Report card: More homework needed
A 'can do better' remark in a report card means you've got the potential but need to work harder; those three words would apply to the teams at the just-concluded Asian Cricket Council (ACC) women's tournament at Johor in Malaysia.
Bangladesh won the tournament after beating Nepal by eight wickets in the final; they won all their games by big margins, including ten-wicket wins against UAE and Singapore. But these results really reflect the standard of the rest of the teams than of Bangladesh themselves.
To be fair, none of the eight sides - Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Thailand, and UAE - have much experience playing international cricket. While Singapore and Malaysia had played each other once last year, for Thailand, UAE, and Nepal the ACC tournament was their first brush with serious cricket. Hong Kong were the favourites at the start of the tournament simply because they had the most experience, having toured Pakistan for five ODIs last September and then recently having beaten China twice.
The UAE side, led by 12-year old Natasha Cherriath, was formed just days before the ACC tournament began. They lost all three of their games and, against Bangladesh, were bowled out for nine within 40 minutes of the start of play. Singapore, who also fared poorly against Bangladesh - making 26 for 8 in their 30 overs - recorded their solitary win against UAE.
So what needs to be done? Organise more such tournaments? It wouldn't hurt to have these teams play each other more frequently but, alongside international fixtures, the players need to play more cricket at home. The game can develop in these countries, mainly areas where cricket is not the No. 1 sport, if it is played in schools; that will ensure a large pool of talent to train and then pick from.
Such development work has already begun in Nepal, where a national-level school championship started in 2005, largely through the initiative of LB Chhetri, a former Nepal captain. Chhetri quit the game in 2000 when he was offered a job with the United Nations Development Programme. His job involved travelling to rural Nepal, where he noticed that the women were socially backward.
Chhetri believed that playing cricket could help build their confidence and, with the help of Plan International Organisation, an NGO, he started a project called 'School Reach'. "We directed the project at all schools at the district and regional level," Chhetri was quoted as saying in the tour diary of Sheila Razdan, the UAE manager, on the ICC website. "We hired national players to visit the school and conduct a three-day camp. There they engaged in interactive sessions along with sports and physical instructors who we also made part of the camp.
"Our hard work paid off and 33 schools came forward to include cricket in their plans for girls' physical education. Some parents were worried that their girls would be injured playing the game and then who would want to marry them! But they soon came around when they saw how much fun the girls were having and how it benefited them socially and in their health."
According to The Razdan Report, as the diary was called, the first inter-school competition for girls was held in 2005, with 15 schools participating. The numbers increased the next year and soon the girls were playing with regular cricket balls and not the tennis balls that they had started out with. To prepare for the ACC tournament 23 players were selected from 16 schools, of whom 18 were finalised for a conditioning camp. "The most satisfying feeling was when the girls from the regions insisted on continuing to play despite the temperature reaching as high as 43 degrees," said Chhetri, who is now a member of the Nepal cricket board.
Singapore also has an encouraging school cricket development programme but since the women's national team was created just ahead of the ACC tournament they were unlikely to make heads turn. And that is why a combination of more international matches for the national team and a rigorous programme for developing interest in cricket among school children could be the trick in helping these countries do better. Maybe that's when 'can do better' will change to 'hard work has paid off'.
Nishi Narayanan is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo