Dear Indian women's cricket team,
The 2020 women's T20 World Cup has been a dream, and like many dreams do, yours ended in a nightmarish final against the best team in the format. There is no shame in that.
Your captain, Harmanpreet Kaur, she of the sweet timing and monstrous sixes, which were missing during the tournament, has said that the everyone in the team need to continue to believe in themselves and that she believes in the team. This is a cliché that is regularly spouted by losing captains, but those words from Kaur sounded like the ones that come from a true leader. And we believe in the team too -- among the 'we', many thousands of fans who, I suspect, started following women's cricket only in the last few years. I am one of those fans, but I now see in the Indian women's cricket team the Indian team. Whether it was the capitulation of Virat Kohli's men in the recent Tests in New Zealand, or the comprehensive defeat suffered by Kaur's women against Australia in front of more than 86000 spectators -- they hurt equally. Victory in each case would have been equally sweet.
An admission: the first women's cricket match that I watched fully was the 2017 World Cup final at Lord's between India and England, a riveting contest of punches and counterpunches in which you, India, should have prevailed. The heartbreak I felt after the match, I realised, was as intense as the prayers that had preceded it. I even wrote a long piece a few days after the final, recounting the important moments in the contest and my own responses to them, to get the emotion out of my system. While writing the piece, I realised two things: there were two Indian cricket teams, not one; and there was precious little I knew about one of those teams. I also wondered how much hurt you must be experiencing, having gone so far, despite few opportunities (at least compared to men), only to fall short.
Two-and-a-half years on, there is still so much that I do not know about you (or women cricketers in general), but I read a lot more. The profile that The Cricket Monthly did in November 2018 on your captain, Kaur, was, for example, the first long biographical piece that I read about a female cricketer: it offered rich insights into the socio-cultural fabric and the support system that have made her the cricketer she is today. Shortly afterwards, there was an interview with your vice-captain Smriti Mandhana, which also appeared on The Cricket Monthly. Apart from these focused articles on high-profile individuals, there is a lot more coverage of women's cricket in general. Even the Indian film industry has caught on to the trend, with the 2018 Tamil film Kanaa highlighting the meteoric rise of a female cricketer (played by actor Aishwarya Rajesh) from an obscure sun-beaten village in Tamil Nadu.
Sportswomen cannot thrive in a vacuum anymore than sportsmen can, which is why I am glad that your performances are receiving a lot more attention than they used to. We now know, thanks to the media, that Poonam Yadav, your talismanic legspinner, had a great T20 World Cup. If the tournament had not been televised, however, not many would have been able to witness Yadav's slow magic that deceived the best in the air. Moreover, if writers had not thought it worth their while to write about Yadav's craft, it would not have got the critical attention and acclaim that it has now received.
There are many important systematic issues that remain to be addressed of course, among them a proper cricket calendar for you and (following the example of Australia) equal pay. The cricket climate is also crying out for a Women's IPL. The fact that someone like Sunil Gavaskar has thrown his weight behind the idea is proof of that (in case one was required). You also need and deserve long-term coaches and support staff as well as a more streamlined domestic system, which would act as a natural feeder to the national team.
It is difficult, perhaps even absurd, to imagine that the aforementioned changes will happen overnight. The hope though is that the changes will happen soon, revealing a clearer trajectory towards excellence for Indian girls who wish to take up cricket. In the meantime, fans like me will continue to believe in your team. We believe that your first global trophy is not too far away.
Srinivas S teaches English to undergraduate students at SSN College of Engineering, Chennai, India. During his free time, he writes poetry and watches cricket.
Want to be featured on Inbox? Send your articles to us here, with "Inbox" in the subject line.