Shubhangi Kulkarni, born July 19, 1959, was a leg-spinner and batswoman who batted at various positions for India. Shubhangi, who led India in three Tests and one One-Day International (ODI), is one of the leaders of women’s cricket in India who were influential in the merging of Women’s Cricket Association in India (WCAI) with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Sudatta Mukherjee looks back at the career of one of the pioneers of women’s cricket in India.
On October 31, 1976, India played its first-ever women’s Test when they took on West Indies at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. The Indian line-up had some legendary names like Sudha Shah, captain Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Edulji and of course Shubhangi Kulkarni — names which are still spoken with much awe and respect.
Leg-spinner Shubhangi, then 17, made an instant impact by registering figures of 11.4-3-48-5. Coming lower down the order, Shubhangi then scored an unbeaten 26, before India declared for 269 at the loss of six wickets. In the second innings of the match, Shubhangi took two wickets to finish the Test with a seven-wicket haul. It was a highly-satisfying debut for the teenager.
In a Test career spanning 19 Tests, Shubhangi registered five, five-wicket hauls. Thrice, she picked up seven wickets in a Test match and once six wickets against Australia in Perth, 1977. She picked up 60 Test wickets at a very respectable bowling average of 27.45.
As a batswoman, Shubhangi scored 700 runs at an average of 23.33. Her highest score of 118 came while leading India against England at Wetherby in 1986. Coming at a No 4, she reached her half-century in 153 balls, with eight fours. Her maiden century came in 249 balls with 15 fours. Shubhangi batted at various positions. She started as a lower-order batswoman but moved up the order to bat at No 4.
England remained her favourite team. She scored 260 Test runs against them at an average of 65 in three Test matches. Under her leadership, India drew two Tests and lost one against Australia.
Shubhangi’s ODI career wasn’t as successful as her Test career. She played 27 ODIs in which she took 38 wickets and scored 347 runs. Her best bowling figures were four for 27 against New Zealand at Jamshedpur in 1985 and her highest score of 44 came against Australia at Faridabad in 1984.
Shubhnagi has played an important role in the upliftment of women’s cricket in Indian. She became a cricket administrator for WCAI and was the secretary when WCAI merged with BCCI in 2006. She then became the convenor of the BCCI’s women’s committee.
In a chat with CricketCountry sometime back, Diana Edulji had said, “I and Shubhangi [Kulkarni] and some of the seniors were the pioneers of the merger. We wanted the merger thinking that women’s cricket will prosper but I’m sorry to say it hasn’t.”
Along with many other women cricketers, Shubhangi fought for the rights of women cricketers for a long time. In 2012, when BCCI handed a one-time payout to male cricketers, many women cricketers felt they should have been included in too.
“Thanks to Sharad Pawar’s intervention, we came under the pension scheme along with the men players. Now that the men have been paid, we should also be treated on a par with them,” Shubhangi had told IANS.
In an interview to ESPNcricinfo, Sudha Shah acknowledged the role of Shubhangi for the team’s success. Sudha said, “Anything we wanted was giving to us by the association. All she [Shubhangi] wanted from us is that we concentrate on the cricket, and win. We owe her a lot. That fact that she has been running the show made a great difference. She gave us the confidence and the support we needed.”
It was during her role as the secretary, for the first time in many years, England’s tour of India was broadcasted. Soon, Indian women found a long-term sponsor when Sahara signed a three-year deal.
Even when the merger of the two boards was going on and BCCI took months to confirm the merger, Shubhnagi remained positive. Speaking about the merger, Shubhangi was quoted by ESPNcricinfo, “They [BCCI] have made the game so big in the country. I hope that with the two boards merging, women’s cricket will also get the exposure and bring in more sponsors.
“Also, it will provide better coaching and training facilities [for the women]. The NCA [National Cricket Academy] trains coaches, so we’d basically want to avail such facilities where we have better players and better coaches coming through the system.”
Even after the merger, Shubhangi was involved in motivating young women cricketers to perform better. The Indian board, with Shubhangi as the chief of women’s cricket administration, started India’s first-ever domestic Twenty20 competition, to help cricketers prepare for Twenty20 World Cup in England in 2008. In 2007, the board shelled out 60 to 70 million rupees for women’s cricket, helping the cricketers play more cricket.
Women’s cricket might not have reached the same level as their male counterparts, however, in her tenure as the WCAI secretary and then as the BCCI convenor, Shubhangi had made sure the women cricketers didn’t suffer from the inferiority complex.
(Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog and produces weekly posts on new food joints at Whopping Weekends. She played Table Tennis for University of Calcutta. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English serial on her laptop. Her Twitter id is @blackrosegal)
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