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September 8, 2000
Women played cricket in various places in the early 70's but the sport was not really organised. Officially women's cricket in India started when the enthusiastic and enterprising Mr. Mahendra Kumar Sharma, the founder secretary, registered the Women's Cricket Association of India under the Societies Act at Lucknow in 1973 under the Presidentship of Begum Hamida Habibullah. As soon as news spread, there was much enthusiasm all over India.
In the first three years, there was a lot of activity and the women cricketers were busy nine months year playing the game. The first Women's Inter-State Nationals was held in Pune in April 1973 with three teams participating - Mumbai, Maharashtra and UP. The second edition was held in Varanasi at the end of 1973 in which eight teams participated. By the time the third championship was held in Calcutta, the number had grown to 14. Thereafter all states took part. Later, Railways and Air India employed women cricketers and they took part as separate teams. Initially, this tournament was played by all states but this format was changed and an inter-state tournament is held in each zone and the winners and runners up of each zone qualify to play in the Nationals. So now there are 12 teams taking part.
Soon other tournaments were also introduced. The inter zonal limited overs tournament - the Rani Jhansi Trophy - was held at Kanpur in 1974. The inter university tournament was held at Rajkot the same year. The sub-junior and junior tournaments were held for the under-15 and under-19 players. The winners of each zone played the Indira Priyadarshini Trophy and the winners of the Nationals played against the Rest of India team for the Rau's Cup.
After the second National at Varanasi, the executive committee was reorganised and Mrs.Chandra Tripathi and Mrs.Pramilabai Chavan took over as chairperson and president respectively. These two ladies, along with the founder secretary Mr MK Sharma, played a major role in the initial development of women's cricket.
The WCAI received the International Women's Cricket Council (IWCC) membership in 1973 and Government recognition in 1978. Till date, the WCAI is an independent body not related to BCCI unlike England, New Zealand and others who have merged with the men's association.
International women's cricket was played in India in 1975 when the Australian under-25 team toured India to play a three `Test' series. The first ever Test Match to be played in India was held in Pune, the second in Delhi and the third in Calcutta. There were three captains for the three Tests - Ujwala Nikam, Sudha Shah and Shreeroopa Bose. Thereafter India played New Zealand, England, Australia and West Indies both in this country and overseas.
The New Zealand, Australian and England players played in skirts while the Indian and West Indians played in trousers. Watching girls play in skirts was a novelty for the large number of spectators and touring teams were very surprised to have such a large audience. The matches abroad hardly drew any crowds and were played on club grounds whereas in India the international matches were played at regular cricket stadiums.
The first Test match won by India was in the presence of 25,000 spectators when West Indies were beaten at Patna in 1976. West Indies went on to beat India in the final Test match at Jammu and the series was drawn. Since 1975 there was a lot of international cricket played till 1986 but after this there was a gap till 1991.
India won a One Day series for the first time when they participated in the Centenary Celebration of New Zealand Cricket in 1995 and this was a big morale booster for women's cricket in the country.
After the Women's Cricket Association merged with the English Cricket Board, the Indian team toured England for the first time in 1999 and performed exceedingly well. They won the one day series and drew the Test series.
Some players like Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Edulji, Sudha Shah and Sandhya Agarwal made a major contribution and influenced the game. Shanta was the first Indian woman cricketer to score a century in international cricket while Sandhya Agarwal made a world record by scoring 190 runs in an innings in a Test match in England in 1986. Apart from these, Neetu David's 8-53 against England in 1995-96 was the record bowling effort in a Test match innings.
The Indian government recognised the contributions of women cricketers by awarding the prestigious Arjuna award to Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Edulji, Shubhangi Kulkarni and Sandhya Agarwal.
India took part in the World Cup competitions in 1978, 1982, 1993 and 1997. The second World Cup in 1978 was hosted by the WCAI when it had been in existence for only five years and had no major sponsorship.
For the second time in India, the World Cup was held in 1997 and a record 11 countries took part. Hero Honda sponsored this tournament, which generated considerable interest in the country. The final played between Australia and New Zealand at Eden Gardens in Calcutta witnessed a record crowd of nearly 80,000 spectators. The cultural programme organised after the final made the event the most colourful final held so far.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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