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Feature

Packed crowd in Navi Mumbai heralds good times for women's cricket in India

Over 47,000 filled the stands on Sunday, showing - in Smriti Mandhana's words - "that it is a sport worth investing [in]"

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
12-Dec-2022
Sunday's match in Navi Mumbai brought in what was likely a record crowd for a bilateral women's match in India  •  BCCI

Sunday's match in Navi Mumbai brought in what was likely a record crowd for a bilateral women's match in India  •  BCCI

"Stadium full ticket over"
Four words that can make or break your heart as a fan, irrespective of whether the tickets are priced or free.
It is the first time since March 2021 that India Women are playing a home series. And because of Covid-19, their last series - five ODIs and three T20Is against South Africa in Lucknow - was played with crowd restrictions.
The current India-Australia series, as a result, assumed extra significance with crowds returning for women's international cricket in India for the first time since October 2019.
And returned they have. After all, these two teams have had quite a history in recent times.
India and Australia clashed in the finals of the Women's T20 World Cup in 2020 and the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, with Australia winning on both occasions. Coming into this tour, Australia had won their last 12 ODIs and last 10 completed T20Is. But they knew they'd be in for a test, because if any team has challenged their hegemony over women's cricket in recent years, it has been India. Last September, India beat Australia in Mackay to end a record 26-match winning streak in ODIs. And India were Australia's opponents on the last three occasions when they lost World Cup matches - in Derby, Providence and Sydney.
There was, therefore, always a chance that the fans would show up, with the added incentive of free tickets.
Information about how and where to get them, however, has been limited, and chaos has ensued on both match days so far, with thousands queueing up at the gates well before match time in Navi Mumbai. Over 25,000 - exact, official numbers are unavailable - attended the first T20I, and Sunday's second T20I brought in over 47,000.
In 2017, when India played England in the Women's ODI World Cup final at Lord's, approximately 24,000 spectators watched the game at the venue. The T20 World Cup final at the MCG in 2020 brought in a staggering 86,174. Close to 80,000 had turned up at the Eden Gardens for the final of the Women's World Cup in 1997.
Sunday's figure of 47,000 was a hugely impressive one considering it was a bilateral game - it was quite likely the biggest crowd for a women's bilateral game in India. And they got their (purely figurative) money's worth.
Chasing an unlikely 188 to win, India were cruising along until Smriti Mandhana fell for 79, leaving them with 40 to get in the last 21 balls. Richa Ghosh's hitting brought it down to 14 of the final over and 5 off 1 ball. Devika Vaidya then managed to squeeze a near-yorker from Megan Schutt past backward point to tie the game. Through Mandhana and Ghosh, India scored 20 in the Super Over before Renuka Singh kept Australia to 16.
"I am not sure you can compare it. The fact that we play in front of only maybe 5000 people in WBBL, to be come out and play in front of a crowd with 47,000 was unbelievable," Heather Graham, who has played in the WBBL since 2015 and made her T20I debut on Sunday, said. "I turned to Phoebe [Litchfield], who was debuting as well and I was like this is insane. We just soaked it all [in]. At the end then, when it got tight in the end, it was incredible.
"This showcases the crowds women's cricket can get and how exciting it can be."
Given that the inaugural Women's IPL is just around the corner, the crowds for this series have been a hugely encouraging sign, showing just how popular women's cricket is in India.
"When people see these sort of matches, that sort of crowd, it's definitely going to be amazing for women's cricket," Mandhana said. "To see that turnout, I am sure it is going to give a lot of confidence to the organisers as well as people who will maybe bid for [WIPL teams] - I don't understand all that. Definitely it is going to give a lot of confidence to the people who are going to watch it and for women's cricket, that it is a sport worth investing [in].
"To see that kind of support and enthusiasm throughout the 40 overs was amazing and definitely is a motivating factor for the team."
The series will now move to the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, which will host the last three T20Is. While the Brabourne, which can hold a maximum of 20,000, can accommodate significantly fewer spectators than the DY Patil Stadium, expect the stands to be packed once again.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo