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Women’s Cricket has existed on the fringes in India, never really competing for major attention of sports enthusiasts. While comparisons to men’s cricket will be foolhardy, women’s cricket should have held some interest when compared to secondary sports in India such as hockey, badminton, tennis and the likes. But even that didn’t happen. Until this week.
India is in the final of the Women’s World Cup 2017, beating the favourites Australia last evening. The final, on Sunday, against England will be India’s second, after 2005, where they emerged second-best to the Aussies. The team, and its newfound fans, will be hoping for a different result at Lord’s on Sunday. After all, India started this World Cup campaign with a surprise win against the home nation.
Women’s sports in India has been going through a good phase over the last five years. The Rio Olympics in 2016 were a shot in the arm for women’s sports, with PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik being India’s only medalists, even as several men came close but never reached the podium. And with this World Cup performance of women in the country’s favorite sport, women’s sport will get a further boost.
India’s Women Cricket has suffered from a general trend of mediocre performances over the last decade and more. While there have been star names in the team in the past, the collective performance has never really added up to challenge the top 3 who dominate women’s cricket – Australia, New Zealand and England. In fact, India had to go through a rigorous qualifying tournament to even make it to this World Cup, whose final they now find themselves in.
This lacuna in performance and results is an important reason for low interest in the team over time. This World Cup may have changed that irreversibly. Even if India don’t win on Sunday, the team has done enough to have caught the attention of sports enthusiasts and the media alike. Mithali Raj, Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur have emerged as strong characters, whose off-field lives have started generating interest.
One thing that sets this World Cup apart from other tournaments in the past when the team may have done well, including the 2005 World Cup, is the presence of social media. More than television or print, it’s the social media that has aided conversations and support around the team and its games, building awareness and interest progressively as the tournament progressed. Last week, even when the team lost two back-to-back games to South Africa and Australia, and seemed in danger of getting knocked out, social media support ahead of the do-or-die New Zealand game was there for everyone to see.
Only 10 out of 31 games in the World Cup were aired on television, which also meant that some key India games, including the one against New Zealand, were not on the telly. Star Sports has been at the receiving end of the angst of many fans, but being an ICC tournament, the decision on which games to broadcast remains with ICC and not the channel. Apparently, the other 21 games were streamed live on the ICC website. Star Sports could have done well to promote this little detail. It would have helped the sport.
But that’s the past. It’s time to get ready for the big final on Sunday, and support the team through their next phase, where they are set to emerge as a more confident, assured outfit, ready to take on the big guns.
This post first appeared on MXMIndia on my weekly column.