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Women's T20 World Cup: A title win will change the way women’s cricket is perceived in India

Whether India go on to win this World Cup or not, there was the definite sense that this was a defining moment in the way the women’s game would be viewed in the country.

Last Updated: Mar 05, 2020, 11.42 PM IST
By Anand Vasu

Carried on the Shoulders of A Nation. This was the title given to the Laureus Sports Awards sporting moment for the years 2000-2010, describing that warm night on April 2, 2011, when India won the World Cup at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. The son of that soil, Sachin Tendulkar, who finally had his hands on the biggest prize in cricket in his sixth attempt, was the beneficiary of the award.

While it was one of the most emotional moments in Indian cricket’s recent history, the team overcoming all opposition and the overwhelming pressure of playing at home in front of expectant crowds, there was a slightly odd ring to it being picked as the moment of all moments. After all, it was not the first time the men’s team had won the 50-over World Cup. Rank Outsiders at 66-1, Kapil Dev’s team had pulled off that stunning feat back in 1983.

Look at it a little more closely and the World Cup win of 2011 did not alter the landscape of Indian cricket as much as another world title. In 2007, when the Indian team treated Twenty20 cricket like a bit of a hit and giggle, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India looked at the format with something approaching derision, Mahendra Singh Dhoni led India to victory in South Africa. Hot on the heels of that was a 180-degree turn in the way T20 cricket was viewed, paving the way for the launch of the Indian Premier League. Now that was an event that changed the course of Indian cricket.

Tendulkar, when receiving the award, was as gracious as ever. “It's incredible. The feeling of winning the World Cup was beyond what words can express. How many times you get an event happening where there are no mixed opinions, there are no mixed views. Very rarely the entire country celebrates,” said Tendulkar. “Very rarely there are no opinions, everyone sits together and celebrates and this is a reminder again of how powerful sport and what magic it does to all our lives. We experience the power of sport. Even now when I watch that it has stayed with me.”

At the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday, even as rain came down steadily, the Indian women’s team experienced such a life-changing moment. Harmanpreet Kaur’s team became the first to make it to the Twenty20 World Cup final, and they will not mind one bit that it happened through arained out encounter. While England will feel gutted, and you have to feel for them in that they did not have the chance to fight to stay in the tournament on the day, it was not because of rain that England were knocked out. It was because India were undefeated in the league phase, something England could not replicate in the other half of the draw.

Whether India go on to win this World Cup or not, there was the definite sense that this was a defining moment in the way the women’s game would be viewed in the country. Already, the manner in which the tournament has been marketed, and the concerted push by all stakeholders in Australia, has raised the profile of the game and sustained it over a fortnight. The viewership numbers and attendance at grounds have broken records. More importantly, if this team does go all the way, there will be a queue back home waiting to join them while they are on the top off a crest. From sponsors who are attracted to success, to BCCI officials who will be only too quick to claim their own part in the journey, the balance of power will shift ever so slightly, but perceptibly, to the players.

When Kapil Dev met Dhoni ahead of the 2011World Cup, he had one simple thing to say: “MS, you win and your life will change forever.” And Kapil was speaking from personal experience. If Harmanpreet’s team wins this tournament, it will not change their lives alone. In India, there exist funding and infrastructure that can be turned to the women’s game. Few other countries in the world can match this. But, what has been lacking so far is the will. While small advances have been made, these have largely been token, but once the people of the country speak, and they will in numbers if the team goes all the way, there will be no way those in power can shy away from giving the team the tools and backing needed to make a meaningful difference.

Journalism is often referred to as the first rough draft of history. And this is mostly because the significance of an event usually reveals itself much after it has ended. But, for once, here was history being written right in front of a nation. All that remained was for eyes to be opened, once and for all.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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