February 8, 2017

More power to Diana Edulji

A pioneer for the cause of Indian women's cricket, she is now the only cricketer, male or female, on the BCCI's interim panel of administrators
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Diana Edulji: "I was always passionate for sports. It was very important for me. I always want sports to be in the limelight" © AFP

Diana Edulji tells a story about her job as a sports officer with Western Railway.

Indian Railways, historically great patrons of Indian sport, can hire as many as 1200 men and women every year under their sports quota in order to field athletes in 30 sports, across several levels, from district to international. Usually not even half of that annual quota is filled. As the end of one particular financial year approached, with the allotment about to lapse, Edulji had her request concerning 19 signings blocked repeatedly by the Railways Sports Control Board (RSCB). Edulji, who had spent more than a decade in the Railways sports hiring business, threw herself into every hoop-jumping exercise that was needed, including procuring a letter from a Rajya Sabha member called Sachin Tendulkar. None of which seemed to work.

On the morning of the final day of the financial year, Edulji wangled an appointment with the RSCB president. The number was haggled from 19 down to six international athletes, and through the day Edulji raced against the clock and around government buildings in New Delhi, getting paperwork sorted, talking her way past a star cast of bureaucrats, some obstructionist, some co-operative, and the RSCB secretary, who happened to be in Dhaka. At 5pm, she turned up triumphant in the RSCB president's office, papers ready for him to sign on six new international athletes for Railways.

"That is how you have to work," she laughs. Who knows what stories she will have to tell when her term is up as one of the panel of administrators appointed by the Supreme Court to ensure that the Lodha recommendations for BCCI reform are carried out. There is little doubt that it will involve many bouts of jousting, arm-wrestling, loophole-sealing, rule-enforcing sticking-to-gun-dom.

In such contests Edulji, as has been understood by many in the past, is fully capable of holding her own. When the news of her appointment to the panel of administrators first broke, there were chuckles in the ranks of the Indian women's game at the fact that the only cricketer considered suitable for the job by the country's highest court was a woman. Shubhangi Kulkarni, a former India captain and legspinner and a member of the ICC's and BCCI's women's sub-committees, uses the phrase "fantastic and unimaginable" about the appointment. "It's huge for women's cricket to have a woman as the only player appointed by the Supreme Court to take decisions and make suggestions for men's and women's cricket."

Anjum Chopra, former captain, stylish left-hand bat, and among the Edulji tribe of free-speaking, feisty women cricketers, was to tweet: "Not many times does one see a name of a woman cricketer trending. #DianaEdulji has made that possible today"

"If I had my way, women should not play cricket, and I wouldn't want them to play cricket also. We're only doing this [running women's cricket] because it is mandatory, because of ICC"
A former BCCI president to Diana Edulji

There is much more that Edulji, 61, made possible for women cricketers. Chopra remembers seeing her for the first time, as she strode past at the Nehru Stadium in Delhi during an institutional inter-zonal event. Chopra, then about 11 or 12, heard her mother say, "That is Diana Edulji. Captain of India." She became, to Chopra, "like one of those people whom you see and say, 'One fine day I will also get there.'"

Before the Lodha panel eruptions, Edulji retired last year from the Western Railways sports department, which she joined in 1993. In 1984 she convinced the railway minister at the time, future BCCI president Madhavrao Scindia, to field a women's cricket team. Railways went on to become the most powerful side in Indian women's cricket and produced generation after generation of internationals. In weekend matches featuring parliamentarians and women cricketers, the cricketers would convey their problems to the politically powerful fielding or batting alongside them. Edulji said, "My bosses would get upset, but I never bothered as long as the players benefited. Whoever benefited, I didn't mind."

She took up active administration in 2000, with Western Railways, and began to drive the department on her own from 2002, handling about 450 sportspeople at any given time, recruiting between 50 and 60 a year. It meant becoming a hard-boiled chaser of files and applier of pressure to get athletes on board across the vast red-taped Railways behemoth.

Edulji's former captain Shanta Rangaswamy says Edulji's interim BCCI administrator's job is an "enormous responsibility", and wonders if the panel will get a free hand at all. Her vice-captain, though, she says, is wired with never-say-die DNA, "She won't rest unless she gets what she wants. I'm positive she will apply all that here, because it's in her."

