'Women's cricket is on the way up'
Women have been pioneers in cricket in many respects. They are known to have invented overarm bowling, played the first cricket World Cup in 1973, and scored the first double-century in ODIs. But women's cricket has always faced challenges related to funding, visibility and a lack of professionalisation. Where does women's cricket find itself today and how is T20 changing the landscape of the game? Harsha Bhogle spoke to Anjum Chopra, the India batsman, and Lisa Sthalekar, the Australia allrounder.
Extracts from the discussion below. The numbers in brackets are the duration of each segment.
Is cricket keeping pace with other women's sports in Australia? (3.29 - 4.20)
Lisa Sthalekar: Women's sport in Australia is improving and there's definitely been a shift in how it's being portrayed in the media. We've got a number of wonderful female athletes waving the flag for women's sport and cricket is part of that. Ellyse Perry is a key role model within cricket as well as soccer. As an Australian team, we've had some success of late. Compared to the men's team, if we were to look back to the 2010 World Twenty20, both the men's and women's teams were in there and we [women] actually won, so it was a good story for us.
What are the main issues facing women's cricket in India and Australia? (5.17 - 11.18)
Anjum Chopra: The facilities have improved in leaps and bounds. We have complete access to the NCA and the best of coaches within the centres or even around the country. The infrastructure definitely has become a big asset for the women's game.
The remunerations have increased from what they were when we were under the Women's Cricket Association of India. For a lot many state girls who were not paid anything, they do get to carry home a paltry amount after the domestic season gets over. It has increased, but not drastically so, from what we were getting.
I don't blame [administrators] for not completely giving attention to the girls. On the one side, you have the men's cricket team, which is giving fantastic results, and they've been very consistent at the top against international teams. Of course they play more, so they have more chances of getting a good result. Having said that, the women are not really looked upon because either we are not giving consistent results or the management is not really pushing the players hard enough.
Unfortunately for us, the link between the players and the top administration, which is the BCCI [is not direct] - there is a layer of women's committee members who are handling the women's sport. It is good [that] they're women, but the other part is that they're not pushing enough [for] results from the Indian women's cricket team. As a result, the Indian team is not performing.
The bridge between the BCCI and the women's players needs to be a very proactive force here. That's one of the areas where Cricket Australia have done very well, so have the ECB. New Zealand have managed to put a fairly good team on the park. The women's committee needs to be proactive, which it is not.
LS: Since I first started playing for Australia in 2001, things have dramatically changed. Like Anjum said, the exposure to the facilities, the coaching, has definitely increased. Similar to the Indian team, we actually get retainers, a small amount, from Cricket Australia. But at the moment there's an issue in the sense that we want to play more cricket and CA want us to play a lot more as well, but there's a fine line between semi-professional and professional. For instance, over these next seven months, from August through to February, I have to take 54 working days off from my full-time job. Now there are not many girls within the Australian squad that can hold down a full-time job. So we want to play more, they want us to play more, but we've got to find a way how we can financially still be okay at the end of the day.
HB: Till as late as the late '70s and early '80s, a lot of good Australian cricketers gave up the game in their late 20s because they had to go back to proper jobs.
LS: We've done a huge survey on all of the current domestic female players that are playing. The age bracket they kind of stop at is 25-26. At the state level, a lot of girls aren't earning any money at all, so it becomes an expense. And it's like, "Do I keep doing this? It's the game that I love. Or do I find a career that's going to pay the bills?"
It is a good place to be because women's cricket is on the increase and things have dramatically changed over the last five years. But we are at a position where we don't know which way we're going to go. Are we going to go for more cricket? If we are, they've got to start paying us more. If not, then they've got to take away some of their expectations. The game has become extremely professional and their expectations from the athletes are of professional athletes, but we are not paid professionally.
The decline of Tests and whether women's cricket across the globe is heading the T20 way (11.20 - 14.23)
AC: I don't see it as that. The purists will always want Test cricket to be up and going. I recently got a query from the coaches of one of the provincial teams in South Africa [saying] that they want to impart knowledge to their athletes so the players know exactly how to play the longer version of the game.
I see why, for the promotion of the sport, you need to play T20s. But let's not cut down a format of cricket. If someone wants to come and see a women's game, they will come, irrespective of whether it's a four-day affair, five-day affair or a T20 affair. If someone doesn't want to see a women's cricket game across the street, he would not even [watch from his] balcony.
LS: There's been a strategic shift here in Australian cricket that T20 is the way to promote women's cricket. The fact that you're able to see women's cricket before the men's [during the World T20], that's the biggest venue in which we can promote our game. We would normally not get that opportunity because the infrastructure to put up TV crews for [just] our own 50-over matches cost too much.
Although I love Test cricket and I've played very few in my long career, I can see that it is a boring game for people to watch. I've only played six or seven Test matches in my life. So how do I get used to building an innings when I'm used to playing 50- or 20-over cricket? So you can't, kind of, knock that format because we've never been given a proper opportunity. But I also understand that women's cricket is not earning, it is an expense for CA. To play a four-day match instead of playing three T20s that can be telecast to the general public in Australia - I think, as players, we'd prefer to be playing in front of a full house and getting a game on TV.
I can see both sides, and as a player I like Test cricket, but I can see that the game will improve and we might get to a point where we become professional athletes through T20 cricket and maybe then we can go back to Test matches.
Skill v power-hitting in women's T20 cricket (14.24 - 16.25)
AC: Playing T20 or the 50-over format has to do more with the skill level. Hitting the ball harder is not going to get us runs as much as the timing is. Timing is not a problem with women's cricket and the kind of power generation that the T20 format requires, whether it's the Australian or English women's teams, they clear the fence pretty easily. So power-hitting is not such a big problem [either].
Referring to the semi-final of 2009, where the England team chased down 164 - the game right after that one, in the men's game, the score was just around 140 or 150. So the standard of the game has really increased because they've made the effort to increase the skill level.
How are girls and younger women taking to playing cricket in India and Australia? (16.30 - 21.40)
LS: There's definitely been an increase in junior girls' cricket and the fact that most summers now the Australian women's team gets an opportunity to go on ABC or Channel Nine before the men's international T20… you look on the TV and your heroes are usually Steve Waugh or Mark Waugh. Hopefully, some young girls actually look up and see Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy, people like that, not their male counterparts. With our games going to go further on TV, we'll promote the game and hopefully there'll be more girls playing.
AC: When I go to the grounds where there are younger kids playing, the parents tell me, "You are their idol." It shows the parents are following women's sport. The audience is increasing, but our efforts to cash in on the increase in audience hasn't been phenomenal, and that's where the women's team is losing out.
Smaller-town kids are around the park but they have to shift bases to a bigger town or a bigger team or a bigger person who can help them make it to a team. So the bigger cities are still dominating in the women's teams.
LS: There is definitely a history and a passion within Australian cricket. Young girls are wanting to put on the baggy green, and it's something that they strive for. Summer is associated with cricket and Test cricket. We've got our recent BBL going extremely well, and we're getting new fans into the game, and hopefully those fans can come across and watch women's cricket as well.
Interview with Clare Connor (22.22 - 32.44)
Numbers Game: Only once has an ODI been won by a margin of more than 400 runs? When, and which were the teams (32.49 - 35.55)