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The Women's World Cup was memorable because the powerhouses were challenged by lesser teams, but the game needs significant investment immediately
February 20, 2013
Series/Tournaments: ICC Women's World Cup
Sri Lanka beating England and India; West Indies beating New Zealand and Australia. Women cricketers have been playing World Cups for the past 40 years but such results were scarcely imaginable, even as late as the 2009 edition. For showing that traditional powerhouses Australia, England and New Zealand can be beaten on the biggest stage by sides that hardly get to play them otherwise, this World Cup is a watershed in the spread of the women's game.
This tournament came amid increasing visibility for the women after the ICC's commendable move to have them and the men playing the World Twenty20 together, with the women's knockouts preceding the men's on television. The cheers from the Premadasa crowd - growing every minute in anticipation of the men's final - for Jodie Fields and her Australian team after they won the tournament in Colombo were spontaneous and heartwarming.
While the people of Mumbai were largely ignorant of or indifferent to the Women's World Cup, it was their loss as they missed out on some fascinating cricket. The women put up a spectacular display throughout - the power of Deandra Dottin and Eshani Kaushalya, the swing of Anya Shrubsole, the aggression of Katherine Brunt, the athleticism of Ellyse Perry, the tactics of Jodie Fields, the skill of Lisa Sthalekar, the talent of Harmanpreet Kaur, the vivacity of Holly Ferling, the dominance of Suzie Bates and much more.
Sri Lanka and West Indies came out of nowhere and impressed, but the old order showed staying power. Australia were outstanding right through, and England would have probably given them a fight in the final, had they not suffered two narrow losses. To West Indies' credit, they did a complete turnaround in the Super Six, winning all three games after suffering heavy defeats to India and England in the group stage. Hosts India were the biggest disappointment of the tournament. Sri Lanka ambushed them with the bat, and Mithali Raj's comment that she had never expected Sri Lanka to make so many runs said it all.
New Zealand captain Bates, the Player of the Tournament, said that with teams such as West Indies and Sri Lanka getting better and better, her team was in danger of falling behind if more resources and tours weren't organised. Such a prognosis from one of the foremost players of the game should be taken note of, and not only by New Zealand Cricket.
All boards have to invest more, and all teams have to play more. If ever the administrators needed evidence that most of the major teams can play consistently competitive women's cricket, this World Cup provided that. If the cricket community is serious about women's cricket, it will have to put in the money now. Looking at short-term or even medium-term returns is no way to grow a product. In industries such as insurance, companies take decades to break even. That does not mean the world lives without insurers.
The business acumen of India's administrators made the men's game the lucrative industry it is today. It is a cash cow in India, generating massive profits far beyond what is required to keep it growing. In business, a cash cow is used to finance and grow other operations of the same company. Will the BCCI do the same for the Indian women's team? At the moment, it is not even a remote possibility.
Just providing your academies and grounds to the women and paying them peanuts is apologetically insufficient investment. What is the use if they don't play most of the time? Twenty six ODIs in four years between the 2009 and 2013 World Cups? MS Dhoni and his men played around five times that number. Merissa Aguilleira and her West Indies women played close to 40. No wonder India sank at the slightest hint of pressure against England and Sri Lanka.
For all their potential, Sri Lanka and West Indies have a limited pool of players at or close to the top level. It is understood to be just about 50 women in Sri Lanka and they will face a problem in the coming years when the likes of Shashikala Siriwardene, Kaushalya and Chamani Seneviratna depart. It is almost always a struggle for West Indies when Stafanie Taylor and Dottin don't fire. There is no reason, especially after their World Cup heroics, why both sides have to wait for the next World Cup to play the big opponents.
There is also no reason, after a few stars have hopefully been created in this World Cup, why the world has to wait for the next World Cup to hear about them again. A great like Mithali Raj might possibly not even be around when the next one comes along.
It is here that the ICC needs to make its goal of a binding FTP for the women's game come true sooner than later. Cricketers are supposed to play cricket, after all, and not lay dormant waiting for the big stage to be made available once in a while. There couldn't be a better time for women's cricket to be taken seriously by everyone, especially the administrators. It will be unfortunate if the world keeps waiting for 2017.
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