On International Women's Day 2020 everything seemed possible. India competed in a World Cup final on March 8 in front of almost 90,000 spectators. Katy Perry, feminist pop idol, performed to thunderous applause. "Come on, show them what you're worth," boomed the global superstar.
"If you only knew what the future holds", it soon followed. A few hours later, when India's last wicket fell, 85 runs behind their destination, they could hardly imagine what the future would actually bring.
The coronavirus pandemic swept across the world and the sport stopped. Everything was done to ensure a speedy resumption of men's sport or at least lucrative men's sport. For the women, however, there was hardly any call to check in.
India's women remained in almost complete isolation for almost eight months, as travel between states became both difficult to plan and expensive – too expensive – to accommodate. The first and only cricket they'd have before the end of the year was four hastily arranged T20s squeezed between knockout rounds of the men's IPL, a 56-game affair.
It would take another four months, a whole year in total, until India's women represented their country again. During this time without international cricket, the men's team had played eight tests and six white ball matches in addition to the IPL.
Against South Africa, their first series back, India's women were beaten up. The poor preparation, lack of fitness and team cohesion as well as some bizarre selection tips were obvious. Covid quickly morphed from a reason women's cricket was overlooked to a convenient excuse.
"What to do?" a seemingly sincere Sourav Ganguly, BCCI president, asked in an interview with Indian sports star magazine. “We lived with this deadly virus. […] It is a misconception that the people of us do not promote women's cricket. What can I do? "
A few months later, with a streak against England starting next week, and the only progress it seems, the lack of progress is finally being talked about.
First there was the surprising reappointment of Ramesh Powar as head coach, two years after he left after a spectacular dispute with India's current test and ODI captain Mithali Raj. Then there is the noticeable contrast between the salaries of the women’s national team players, which were reduced from 22 to 19 this year, and their male colleagues. And more recently, the Telegraph Sport disclosure of late payments of both World Cup prize money and player salaries, the former more than 14 months ago.
"A male chauvinist organization"
Despite the media hype, India's preparation in the field remains poor. BCCI Secretary Jay Shah was the first to announce that India would play a Test against England in England. Only it soon turned out that this happened before the ECB knew it would. Shah also neglected to say that half of the test would overlap with India's men appearing in the World Test Championship Final. Nor did it remind us of the last time India's women had played a test. Or one of his players a red ball match. The latter, and what could be called integral test preparation, took place during the 2017-18 domestic season. Over three years ago.
Shah, like many of the men at the top of the BCCI government, has close ties with India's ruling political party, the BJP. His way of working is well known. That means: quick recognition for good news, slow introduction of substance for women's cricket. A "male chauvinist organization," according to former women's test captain Diana Edulji.
Two years ago, when a BCCI administrative error resulted in its women's team on tour in the West Indies being stranded with no daily allowance, the only reporting came when the error was fixed. One headline read: "BCCI Comes to Rescue the Women's Team".
There is a catch-22. The BCCI isn't going to invest properly in their women's football until they win something: maybe a world championship where they've been runner-up twice in the past four years. But as nations like England and Australia continue to invest larger and larger parts of their budget in women's domestic infrastructure, India has still not hosted a women's IPL despite 14 editions of the men's tournament.
In the same breath as India's administrators attribute to the IPL for democratizing men's cricket in India and developing its full potential, they claim that there is not enough depth in Indian women's cricket. It's a vicious circle.
"Too many leaks. Too little accountability," says a tired journalist. "Too much arbitrariness. Too little eyesight. Tests are great, please more. But they are also an effective pretext for the many things that have to be done over the long term."
Past versus present
Unfortunately, not only powerful men stand in the way of the development of women's cricket in India.
"There is an absolute takeover of power from the past [women’s] players", one administrator describes the composition of the women's selection committee. “Because they never experienced or received anything while playing. Now they exercise the power they never had. "
"Against South Africa, for example, they randomly dropped players and picked two new players with no experience. There is no transparency, no structure and no accountability."
"There's a mindset," continues the administrator, "when I was playing we didn't pay anything, so now that you are, we're going to have unrealistic expectations. We never had that, so we're calling for" the & # 39 ;. It is completely wrong. And vengeful. "
According to some, the takeover of power extends beyond the players. "I will ask you to revise your opinion about the players," advised a journalist. "The fault lies with these selfish [women]. A lot of arrogance and insecurity. Little respect for [the] trainers and for each other."
The rifts between the players actually seem to be numerous and deep. "They all hate each other," observes a current international cricketer – not an Indian one. It paints an uncomfortable picture, but perhaps an inevitable one. First, besides Pakistan, India is the only major cricket nation that does not have a recognized players' association. Collective action is impossible.
For every cricketer it is a struggle for survival. Which is also a problem. Behind the allegations of “arrogance” and “disrespect” hides the prevailing view that women should not be strong, that they should not stand up for themselves or question the status quo. In contrast, a male player is expected to be both demanding and powerful, if not encouraged, with an aim of control. The men are leaders, the women arrogant dissenters.
India's women face innumerable challenges. But change is taking place. Individual players are given opportunities in lucrative overseas tournaments – five Indian players were recently announced as new signings in the upcoming Hundred – and there seems to be a shift in the Indian media as well. You start talking. After all, the women's team is just another vehicle to satisfy the country's insatiable appetite for the game. And with an organization like the BCCI, which is so dependent on its image, something could and should change when the public speaks. As one player puts it, “If I wanted to do something for women's cricket in India, I would make a social media roar. You may not get the cake, but you will definitely get the crumbs. "