January 12, 2016

The women in my cricket-watching life

Cricket fans may be predominantly male, but there are plenty of women about as well

Female fans from Pakistan turn out at the Delhi Test in 2005 © AFP

For some reason, there has been a great deal of talk recently about the role of women in cricket: players and journalists alike. I have no idea why this has been the case - perhaps some kind soul could enlighten me with the relevant links - but in any case, I'm going to throw my tuppence in the conversational pile by offering some fond reminiscences of a few women cricket fans with whom I've had the pleasure of talking cricket over the years.

Tale number one: In 1994 I worked as a user assistant in my graduate school's computer lab. There, one day, I was asked for help by a young graduate student in linguistics. As we talked, I noticed her distinctive accent, which I did not then recognise as an Afrikaner one. Unable to restrain my curiosity, I asked her where she was from. As she answered, "South Africa", I noticed, almost immediately, that in the pile of papers she was carrying around was a magazine, the partially visible cover of which appeared to show a bat. Once again, unable to restrain myself, I asked, "Is that a cricket magazine?" Her face beaming, she pulled it out of the pile and handed it over. It was.

At that point in time, South Africa's return to international cricket was still a matter of some disbelief to me. I had not ever expected them to be welcomed back to the fold. But that long, slow, road back, which had perhaps begun with Nelson Mandela's release from Robben Island, finally culminated in the South African team's tour of India in 1991. Now, appropriately enough, in the United States, that international meeting ground of the nations, here I was, talking to a South African cricket fan. The first one I had met in the flesh.

M was a serious fan. She knew her cricket and wasn't afraid to show her passion. Cricketing disasters and glories were greeted with loud and visible proclamations of either gloom or joy. She analysed Hansie Cronje's captaincy with a great deal of acuteness, and she had a fair bit to say about how the South African quicks needed supplementation with a high-class spinner if the team was to ever become a world-beater. And like me, she bemoaned the absence of cricket on television and radio in the US. I looked forward to our conversations in the computer lab, and of course, I looked forward to borrowing her cricket magazines, which were faithfully mailed to her by her equally cricket-mad brother back in South Africa.

Sadly, we lost contact after graduate school. I wonder where she is now, and whether she managed to secure an academic position. I'm pretty sure, though, that if she stayed on in the US, she would have obtained herself a subscription to a streaming service so she could follow the fortunes of her beloved Proteas. Many thanks, M; you made my time in that dingy lab much brighter.

Tale number two: When I left India in 1987, a cousin of mine, the daughter of an uncle - whom I've written about in these pages for his role as a mentor of my cricket fandom - was a five-year old. On subsequent returns to India on vacation, I found my little cousin was rapidly turning into a serious cricket fan. Perhaps, given her father's passion for the game, I should not have been surprised. I was only too happy to have her join her father and I for our preciously short cricket watching sessions on my trips back "home". We stayed in touch after she moved to the UK for graduate school, and soon enough, she joined the ranks of cricket bloggers, quickly acquiring an engaged readership in the process for her acute and perceptive posts. Later, as is all too often the case, her personal and professional commitments dragged her away from the blog, and now, with a little boy to take care of, she has even less time. But she hasn't stopped watching cricket - or talking about it - and I don't think that will ever change.

I watched the 2013 Champions Trophy on my laptop as I fed her while I spent five months at home with her as a stay-at-home dad that summer. Since then, she has watched a lot of cricket while sitting on my lap

Tale number three: Two years ago, at an academic conference held at Yale, a young Englishwoman walked up to me and introduced herself using an old graduate-school friend of mine as a reference. I had not been referred to her for my professional interests; this was no ordinary academic networking attempt. Rather, my graduate-school friend, an American, had remembered that I was a serious cricket fan, as was her young academic colleague, and had thought the two of us might have something to say to each other. My new friend, S, had played for Sussex seconds; the Ashes were underway; we were off and rolling. As the rest of the academic crowd swirled around us at coffee time, we retreated to a corner and wondered whether England could withstand Mitchell Johnson that summer. (They couldn't.)

Over the next two days at the conference, I sought her out at each break, happy to talk about my lame seam-up bowling, her batting, and our respective favourites over the years. I burned out of academic conferences a long time ago, and I was attending this one on sufferance - but these conversations lifted it into the ranks of my favourite attendances in my academic career. We are now Facebook friends, and I enjoy our cricket-related interactions there. Perhaps one day we'll find ourselves in a cricket-playing nation at the same time and go see a game together.

Tale number four: My wife and I have become friends with many of the parents whose children are my daughter's day-care companions. Among them is an Australian mother, originally from rural Victoria. Soon after my wife told C about her cricket-loving husband and his cricket writing, she asked for references to my books. (A great start, I'm sure you'll agree.) Because our drop-off times at the day-care center often coincide, C and I often find ourselves at the subway station together, waiting for the Uptown Q to take us to our respective destinations. I embark earlier, and almost invariably find a conversation about cricket interrupted when I do so.

