Indian women's cricket languishes under the BCCI
A cursory glance at the history of Indian women's cricket will tell you that with players like Mithali Raj, Diana Edulji and Jhulan Goswami, the team has never been short of individual brilliance. It once held within its ranks the player with the best bowling figures in women's cricket, Neetu David (8 for 53), and the batsman with the highest individual score, Mithali (214).
After the zenith of appearing in its first World Cup final in 2005, the Indian women's team reached its nadir with a group-stage exit in front of their home crowd in 2013, finishing last in their group, behind traditional powers England and relative minnows West Indies and Sri Lanka.
In 2005 the ICC passed a directive to all its members to merge with their respective women's cricket boards. The BCCI was among the last to do so. Reluctant to accept the merger, the Indian board initially looked to maintain the status quo in women's cricket. A few good measures were introduced, though, like match fees.
The cash-rich BCCI was expected to do much more for the promotion of women's cricket, but that was not to be. In the early years after the merger with the ICC, many boards took the step of scheduling more tours for their women's teams. For example, between 2009 and 2014, the West Indies team, despite their board not being as well off as the BCCI, played 61 ODIs to India's 40.
The overall standard of women's cricket worldwide saw measurable improvement in 2006, and many national teams have gone on to become competitive, but the Indian team has seen a progressive drop in performance in that time. Since appearing in the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 1997, India made it to the final four in the next three tournaments as well. However, in 2013 they finished seventh out of eight. In the World T20, India finished as semi-finalists in 2009 and 2010, but they were last in their group in 2012, and failed to go past the group stage in 2014, when the number of teams increased from eight to ten.
The West Indies and Sri Lankan teams are examples of women's cricket flourishing after the mergers. Talented players like Deandra Dottin have emerged in that time for West Indies, and after failing to make the final four in the inaugural World T20 in 2009, they have consistently reached the semi-finals of the tournament since 2010.
The Sri Lankan team has benefited from the involvement of the army in the sport, and thus from the prospect of regular jobs for players. After their first appearance at the World Cup in 1997, Sri Lanka achieved their best showing in 2013 by finishing fifth. The margin of improvement has been huge and sharp, considering they finished last in 2009.
While writing this, I happened to read an article on ESPNcricinfo by Alison Mitchell on the women's Ashes. The ECB has conducted an extensive study and published data on the growth of the women's game in the country - a notion that seems otherworldly in contrast to the inaction of the BCCI.
To say that the Indian board's attitude towards women's cricket has been indifferent would be sugar-coating it. A brief comparison between the record of the Indian team against other teams before and after 2006 is indicative enough. Until 2009, the Indian team had never lost ODIs to West Indies, Sri Lanka or Pakistan. Since 2009, India has lost ODIs to West Indies and Sri Lanka and lost a T20 to Pakistan for the first time.
It is evident that India's performances in international tournaments have suffered since 2009. The blame for this can largely be assigned to the BCCI's policies and its insistence on doing the bare minimum required to get by. Barely enough data exists about the number of girls taking up the sport in India. Lack of will permeates all levels. While the England and New Zealand cricketers are getting professional contracts from their boards, the pay structure for Indian women cricketers remains unspecified.
Within the corridors of the BCCI, the argument often raised for the lack of adequate financial incentives to women cricketers is that they are not "revenue earners". "Nobody watches girls play," they say. The BCCI's blatant disregard for the sport is evident in the way women's cricket is packaged and marketed. To cut costs, the 2013 World Cup wasn't played across the nation but restricted to Mumbai and Cuttack. The shifting of the World Cup from the Wankhede Stadium to accommodate a Ranji Trophy game sums up the board's attitude to women. And with the decline in the Indian team's performance, the prospects of securing corporate backing are bleak.
This was not the case in 2010. Indian women's cricket was given a golden opportunity to gain national attention when cricket was included in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. India have won all four Asia Cup tournaments. It is fair to say they were favourites for gold at the Asian Games. The men's team probably doesn't need the attention and recognition that an Asian Games medal would have offered, but Indian women's cricket was in dire need of it. However, the BCCI decided against sending a team to the tournament. Pakistan won gold and Bangladesh silver. That Japan picked up bronze was another reminder of the opportunity India missed.
Logic dictates that a team capable of beating England in England can only get better when supported by the vast resources and infrastructure of the BCCI, given that the core of the team has remained the same all these years. Mithali is still India's match-winner, and Goswami their go-to bowler. It's revealing to realise that the cash-strapped Women's Cricket Association of India, which organised its matches in school and university grounds produced world-class talents of the likes of Mithali and Goswami. The BCCI era still awaits its Mithali Raj.
This is part one of a two-part feature on women's cricket in India. Anupriya is a Delhi-based student who is a former state-level cricketer