Edulji's selection as the lone cricketer in the panel of four was a sweet upending of the BCCI's more familiar order. Since the merger of the Indian women's game with the men's in November 2006, the women have generally been treated as an annoying mandatory attachment. Except over the last two years or so: In November 2015, it was the now recently ousted BCCI regime that offered contracts worth Rs 10 lakhs and Rs 15 lakhs to senior women players. In June 2016, unlike the men, the women were also cleared to compete in overseas T20 leagues.

However, in the same era, the Indian women also forfeited the chance to earn qualification points that would have fetched them direct entry into the 2017 World Cup. They were scheduled to play Pakistan in a full series of five matches in the UAE in October 2016, which did not take place, and the ICC felt the BCCI was not able to establish "acceptable reasons" for not participating. As things stand, the Indian women are competing in the qualifiers currently on in Sri Lanka. Had they had a louder voice in the BCCI's decision-making quarters, maybe they might have argued in favour of playing in that 2016 series.

Ever since the merger, there has been a BCCI women's sub-committee, but the women have had no voice in terms of broader policy decisions concerning their fates. Kulkarni, as convenor of the women's committee, remembers being invited for a few working committee meetings in the early years, but the invitations soon ceased to arrive. "After that, it was a woman's committee, which had its own meetings and would make whatever suggestions… What we have always been looking for is a representative on the working committee or at the board level to take up the issues of women's cricket."

You would expect the volume of resistance to women's cricket to have decreased a little since the 1980s, but Kulkarni says, "Although the facilities that the players get are much better than earlier, it's sad and disappointing that some in the board still feel that women should not play cricket, and that the amount spent on the women's game is a waste of money."

Mithali Raj (left) and Jhulan Goswami were among those offered BCCI contracts worth Rs 15 lakh each in 2015 © ICC/Solaris Images

Little can match what happened to Edulji a few years ago in Mumbai, when she went over to congratulate a newly elected BCCI president and introduce him to the Railways representative on the board he would be working with. The new BCCI head said to RSCB secretary Jhanjha Tripathi and Edulji, "If I had my way, women should not play cricket, and I wouldn't want them to play cricket also. We're only doing this [running women's cricket] because it is mandatory, because of ICC." For a woman cricketer who has spent more than four decades in the game, these would not have been new words; except, they came in the 21st century, after the merger of the men's and women's game, from a BCCI president no less.

Today he is no longer in the job and it is Edulji who wields the power to speak for all Indian cricketers. No matter what happens to the court-appointed panel of administrators, Kulkarni says, Edulji will always be a pioneer. "It took a lot to actually play when no one expected women to play, when they said that cricket is not for women. She spoke for women cricketers all along."

Edulji's new job involves knocking heads with formidable but familiar cricketing adversaries: the older, entrenched BCCI men who have taken on the courts and will continue to rain their outrage and obstacles down on its orders. She says she wants "justice", but this justice is neither revenge nor retribution, just a fair deal for the women.

Standing back from the maelstrom, Chopra is the voice of reason when she says, "If you do a SWOT* analysis, this situation is not a threat for anyone. Everyone understands that men's cricket is the bigger sport, not women's cricket. This is an opportunity for doors to be opened for women's cricket to get highlighted, since Diana has captained the Indian team. But first and foremost, she has been chosen as a cricketer and she represents the entire cricket fraternity."

In Roman mythology, Diana was foremost a huntress; in Indian cricket she has been a perennial load-carrying vaulter over hurdles, a job she has loved doing. "I was always passionate for sports. It was very important for me. I always want sports to be in the limelight. Anything, it had to be the best… if my athletic team is going, it has to be the best, if my volleyball team is going, it had to be the best. Kabaddi, kho-kho, cricket, whatever. Always the best." That's not a bad aim for Indian cricket administration.

* 07:32:26 GMT, February 8, 2017: Corrected from "SWAT"

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • gkbup on February 9, 2017, 15:36 GMT

    she got selected because any male cricketer can not tolerate dictate of lodha panel..she is going to be yes person on cricketers behalf..

  •   Manish Rao on February 9, 2017, 15:12 GMT

    It is great to be a feminist and propagate gender equality these days. But for sports to thrive revenue must help. I speak from observed facts. My sister knows Virat kohli and loves MS Dhoni but doesn't like to watch Women's cricket, isn't even interested or have an ounce of curiousity to know about it . I am a cricket fan and tried to watch women cricket but found it boring to be honest. If BCCI starts Women IPL in India it will not get any sponsors and moreover broadcaster problem. If it is a doubleheader like men IPL combined with women ipl then it may work.

  • bharatsystems92 on February 9, 2017, 6:52 GMT

    Very nice article, Hats off to Diana Edulji.

  •   cricfan69564930 on February 9, 2017, 6:50 GMT

    Can someone please talk Diana into running as President in the next elections for the BCCI...And i strongly encourage the nomination of other women in the BCCI and state association elections...

  • advaitha on February 9, 2017, 4:35 GMT

    Sharda Ugra is a good cricket writer who writes boldly about cricket admin issues employing good language making her articles readable for me even in this information overloaded era. The point is her skills matter not her gender. I certainly agree that women's cricket must be encouraged but I have not found women's cricket worth watching. I would not watch chris tavare too. There are some good batters like Veda, harmanpreet kaur etc but the quality has to improve. But in the name of equality one cannot force anyone to watch Anjum Chopra wielding a bat or for that matter listen to her commentary. Same holds for Ravi Shastri too. So when commenters here talk of not being able to watch they are not all sexist. BCCI must do all it can to encourage girls to play cricket so a few classy batters/bowlers are produced that can attract crowds and viewers on TV.

  • Rohan Banerji on February 9, 2017, 2:07 GMT

    in my opinion, women's cricket is more about finding gaps in the field, rather than bludgeoning the ball. This makes for a well rounded, more balanced game. But that is just my opinion.

  • YogifromNY on February 8, 2017, 19:13 GMT

    Excellent article about this shining example of women's cricket and administration. More power to Diana, indeed! Kudos to the Supreme Court/ Lodha Committee for recommending her name. On a side note, I wonder who that BCCI President was who made that idiotic remark mentioned in the article?

  • InsideHedge on February 8, 2017, 16:10 GMT

    @HamzaSalman : Thanks for that interesting information, it's good to know.

    To all, if we keep these backward attitudes as spectators then we won't see women's sport progressing, this appears to be a problem in all the Asian countries. India has one advantage in that you only need a tiny percentage of the population to be interested in attending matches, it's much more difficult for say, New Zealand, to produce a sizeable crowd for a women's game.

    I wrote in an earlier comment the other day that Australia, Eng, NZ and WI - esp the first 3 - are miles ahead. We'll fall further behind unless we encourage our sisters in sport. Well, it's a sign of the times and it will happen even if people try to raise obstacles but without encouragement it will occur at a slower pace causing long term disadvantages.

  • anilkp on February 8, 2017, 15:20 GMT

    NJPATEL: I fully agree on your commending Sharda for her commentaries; she is fierce, sharp, bold in her criticisms and forthright in proposing suggestive measures. She is not alone, though, and is ably supported on these pages here on CricInfo by Raf Nicholson and Firdose Moonda. Cricinfo could publish more from the insightful Tanya Aldred, and the free-spirited and fearless Vaneisa Baksh. Vaneisa's articles, always of high journalistic quality and originality, are sadly too infrequent on these pages. Now on this article: sadly, MANISH RAO is portraying a real picture of women's cricket in India. It hurts me that he is correct. We, while reading this article, may hugely sympathize with the women's cricket and get euphoric about their achievements; but deep down, we Indian males largely are not very much better than that BCCI president who spoke so injudiciously to Edulji.

  • HadesLogic on February 8, 2017, 13:38 GMT

    Bravo to Diana and excellent job by the SC / Lodha Committee for choosing one of the most suitable ex-cricketers for the role. Just her credentials are solid enough but when combined with the exposure / experience gained from being a woman cricketer (the most ignored part of BCCI), her resume is gilt edged. Thakur's comments are testimony of the abhorrent lack of principles or governance in the former administration. Wonder what the reform naysayers who constantly praise BCCI as 'efficient' and 'well run' have to say about this. Some shockingly poor comments from an ignoramus below and I am surprised these have been allowed. Women constitute almost half of the 'people', what makes someone think that "people aren't interested and aren't entertained here in India by watching women cricket or like to watch women's cricket." This is not even about equalty / representation, it's about choice. BCCI's role is promoting and developing 'all forms', they don't get to make this decision for us.

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