Cup in India have descended into a farce, following the BCCI's decision to make late changes to the schedule. Just a week before the opening matches, new venues have been announced - with the Wankhede Stadium being dropped - but the revised schedule of matches is yet to be made public. Apart from affecting teams, this also means a great deal of uncertainty for broadcasters, as the Wankhede Stadium was the scheduled venue for the televised games in the first week. There are now some question marks whether the matches will be televised at all. Moreover, the reason for switching the venues is highly questionable.
The Wankhede Stadium is being taken out of use primarily to allow Mumbai to play the Ranji Trophy final. While it is possible that crowds will flock to see Sachin Tendulkar playing first-class cricket in his home city, for possibly the last time, an ICC event that has been scheduled for years should surely take precedence. Admittedly, though, the Wankhede was not an ideal venue: it would have been better to play this tournament at smaller venues, where it would have attracted larger crowds.
That said, in light of recent political developments in India, where the brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi led to mass protests against attitudes towards women, this tournament could have been a perfect opportunity to demonstrate what women can do. The standard of women's cricket is constantly improving and, on the basis of recent results, this will be the most competitive women's event in years.
England and Australia will go in as favourites, although England haven't always been successful in Asia and Australia's recent series against New Zealand was a closely contested one. The hosts have a chance, too, with Mithali Raj, one of the world's leading batsmen, in their side. With her classical style, Raj has struggled to make an impact in Twenty20 events, but is one of the most prized wickets in ODIs.
Some people are likely to dismiss the women's game as irrelevant and low-quality amid the big-hitting of the IPL and the mainstream international game. Of course, it is indisputable that the quality is not the same as in the men's game. But that shouldn't stop people from watching and enjoying it. The Paralympics last summer was the best example of how non-elite sport can be enjoyed; after a quiet start, people quickly started seeing what the athletes could do rather than what they couldn't. While the Olympics were always going to be popular, the Paralympics were the success story of the summer, transforming perceptions of disabled sport and disability in general.
The same attitude should be taken towards women's cricket. While no female player can hit the ball like a Chris Gayle or MS Dhoni, or bowl as fast as Dale Steyn, it still doesn't make their skills any less watchable. Lydia Greenway fields as well as just about any player (male or female) in the world, Sarah Taylor's batting is beautiful to watch, and a lot of the spinners on show could teach a few male cricketers a thing or two.
I do believe this World Cup could still be a big success. If the Indian public can be galvanised to turn out at least for the matches in which the host team is playing, it will make the tournament feel like an event. After all, there are few things more annoying for international performers than playing in empty, echoing stadiums in their home country.
With little major international cricket scheduled over the next few weeks, the cricketing media, at least in England, are likely to give the tournament some column space. The BBC Test Match Special is set to broadcast England's matches live for the first time - unless the last minute shuffling puts a spoke in that.
At the moment, however, the administrators are making a mockery of the showpiece event of women's cricket. The players and supporters deserve better than that.