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Sanjay Manjrekar

Why women's cricket appeals to all cricket watchers now

The increases in power and fitness in recent years mean it's no longer a niche sport, watched only by supporters of the women's game

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
Ireland aren't yet able to compete with the top teams but they have talented batsmen like Clare Shillington who are showcasing their skills at the World T20  •  ICC/Getty

Ireland aren't yet able to compete with the top teams but they have talented batsmen like Clare Shillington who are showcasing their skills at the World T20  •  ICC/Getty

As a commentator I have been covering women's cricket for a while, and I have seen it change in front of my eyes.
Earlier, well, the inevitable comparison with men's cricket came into your head as you watched the women in action. It seemed then that it took a great effort for them to do things like run in and bowl; it felt like they were bowling with an iron ball rather than a leather one, and it seemed like it was a real strain on the seam bowlers to deliver the ball, before it then went in a loop towards the batsman.
I remember when I was a school cricketer, our coaches used to organise friendly fixtures with women's teams, and the contests would turn out very close, us kids versus them adults.
In the past I also observed that when women cricketers ran between wickets, they looked a bit clumsy. Also, most of the activity was in and around the 30-yard circle, and boundaries were rare. Of course, there were some exceptionally abled players back then as well, but we are talking about women's cricket in general here.
Then it all started to change. A year ago in England, it was amazing to see the strides the women had taken, and how it was now a seamless transition from men's cricket to women's for viewers.
This was very important and needed to happen. You didn't want the viewership to consist only of people who wanted to be kind to women's cricket and watched it mainly to show support. That would have meant a very limited audience. No, the last women's World Cup in England was watched because people wanted to watch cricket - a contest between two teams, some eye-catching talent: the reasons why fans watch men's cricket.
So much so that there was a full house for the final, at Lord's, and the spectators were made up of cricket lovers, not just lovers of women's cricket. Women's cricket truly arrived that day. And what a game it turned out to be. You knew that the fans would now come back for more.
I wish the current World T20 had been held somewhere other than the West Indies, which, sadly, has now become a place that makes cricket looks dull. Still, television and social media will make sure that as the tournament reaches its climax, there is once again a global audience, like for the last women's World Cup. That women's world events are now staged as standalone events, and not in tandem with men's matches, shows the confidence of those invested in the product.
So what has changed in women's cricket? Two ingredients, really, and ingredients essential to impress today's audiences: power and fitness. Earlier, if there was a batsman or two in a team who could hit the ball powerfully, now there are five.
When you watch Ireland or some of the other weaker teams, it still seems like the women's cricket of old, but in the top teams like England, Australia, New Zealand and India, every batter can come in and send the ball over the ropes almost at will. Watching Australia in the field and running between the wickets is just a treat.
One of the greatest innings by an Indian, to rank alongside VVS Laxman's 281, in my book, was Harmanpreet Kaur's 171 not out against Australia in the semi-final of the last World Cup. It was like VVS' innings in that it was high on quality, took place on the biggest stage, and had numbers to match. Harmanpreet's knock came at a strike rate of almost 150, and was in the semi-final of a World Cup, against strong opposition, Australia.
Already in the two matches I have covered in Guyana, I have seen some outstanding talent, Lucy O'Reilly of Ireland looks a good seamer, although hers is not a very good team currently. Ireland also have a tremendous player in Clare Shillington, but her situation is a bit like Virat Kohli's in overseas Tests: that of a lone warrior. Kohli knows this and does an admirable job of making the most of it; Shillington is not quite there yet.
I also like the look of Hannah Rowe of New Zealand: a good run-up, lovely action, and she gets the ball to swing when she pitches it up. New Zealand legspinner Amelia Kerr is another one to watch. Sure, she needs to get more accurate, but I love the fact that she wants to give that ball a rip, whether it's the legspinner or the googly she's bowling. She seems happy when she is bowling, so I guess temperament will not be a hindrance in her growth.
Talking of temperament, it was great to see the Irish girls have a hearty laugh in the dugout, even as they were going down badly against Pakistan the other night, when one of their batters fell like a sack of potatoes while running. What's more, when she got up, brushing her trousers, she had a big smile on her face too, seeing the funny side of it all.
Obviously the women play hard, but they still have the instinct to smile, to remind us it's a game after all, and that's where they are well ahead of the men's game. That and the over rates too.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar