In the last few years Indian women’s cricket has seen exponential growth. The team has made two ICC Championship finals, money has come into the sport with the BCCI raking in Rs 20 crore as sponsorship revenue from the 2020 Women’s T-20 challenge, and we have seen the emergence of new stars like Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Varma to go with the experienced trio of Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Harmanpreet Kaur.
The improvement under coach WV Raman was striking enough for analysts to suggest that in a year or two India could challenge the hegemony of Australia and England in ICC competitions. The momentum was somewhat lost because of Covid, with the girls not playing international cricket for a year. And now, when the fixtures have resumed, poor selection calls resulted in India losing a 50 over home series to South Africa 1-4.
At a time when men’s cricket is at an all time high, these results do not augur well for the women’s game. While the selectors haven’t spoken on record, the only explanation available is that players like Shikha Pandey, Ekta Bisht, Tania Bhatia and others were rested as the Neetu David led selection committee wanted to try out new talent. Frankly, when a team is returning to international cricket after 12 months, it can’t be a stage for experimentation. This is international cricket, where it’s always winner takes all.
To see a youngster in Monica Patel picked over Shikha Pandey who performs consistently for Goa in domestic cricket was shocking. Not only is Patel not ready for the international stage, by picking her over the experienced Pandey the selectors have done her and Indian cricket a disservice. It’s only natural that poor performances will now be playing out in her mind, creating serious self doubt going forward.
With Jhulan Goswami injured for the all important fourth game of the series, India had to go in with spinners and one seamer because the captain and coach had no faith in Patel. And the lone seamer in Mansi Joshi looked confused in the absence of a guiding hand in Jhulan. That’s where Pandey’s experience could have made the difference. Again, Radha Yadav, preferred over Ekta Bisht, was dropped after only one game, a clear sign that the management has little faith in her abilities in this format.
The selectors need to realise three things going forward. First, they are in public office and are discharging public duty. Second, the Indian team is associated with national pride and the selectors are accountable to millions of Indian cricket fans. Third, they need to give the captain and coach the team they need to produce results and not impose selection choices on them, which make the team’s think tank look lost and frustrated.
The truth is the women’s game has lost momentum with this defeat. The game has been pushed back by a few years because of incompetent selections. Correctives are an immediate necessity. It’s of utmost importance that the Sourav Ganguly and Jay Shah led BCCI sit down with the captain, coach and selection committee in figuring out a vision plan for the women’s game leading into the 50 over World Cup, just ten months away.
Indian women’s cricket has serious potential. It will be a travesty if fundamental mistakes cost us at the world stage in less than a year from now. In charting the way ahead BCCI might also decide on using legends of the women’s game like Shantha Rangaswamy, already an apex council member, Diana Edulji and Subhangi Kulkarni.
With the women’s T-20 challenge a month away, this defeat might have also impacted the stock of the sport in the immediate future. India wasn’t competitive in three of the games and that’s what rankles fans the most.
People in positions of power need to use authority responsibly. A good Indian performance at the World Cup will mean thousands of aspiring young girls take to the sport making it a viable career option in the country. With a lot at stake, the game is on the cusp. Can the selectors redeem themselves and get it back on track, or will gains made in the last few years soon be lost? The jury’s out on this one.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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