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Thursday, September 29, 2022

CLOSE-IN: Indian women's cricket — Rising to the Kaur

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By Yajurvindra Singh
The Indian women’s cricket team’s series win in the One day Internationals against England is truly a remarkable achievement. To beat England at home is always something special and Harmanpreet Kaur’s band of cricketers has done it in style. They now go to Lord’s, the Mecca of cricket, with a trophy already sealed and stamped in their bag.

One hopes to see the Indian women’s team on the Lord’s balcony, very much in the style of Kapil Dev’s victorious 1983 World Cup side. The image of that victory is still etched in the minds of millions of Indian cricket fans and has been the inspiration for young Indian boys to take up the sport seriously.

The India team in 1971, after their first-ever Test series win in England, showcased a similar sight of their captain Ajit Wadekar waving to the fans below the famous Oval balcony, acknowledging their win then. That too was a moment which became synonymous with the phrase “the renaissance of Indian cricket”.

The present Indian women’s side has a buzz about it that one has not heard in the sides before. The comforting hand of the Indian cricket board (BCCI) on their shoulders has played a significant role in Indian women cricketers believing that they are as good as the best. When one is treated as one, naturally the world around does seem so much better.

Harmanpreet’s 143 not out in the second ODI in Canterbury reminded one of the charismatic Kapil Dev in the strokes that she displayed. The effortless hits over the ropes that were mixed with subtle placements truly reflected the flair and sublime timing of a naturally-gifted sportsperson. She had played a similar innings of 171 runs against Australia in the 2017 World Cup in the semifinal in England, and one is pleased to see that she is back playing in the same vein.

Her success has been instrumental in bringing in the much-needed confidence to her side, especially after the retirement of Mithali Raj. Harmanpreet seems an astute captain who seems to know her players well.

One is especially happy for Harmanpreet Kaur, who a decade ago was languishing in Mumbai away from the comfort of her home in Moga in Punjab solely because there were no cricket facilities there. The Railways have done a marvellous job in recruiting women cricketers, and, if it was not for their support, women’s cricket would not have been able to sustain itself.

Women’s cricket is definitely “rising to the Kaur”. The one who exudes style and grace is India’s opening batter, Smriti Mandhana. She hails from Sangli, a small town in Maharashtra. This town was also the birthplace of one of India’s greatest batsmen, Vijay Hazare. Smriti, being a left-handed batter reminds one of the elegant stroke-play of one of India’s most gifted batsmen, Salim Durani.

The talented Mandhana is by far the most pleasing and graceful batter presently in world cricket.

India does have the likes of Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma and others playing a vital part in the progress of the side at the International level. One can see a much more set and structured side in India’s women cricket than as compared to the men.

The announcement of the retirement of India’s greatest woman fast bowler, Jhulan Goswami, after the England series will be a big blow to the side. She showed she still has the capability to perform at the highest level and from the way she has bowled in the last two ODIs, ones only plea would be “Please don’t go”.

She has the experience and maturity that the Indian side at present requires and like James Anderson for England, she needs to keep going. However, this is not to be and one has to bow ones hat to Jhulan, for being the backbone of Indian women’s cricket’s pace attack for the past 20 years.

The worrying issue for Indian cricket is that both the Indian men’s and women’s teams seem to falter in a multi-nation tournament when a lot is expected of them.

The loss in the Asia Cup for men was a reality check in their journey to the T20 World Cup to be played in Australia later this year. The Indian women from October 1, 2022 will be playing their Asia Cup in Bangladesh. India look to be the hot favourites to win it, especially after their victory against England. One hopes that they rise to the occasion and come through with flying colours.

The only surprising omission from the Indian side is the talented all-rounder from Himachal Pradesh, Harleen Deol. She is another gifted cricketer who bowls leg and off spin and she did showcase her batting skill in the second ODI in England. Her fielding is an additional boon and one cannot forget the most brilliant and jaw-dropping catch that she took on the boundary in 2021, that of Amy Jones in an ODI match in England. It has been talked about as being the best outfield catch ever taken in the history of the game.

Indian women’s cricket is now becoming a serious profession to pursue. Similar to the men’s cricketers, the women are now no more amateurs playing just for fun. They have now become professionals who have the nation behind them following their every move. The BCCI and the state associations have to structure tournaments, programmes and academies not only to unearth talent but also for them to improve their skills and mental attitude.

A good initiative could be to have a women’s IPL. That would then be the ideal icing on the cake.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer)

–Ajit Weekly News

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