Women's World Cup 2013 February 19, 2013

A tournament that had to be got out of the way

The Women's World Cup faced several barriers during its three-week duration; administrative apathy in trying to bring people to the ground was, perhaps, the saddest of them

A day before the Women's World Cup final, the Oval Maidan in south Mumbai was the venue of tens of usual weekend cricket games. Among the hundreds of boys and men, close to the walkway that cuts through the central part of the ground, was a group of girls playing underarm cricket. They were colleagues preparing for an office tournament, and clearly most of them were beginners. Being the only women in a sea of men, they did draw a few curious onlookers. Seeing their struggles to put bat to ball, one person remarked sarcastically in Hindi, "Ye log kya khelengey? [How will they play?]"

This attitude of conservative, patriarchal India was one of the many barriers the Women's World Cup came up against during its three-week duration in the country's commercial capital. When you doubt the ability of women to play cricket, you can't possibly be inclined to bother about a World Cup being played at the Brabourne Stadium, a five-minute walk from Oval Maidan.

Not that the host board, the BCCI, and the owner of the tournament, the ICC, were particularly bothered about the near-empty stadium. Even if you walked past the Cricket Club of India, you would be forgiven if you didn't realise it was the premier venue of the World Cup. There was a lone, unimaginative signboard with a few details of the event just above the boundary wall. Even if you had spotted it - and it would have taken a rather keen eye to - you might as well have been reading the technical details of the latest road repairs tender from the local public works department.

Not, it must be said, that the women of the city themselves were particularly interested. Once the IPL starts in April, though, they will be attending in large numbers, ready to scream out the names of "star" players, Indian and foreign, because the yelling DJ at the ground will order them to. As, it must be said, will the men.

In September 2012, large cutouts of players greeted arriving travellers in the immigration area of Colombo's Bandaranaike airport. They were screaming out that the World Twenty20 was in town. There were similar cutouts at major traffic junctions in the city. In Mumbai, there was absolutely nothing of that sort. One understands public advertising space in Mumbai is expensive, but when you have decided to host the tournament in a busy city like Mumbai, and not in some smaller, more curious place, where it would be easier to attract people, you need to realise you can't get publicity at the rates prevalent in Cuttack.

And sorry, "social media buzz" alone just does not work. The real world is still brick-and-mortar, and in the real world, the organisers were found short of putting their money where ostensibly their heart is - in developing and promoting women's cricket.

An ex-colleague at ESPNcricinfo, a man who still covers the odd cricket story, had no clue there was a women's World Cup on, let alone that some of the games were being played at two grounds in the suburb of Bandra, where he lives.

Considered to be India's most woman-friendly city and also the historical heartland of Indian cricket, Mumbai certainly let women's cricket down.

Publicity by way of media interviews costs nothing, but the BCCI forbade that for the Indian team, barring the mandatory player appearances at press conferences. Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami are greats of the women's game but how will an already indifferent public learn more about them if they are not allowed to speak at a time when they are most likely to draw some attention?

Of course, India's early exit further condemned the tournament to indifference, but even for games involving the hosts, only the upper tier of Brabourne Stadium's North Stand was close to being full. If that is your idea of tremendous response, yes, there was tremendous response to India's matches.

How expensive would it have been to have a few enthusiastic volunteers stand at Churchgate, the suburban railway terminus nearby, which hundreds of thousands pass through daily, with placards, handouts, what have you, to let people know there was a World Cup on, a five-minute walk away? How expensive would it have been to replicate that in Fort, Nariman Point, Ballard Pier, commercial districts nearby, frequented by thousands of office-goers? How expensive would it have been to replicate that at other high-traffic spots across the city?

How expensive would it have been to have some sort of music being played inside the ground to create some semblance of an atmosphere? How expensive would it have been to have the national anthems played for all games, instead of only for the final?

It appears that more than being short of money, the ICC was short of intent and will.

Of course, the BCCI, as always, had to be a step ahead of the ICC. The tournament was shunted out of Wankhede Stadium because the Mumbai Cricket Association wanted to stage the Ranji Trophy final there. The board that runs the most lucrative T20 league in the world says "it is not all about the money" when it comes to paying its women cricketers better than mere peanuts. Providing facilities at its academies and grounds to the women is talked about not as a prerequisite but a handout.

Publicity by way of media interviews costs nothing, though, but the BCCI forbade those for the Indian team, barring the mandatory player appearances at press conferences. The official line was that, apparently, there were so many interview requests from mediapersons that the India players would not have had time to practise and prepare for their games. Australian players and support staff gave interviews stretching up to half an hour each. Their preparation did not seem to be hampered much. They won the World Cup. Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami are greats of the women's game but how will an already indifferent public learn more about them if they are not allowed to speak at a time when they are most likely to draw some attention?

There is no surety crowds would have filled stadiums if the ICC had undertaken an outdoor advertising blitz. India has little sporting culture and most of what masquerades as cricket culture is, in fact, star worship of the male players. But at least it wouldn't have felt like a tournament that had to be got out of the way.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Peter on February 19, 2013, 19:41 GMT

    Blaming the broadcaster is crazy. Star put a huge effort to promote the event across all their channels, and the viewership on TV has been well up on previous years. Yes, the BCCI doesn't care, but it doesn't care about anything apart from increasing its own revenue.

  • Sanjay on February 19, 2013, 19:29 GMT

    Excellent article, Abhi. The line about "star worship" as opposed to "sporting culture" is apt. That sums up modern Indian culture. I read in another article that no memorabilia such as match day programmes were available, I have yet to see anything from the Men's 2011 WC either. I can't even begin to comprehend the difference in quality when it comes to a cricket match being staged in England as opposed to India.

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2013, 15:16 GMT

    BCCI had great opportunity to show the world what they had been telling since 1930's that they are a body who are promoting cricket in India. If they were providing free entry, atleast they should have promoted it on a larger scale. Now atleast they should start promoting wmn cricket. Play some exhibition matches during IPL to publicise and promote Indian wmn cricket Team.

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2013, 15:05 GMT

    I do agree that the BCCI and the ICC,did not do all that they could have done in terms of advertisement,fan-fare,and creating a world-cup worthy atmosphere for the just concluded event.These things are important because that's the only way people will be drawn to watch these games,or read about them,or follow them through other channels.For any kind of sport to attract talent it's imperative that it's made to look appealing to those who could take up the game-as players,fans,administrators,staff.It's important that the game is sold and marketed and reaches its' target audience. While it's true that India does not have a sport culture to speak of outside of cricket,and most of that too is armchair analysis,it should not stay that way.The BCCI might not be able to transcend all the difficulties that might stand in the way of development of a true sporting culture in India,which is something for the society to work on,but it can do its' bit by shining some light on women's cricket.

  • Manoj on February 19, 2013, 13:35 GMT

    It was fun watching the televised matches of the women's WC. I think to begin with if one of the cricketing greats like Sachin, Dravid, Kapil, Kumble, Ganguly, Gavaskar, Azar, Shewag (to name a few) visited one of these matches it could be a crowd puller. I know Manjerekar became a gr8 fan of WC in the past one month. The game will get its popularity and women's cricket will grow.

    Women's cricket managers should just send an invitation to them whenever there is a match,, say like India Women A vrs India Woman B.

    Include at least 3 members in the IPL squad and make sure the playing eleven has 1 woman in the team.

  • Jay on February 19, 2013, 7:02 GMT

    Just take a look at India's national game - hockey. Cricket is a British colonial sport adopted by Indians. Hockey SHOULD have been our national past time. But no, hockey has gone to the dogs. And here we are talking about women's cricket. What an irony ?! Do not mistake me, I am very supportive of the women's game in India but looking at what's happening to our beloved hockey, I am not one bit surprised at the BCCI's bleak presence and negative influence in the whole matter. Speaking of organization, did India ever stage a major tournament without issues? Just go back to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi recently for an insight. When hockey is left to the dogs, women's cricket will continue to suffer unless a separate body takes over the administration. The BCCI will turn a blind eye to whatever's happening. A very sad state of affairs indeed. A national humiliation to every Indian.

  • nag on February 19, 2013, 7:02 GMT

    Why blame just the authorities, blame everyone. 1)As u mentioned blame the authorities for not publisizing the event properly 2)blame the concerned for dumping all the matches in mumbai and cuttack when we have stadiums in bangalore and chennai 3)not to forget blame ESPNSTAR cricket for preferring to play Hockey league matches in star cricket channel when the purpose of the channel was to broadcast only cricket(that was how it was initially advertised and the name of channel also says so). They could have played live/highlights of women world cup matches instead. 4)Blame the so called great international MEN cricketers by not encouraging or persuading the govt/authorities to press the schools to take the children to stadiums. 5)BLAME THE LADY CRICKET FANS...do they love cricket for social status? or do they really love cricket as a game. If it is latter why cant they go and watch the game (Mumbai population is very very high) to support their own sex.