India's breakout run at the 2017 Women's World Cup was expected to be path-breaking on multiple levels. On the first anniversary of the tournament's final, which they lost to hosts England in a thriller, ESPNcricinfo takes a look at how women's cricket in India has shaped up in the last 12 months:
Little work and less play after World Cup high
In a classic case of 'how to squander momentum', there was no international cricket for six months following India's stellar World Cup campaign. The BCCI offered no clarity on why it wasn't keen on hosting any bilateral series during the time. But for India's T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur, the half-year hiatus was a much-needed "break" for the side to tend to injuries after "back-to-back series and tournaments in the run-up to the World Cup".
Instead, two camps at the National Cricket Academy - one involving uncapped and fringe internationals, the other a fielding and strength-enhancing camp for the India regulars, took place, leading up to a one-day and T20 series between India A and Bangladesh A at home. Harmanpreet and Veda Krishnamurthy spent December through to mid-January at the WBBL, while Smriti Mandhana led India Blue to a Challenger Trophy title in a three-team domestic tournament involving a mix of uncapped players and India regulars.
An overseas double before a hammering at home
India returned to the field with a challenging tour of South Africa where they claimed the ODI and T20I series 2-1 and 3-1 respectively. Harmanpreet's 150th international appearance coincided with Jhulan Goswami claiming her milestone 200th ODI wicket in Kimberley, while Mandhana overcame her World Cup slump with a career-best 135 and the Player of the Tournament award in the ODI series. The debuts of Jemimah Rodrigues and Pooja Vastrakar, and the return of a 34-year-old Rumeli Dhar headlined the T20I series that Mithali Raj dominated with a new-found fluency in the format.
The home season that followed, however, reversed nearly all of the results in South Africa. Australia avenged their World Cup semi-final defeat with a 3-0 thrashing in the ODIs, before India finished at the bottom of the subsequent tri-series featuring Australia and England. A laboured 2-1 ODI-series win against England ended India's efforts at home, which saw Mandhana collect 520 runs in 10 matches, including the fastest T20I fifty by an India women player.
Backing the backroom staff:
After the World Cup, a partial overhaul of the support staff saw the BCCI locking in head coach Tushar Arothe, fielding coach Biju George and physio Tracy Fernandes for a two-year period. Team manager Trupti Bhattacharya earned a one-year extension, while Afzal Khan and Ashutosh Dandige replaced Radha Krishnaswamy and Aarti Nalge as trainer and video analyst respectively. The team also retained sports therapist Rashmi Pawar.
India's Asia Cup debacle, however, led to reports of discord between Arothe and some of the high-profile regulars, which culminated in his resignation on July 10. With a national camp scheduled to be held in Bengaluru on July 25, the board appointed Ramesh Powar as the interim head coach and opened applications for the full-time role. Even as Sunil Joshi, Ajay Ratra, Mamata Maben and Sanath Kumar vie for the job among other applicants, the board remains on the lookout for a bowling coach.
Domestic yays and nays:
A much-needed investment at the primary level saw the BCCI conducting the women's Under-16 tournament, albeit only at the zonal level, during the 2017-18 domestic season. This was the first time they had done so since taking over from the Women's Cricket Association of India in 2006.
The newly released domestic calendar for the 2018-19 season contains no multi-day tournaments or inter-zonal games across all formats and age-groups - Under-19, Under-23 and senior - barring Under-16.
Three new tournaments, however, have been added to the season, each of which will comprise four pools of nine teams each. Two Challenger Trophies at the Under-19 and Under-23 age groups have been incorporated into the schedule along with one T20 tournament for the Under-23 age group.
Show 'em the money:
On the eve of the World Cup final, the BCCI announced cash rewards of INR 50 lakh each for the players and INR 25 lakh for each member of the support staff. But that was only a prelude to more significant gains. Upon returning to India, several state associations and private organisations, along with the Railways, showered additional cash benefits on the players.
In March, the BCCI updated the women's pay scale for the first time since 2015. With the stroke of a pen, the top category went from INR 15 lakh (approximately USD 23,000) to INR 50 lakh (USD 92,000). Grade B increased three-fold from INR 10 lakh (USD 15,000) and a new category of INR 10 lakh was introduced. Raj, Goswami and Harmanpreet retained their Grade A contracts, and were joined by Mandhana who jumped from Grade B. Rodrigues, Punam Raut, and wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia joined Mona Mesharam among others in Grade C. Match fees for senior women's domestic one-day games shot up from INR 3500 each to INR 12500, and half that sum in T20s.
Consistent in inconsistent viewing:
India's first international assignment after the World Cup - the ODI series in South Africa - was not televised. A social media furore led Cricket South Africa to live-stream the first two T20Is before the BCCI's broadcast partner took over to televise the remaining three 20-over matches as double-headers with the men's matches. The following ODI series against Australia and the tri-series, too, were televised. In March, however, Star India's INR 6138 crore acquisition of Indian cricket's broadcast rights pegged the value of the Indian women's teams international matches at zero. Essentially, these games, along with men's domestic matches, were added as freebies that the BCCI sold in the overall bouquet.
Soon after the deal was signed, though, the BCCI live-streamed the following home ODI series on its website, before the one-off IPL exhibition match was made available for viewing on both television and on Star's mobile app. As for the Asia Cup, only the final of the tournament was televised.
BCCI, however, have made sure women's cricket will be broadcast regardless of whether it makes money or not. The BCCI's professional management has focused on the promotion of women's cricket and even organised the T20 exhibition game before the IPL 2018 final as part of that exercise.
Emergence of India women as brands:
By the time the World Cup ended, the social-media follower counts of Raj, Harmanpreet, Veda Krishnamurthy, Sushma Verma and Shikha Pandey had shot through the roof. The biggest gainer in this regard, however, turned out to be Mandhana, who rules the leaderboard of social-media following across all platforms. Among social-media accounts independently managed, Raj sits atop the list with over 2,300,000 followers.
|Player||Pre-World Cup 2017||Post-World Cup final||One year after|
*cumulative follower base across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (via TSD Corp)
Sushma and Harmanpreet were appointed DSPs of Himachal and Punjab Police respectively, while the Indian Air Force felicitated Pandey, a flight lieutenant, with the Chief of the Air Staff commendation.
Harmanpreet and Mandhana's popularity surged as they received the BCCI International (female) Player-of-the-Year awards for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons respectively, and earned their maiden Kia Super League contracts in the same month.
This reflects in the brand-endorsement offers that have trickled in since the World Cup. Mandhana is now the face of a footwear brand and a skincare product, and has an automobile manufacturer's name on her bat. Offers have been equally prolific for Harmanpreet, but nowhere close to the extent of Raj's endorsement interests. From gracing magazine covers to forum discussions, Raj was ubiquitous on billboards in big cities across the country and has since been on the list of brands wanting to sign her up. Raj and Goswami have announced impending autobiographies, and the latter will also be the subject of a biopic.
While player-management companies linked up with the likes of Mandhana and Deepti Sharma, less (read: scant) media and commercial interest has been shown in the spin trio of Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav and Ekta Bisht. The hero of the World Cup league-stage match against Pakistan, Bisht reads no more into it than, "Chotey shahar ya kadd ki baat nahi hain, bowlers ka maamla hi aisa hain Indian cricket mein. [It's not a question of being from a small city or of a small built, this is the deal bowlers get in Indian cricket]."
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo