More money and more matches please, BCCI
After eight years of screaming themselves hoarse, the BCCI women's wing got what can best be summed up in a quote from the football manager Rafa Benitez: "I was hoping for a sofa and they've brought me a lamp." The women's wing demanded reinstatement of the Under-16 and inter-zone tournaments, the introduction of U-25 matches, an increase the number of matches the national team played, an increase the number of domestic matches, and so on. The BCCI obliged by increasing ODI domestic matches from four to eight. Credit where it's due: the BCCI's negotiating tactics are top-notch.
Any plan to improve women's cricket needs to be tackled in three stages: short, medium and long term.
The first step to improving the national team's performances is also the one that will have the most impact: more cricket. The Indian team has a lot of talented cricketers who are match-winners in their own right but they lack adequate match practice and the opportunity to click as a team. India need to play a lot more international tours, with a balance of overseas and subcontinental trips. They cannot expect to beat England and Australia and win a World Cup if they don't play a comparable number of matches.
There is also a need for matches in all formats. Each format has something unique to contribute to a player's skills. England play a Test match every season. Without Test cricket, the team cannot be expected to become a challenger in any format. Besides, Test cricket is still the premier form of cricket and denying women the right to play it makes no sense.
India will also be better served if they had international matches at the U-19 level and regular India A tours. This will greatly benefit fringe players and help them bridge the gap between the domestic and international levels.
The most important of all reforms is the need for central. The BCCI is the only major board to not have a defined pay structure for its women in place. India players are believed (in the absence of official information) to be paid a lump sum amount of Rs 1 lakh each (about US$1650) for international tours. The Indian team was awarded a cash prize of 1 lakh each, inclusive of match fees, for winning the Asia Cup in 2007. The problem with cash prizes is that they are taxable, so unless the team is paid through contracts, their earnings are never going to be of a respectable level. Contrast this with the Rs 20 lakh ($33,000) each the Indian U-19 boys' team received for winning the World Cup. A difference of Rs 19 lakhs is deplorable. There is an urgent need to address this divide through higher match fees, central contracts and performance incentives.
Since women cricketers don't get a share of the BCCI's profits like the men do, central contracts and higher match fees are the only way for a woman cricketer to make a living through the sport. Unless the game is made attractive and sustainable for players, there will continue to be dropouts and the sport will not grow.
The women's wing in the BCCI is the main body that deals with women's cricket in India. Every state association is supposed to have its own women's wing, but they don't, and beyond this, the structure of authority in women's cricket is largely undefined. The women's wing meets annually to deliberate on issues but it functions in an ad-hoc manner. There needs to be a body that is devoted full time to women's cricket. The women's wing's budget allocations, jurisdictions and powers and functions have to be clarified and codified so that it can work towards the improvement of cricket and be held accountable when it doesn't. The need for codification of laws and structures related to women's cricket becomes more important given the absence of a protocol regarding sexual harassment. Sensitisation measures are unlikely to work unless players have a clear system for redressal in these matters.
Grassroots cricket cannot grow without the reintroduction of U-16 and inter-zone matches, and the introduction of U-22 or U-25 levels will greatly stem the dropout rate in women's cricket.
Domestic matches should be organised on a league basis and not the current knockout basis. Having the knockout format limits domestic matches to around eight, which is not enough to build a strong base for domestic cricket.
Currently school and club tournaments come under the jurisidiction of the state associations. Indifference towards women's cricket varies from region to region; while some states do organise inter-school matches, many don't (though almost every state association in India has inter-school and club level tournaments for boys). The BCCI needs to step in and redress this.
A corporate trophy for women will go a long way in encouraging companies like Tata and ONGC to recruit women cricketers and have women's cricket teams. It will also help in adding another set of domestic matches to the calendar, and in opening up new and more job opportunities for women.
All of these reforms will fail to bring in any improvement unless the domestic match fees (Rs 2500 for those in the playing XI at the senior level, Rs 1500 at the U-19 level) are increased to at least enable girls to buy their basic cricketing needs - a full kit and bowling shoes. The primary reason for girls dropping out of the game in India today is because they can't afford to play cricket while trying to break into the senior team or the India team. It is a crying shame: there are girls who have the will and passion to play only to have the system let them down.
Anupriya is a Delhi-based student who is a former state-level cricketer