ICC Women's World Cup 2013 January 30, 2013

Women chart their own route

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After a day's play on England's tours to Australia or New Zealand, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint would take the score sheets, go to her hotel, compose a match report and dictate it over the phone to the Daily Telegraph's office in London. Nothing out of the ordinary for a touring reporter in the 1960s and 70s. Except that Heyhoe-Flint was also England Women's captain. She knew that no publicity meant no sponsorship, and no sponsorship was bad for any sport, particularly one such as women's cricket, forever hamstrung by comparison to its male counterpart. But Heyhoe-Flint's toil bore fruit when businessman Jack Hayward helped sponsor the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1973, a couple of years before the men's event.

It has been forty years since then. The ICC-backed tenth edition of the Women's World Cup begins tomorrow in Mumbai - and later in Cuttack - when India take on West Indies under lights at the historic Brabourne Stadium. The game will be live on television. The teams are staying in a luxury landmark hotel, accompanied by a variety of support staff. Several journalists are chasing players for interviews. Forget 1973, even in the 1997 edition, held in India, the players themselves had to move the sightscreen. The world of women's cricket today is unrecognisable from Heyhoe-Flint's struggle to bring it some attention. Or is it?

'David Warner would have hit that one for six.' 'With such shortened boundaries, even I can hit more sixes.' 'Not one six so far in the game? How boring!' 'I would have stopped that four in my sleep.' These are some of the typical reactions from fans and even cricket journalists to the women's game. To one's mind, cricket has to be the only game where the women's side of the game is seen consistently through the prism of the men's version. Tennis never paid scant attention to Victoria Azarenka's Australian Open win because she didn't have to beat Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.

On the eve of India's tournament opener against West Indies, Mithali Raj, India Women's captain, was asked whether any of the senior Indian male players had given inputs and what difference would it make to her if any of them turned up to watch. Imagine MS Dhoni being asked the reverse.

Raj believes there is no escaping from the "comparisons" which "are bound to happen because we play the same sport." However, she reminds it is not exactly comparing apples to apples. "People should realise that at the end of the day, it is different sexes," Raj said. "And there is one big issue about physical ability. When it comes to the mind game or the technique, I think everybody would agree that we are on par with them. [The rest] is nature. We can't really do much about it." It is something people would do well to keep in mind over the next three weeks when changing channels in disappointment after watching a few deliveries of a women's game, because it doesn't confirm to what they have to come to believe, or have been led to believe, is "entertaining cricket".

Raj says the advent of Twenty20 and the Indian Premier League has further skewed the balance against women when it comes to perceptions. "The power point has come into the picture with the IPL. But otherwise if you see the one-dayers and the Tests I am sure earlier it was more of technique. Basically it is T20 which is more entertaining and when you see those soaring sixes… with the inception of T20, things have definitely changed."

Things haven't been too much better when it comes to administration. One of only two stadiums from where matches were to be broadcast on television, Wankhede Stadium, was lost to the local association's demand of having their team play the Ranji Trophy final there. As telling as the muted opposition to and criticism of the demand was the fact that it was actually made in the first place. Whoever heard of a marquee World Cup venue being lost to a domestic final? Not in the men's game anyway.

So what do these women have to offer us that we have so far refused to warm up to? "It is always curiosity that pulls people to come and watch women's cricket and when they do, they always acknowledge the elegance of the strokeplay and the kind of effort put in by the players," Raj says.

"I must admit I have seen some of the most amazing shots played by the West Indies players. I am sure you will get to see that during the tournament. They definitely match the men's standard."

"Deandra Dottin [who holds the record for the fastest T20I hundred, across the men's and women's games] would definitely clear the boundary," adds Charlotte Edwards, the England Women captain.

Since most of them can't resort to power like the men do, timing, and the resulting elegance, is a given in the women's game. Raj is one of the best examples of grace with a bat in hand. Because it is not easy to blast your way out of trouble, most women batsmen have very fine techniques. There is also cultured hitting that is making its way into the women's game, with the likes of Australia and England leading the way. Women spinners still actually flight the ball generously in one-dayers, and they are met with dancing batsmen who drive such deliveries through the covers with high elbows and full followthroughs. The fielders sprint and dive as well as their bodies allow them to.

Starting tomorrow, the cricketing world has another chance to watch all this, and appreciate it for what it is, women playing international cricket. And leave the comparisons with the men out.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nampally on January 31, 2013, 22:14 GMT

    There are bound to be differences in the way Men & Women play any sport. Because of stronger physical build, Men are expected to be faster & stronger than Women. Even amongst men, genetics play a huge role in speed & strength. While WI produce the best sprinters, Indian Men cannot match WI in speed. So genetics is a third factor in some of the physical attributes. People of all nations have to accept the fact that levels expected of Men & women are different. In the very first match between India & WI, Indian openers put up a great show followed by high S/R from the next 2 bats. WI showed their strength via Dottin's powerful hitting which was a treat to watch. Indian bowling was good with all 3 seamers doing well as well as their spinner Sultana It was a match on par with Men's ODI. 286 for 6 is a huge total & so was the response from WI of 179. How many Men's ODI's match these scores? Even in the recent India Vs. England ODI series, England were out for <160 twice, in losing cause!.

  • wmathew on January 31, 2013, 16:30 GMT

    Women don't have the quality of the Men's game but they want equality i don't get it. If their game was up to par or close then their clamoring for equality in pay might have gone down well. Until the men want to watch anything other than skin that women will display in some sports it will remain. Certainly not equal but Women's sports acceptable. It ranks when they think they should get equal pay for inferior game, even tennis they are playing 3 sets why?. in many tournaments where the pay is equal they should play 5 sets if that is what it is. it should be equal in all respects if pay is equal.Let them play with men where there is no contact between the players. when you demand something then you should have to show something.

  • dummy4fb on January 31, 2013, 16:20 GMT

    If India is so insecure that no hotel is available for Pakistan players then ICC should not ve given the worldcup to them..... even though venue is changed but yet such disappointing thing to happen..............

  • mast_zeeshan on January 31, 2013, 13:51 GMT

    Plz Stop comparing MEN and WOMEN cricket. Woman always want to be treated equally and sad fact is they need to produce same quality in order to draw crowd and attention same way. Not to sound rude! But i watched it, it was fun but believe me I could not just keep watching it. There were some good cuts and pulls but due to high standards set by meany leagues and stadium vibes and in field electricity that women game looks slower than a drawing test match.

  • Neutral-11 on January 31, 2013, 13:25 GMT

    Men love speed and power, some men even criticise men's cricket for lack of power and physical part compare to other sports. I feel for women cricket to be popular more women must start taking interest in it.

  • Rohan1210 on January 31, 2013, 12:26 GMT

    This is an absolutely brilliant per4mance by d Indian girls after losing d toss. 284 by d women's team is nt at all an easy total. Superb! All the best 4 d 2nd innings. Hope they depend it n gain a good NRR as well!

  • CricketMaan on January 31, 2013, 12:26 GMT

    'The teams are staying in a luxury landmark hotel,' - try saying that to a Pak fan..amidst politics and madness..a group of women have confied themselves into a stadium and will spend thier time inside it for weeks and hope to win hearts and a world cup. Since 1947 a lot has changed across borders, but some things has simply not changed! Change is constant im told..seems like its not always true!

  • JohnofBurgundy on January 31, 2013, 8:43 GMT

    Apples and Oranges, mens and womens cricket. The womens game is just as good in its own way and will probably produce more close games than the mens world cup did. It depends what you want a few smashed sixes or a tense game going down to the wire. Give me the latter any day.

  • Harlequin. on January 31, 2013, 8:35 GMT

    @Front-foot-lunge, I knew there was a thinking man behind all the aussie-baiting of your normal posts! Well said. @PratUSA, the women do in fact play with a different ball, but rather than being bigger and softer, it is slightly smaller (though i don't think the hardness is any different), which would make the batting slightly more difficult! @funkybluesman, fair point about wanting to see someone do something you can't, but that is not all of what sport is about. The thrill of a tight match, a tailender trying to eke out the last 10 runs or the fielding side trying desperately to keep the top-order batsman at the non-strikers are just as exciting as watching Morgan endlessly reverse-smack the ball through point.

  • EdGreen on January 31, 2013, 8:34 GMT

    TV and heavy sponsorship will only follow an audience - Its a shame however that those cricketing nations with public service TV stations (such as the BBC in the UK) don't do more for all minority sports - women's cricket included.

    Women's tennis is a curious comparison - it is massively subsidised from the revenues generate by the men's game - and despite being played over three not five sets prize money is comparable. Overall sport is about spectacle for most - and the bigger faster and stronger the competitors the bigger the spectacle - so few women's sports can compete on a level footing.