C doesn't mess around when it comes to cricket. She speaks fondly of the many days spent watching Test cricket in the company of her cricket-loving brother, her travels to the Caribbean to watch the touring Australians, her desperate attempts to beat the clock and watch cricket as a new parent. And, get this, she has a set of stumps tattooed on her wrist. Like I said when I first made note of this on Facebook: Respect.

Tale number five: Appropriately enough, I should conclude with my daughter, all of three years old. We got off to a good start: I watched cricket on my phone while waiting for her pediatric evaluation to be completed after her birth in December 2012; I watched the 2013 Champions Trophy on my laptop as I fed her while I spent five months at home with her as a stay-at-home dad that summer. Since then, she has watched a lot of cricket while sitting on my lap. She can proudly and loudly (and if may so, rather cutely) proclaim: "I like cricket!" Who knows, perhaps she'll go on to play the game, and even become pretty damn good at it. Better than her father, who never amounted to much and has to content himself with just writing about it.

I've made many friends through cricket over the years; women are part of this demographic. May their tribe increase.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. @EyeonthePitch

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kong Howe on January 14, 2016, 0:31 GMT

    Nice article Samir. As a philosophy teacher, you should write a book on philosophy using cricket as a metaphor etc. I used to umpire in Sydney grade cricket and some women's matches too. The women are more graceful in their batting and bowling than the men.

  • David on January 13, 2016, 14:58 GMT

    Without a doubt women's cricket is on the rise! More women are watching and playing the game than ever before; one can argue because of the popularity of T20 cricket around the globe. But there is still a very long way to go to catch up with other sports. The ICC need to take the lead on this by making it a focal point in the development of the game. "Cricket" as usual has been late to the party but as they say better late than never!

  • manish on January 13, 2016, 14:22 GMT

    @ Dave Indian.....absolutely agree with you. I personally feel that when the femals ask for equality, they actually mean special treatment

  • PALLAB on January 13, 2016, 9:56 GMT

    My father seriously believed TV idiot box;so did not get till mid-80s.Watched most Test matches since 1980 on DD in residential colony neighbors/friends' homes. 1 Gujarati girl (at whose place I saw the most matches along with gaggle of her cousins/friends) a decade older to me then was as obsessive as any male fan & used to pass sharp-edged, canny comments on players/game play.83 series in Pak while rushing back from school straight to her home:remember her remarks:Miandad chipku out hi nahi hota (Miandad crease-sticker). Later on she used term "Akram-Chakram" for his dazzling bowling talent/wizardry .She fed off my stats (long B4 Statsguru!) insights while I fed off her analysis. Both of us were in awe of the Caribbean Fearsome 4some pace attacks.Another cousin in Colaba, Bombay was an avid connoisseur too. In adulthood, had many other female friends too who more than held their own in animated cricket chatter.

  • Paddy on January 13, 2016, 4:31 GMT

    Many women,especially in India do understand cricket well and I've been impressed by the knowledge and capability(in commentary) of Mandira Bedi & Donny Symonds !

  • Vinod on January 13, 2016, 0:02 GMT

    enjoyed it thoroughly Samir.....nice stories...have heaps of cricket crazy women in my extended family as welll and know ofquite a few who are passionate and knowledgable....keep such stories coming...always enjoy the common man and their experiences with cricket.....

  • David on January 12, 2016, 23:31 GMT

    I wonder if this is the tailing of the 'Gayle'. I completely agree that men and women are equal. But these days I have a funny feeling that men are under a sort of social pressure to go out of their way to show themselves as ambassadors of gender equality....

    I am all for gender equality. But I am not against this sort of social pressure..

  • sam on January 12, 2016, 22:52 GMT

    A pretty interesting read.And I thought all members of our 'fairer species' were pretty much cluess about anything concerning our 'gentleman's' game.Just like our Ind batsmen anywhere outside of our flat wickets @ home.

  • Zaccharia on January 12, 2016, 21:45 GMT

    Why are women the fairer sex?

  • Ruturaj on January 12, 2016, 20:55 GMT

    Nice article Samir. I am actually commenting to let you know why you might have been hearing a lot about the role of women in cricket lately. Last week in a BBL match Chris Gayle made some comments to a female reporter on live TV which were deemed inappropriate (well, he asked her out on live TV during an interview). It seems this caused quite a commotion, especially in Australia. There has been a lot of talk on whether male cricketers take women in cricket seriously and if they harbour sexist attitudes. Here are some articles published on cricinfo: http://www.espncricinfo.com/big-bash-league-2015-16/content/story/957951.html http://www.espncricinfo.com/big-bash-league-2015-16/content/story/957971.html http://www.espncricinfo.com/blogs/content/story/959435.html

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