BCCI does not view women's cricket as an obligation, but as a liability

A way in which women can be encouraged to take up the game, is through the route of T20 cricket, which has attracted more women into watching the game © AFP

By Aditya Shamlal

In 2006, the administration of women’s cricket in India was given over to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Most people viewed this change with hope that the women’s game in India would finally be taken seriously, and more money would be pumped in to improve the domestic structure as well as the pay given to women who represent India in international cricket.

As things stand today, the Indian women’s team just got knocked out of the World Cup being held in India, and there are complaints from many quarters that the women’s game is being given step-fatherly treatment as compared to the men’s game. It goes without saying that the women’s game is not the bread-winner for the BCCI. The problem lies in the fact that the current administration views women’s cricket not even as an obligation but a liability. One of the biggest complaints is that the women cricketers get paid the least for an international game. The selectors, umpires and match referees make more money per international game than the cricketers playing the game.

Another sign that the BCCI doesn’t really care for the women’s game is the fact that during the on-going women’s World Cup in India, all the group matches were shifted from the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai to make the venue available for the Ranji Trophy final which Mumbai were participating in, and for the Irani Trophy in case Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy. Such a situation should not have occurred, especially in Mumbai which has three fantastic international venues.

Domestic development of women’s cricket

There are many problems that plague the development of the women’s game in India. Under the current domestic structure there exists one One-Day International (ODI) tournament and one T20 tournament. There is no long-form cricket comprising of four-day or five-day cricket. In comparison, other countries have domestic four-day competitions for their women’s teams and the English and the Australian women’s team takes part in an Ashes-style Test series every two years, while the Indian team hardly has any Test commitments in a calendar year. Even if they played international Tests, they would hardly be able to compete as the longer form of the game is not played domestically.

This situation must be remedied if the long form game for women is to be preserved. The BCCI must take rapid action and formulate a domestic First-Class league for women. It need not be as wide and expansive as the Ranji Trophy, a truncated version would suffice as a starting point. A pool of 60-70 players need to be identified and then split into five zonal teams i.e. North, South, East, West and Central. Have state associations manage the teams and the BCCI can delegate the task of organising and managing the league to a sub-committee. Given the resources at the disposal of the BCCI, the administrative side of this exercise should not be a problem; the real challenge would lie in identifying 60-70 talented cricketers to populate these sides.

Another way in which this issue can be addressed is to identify a group of 20-25 Indian women cricketers who have within them the talent to play high level cricket, and reward them with central retainer contracts, as has been done by Cricket Australia (CA).

Paul Marsh in a conversation with Gamechanger said that CA offers retainers to up to 20 players annually. The retainer is offered in a three-tiered system with the lowest grade receiving AUD 5,150, and the highest grade receiving AUD 15,450, in addition to tour allowances and other payments. A retainer system handled centrally by the BCCI coupled with a robust, albeit truncated domestic league will go a long way in encouraging young women to pick cricket as a sport in which they could have a satisfying and fruitful career.

Role of schools and private organisations in the development of women’s cricket

It would be unfair to put all the blame on the BCCI for the state of women’s cricket in India. Many institutions, organisations and people must share the blame in this regard. One of the biggest problems faced in India is that there is hardly any school level cricket for girls. Go anywhere in this country and you will find that there will be a bunch of boys with a bat and ball playing a pick-up game of cricket. In schools you will find most of the boys lean towards sports like cricket and football, while girls, who get into sport, are more likely to take up tennis or badminton. One of the factors could be that while boys have their idols like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble to look up to and to aspire to emulate, there are no such examples of women cricketers in India, who have won global tournaments and international acclaim. There are a few examples in other sports like Saina Nehwal in badminton, and to a limited extent Sania Mirza in tennis, and it is their example which prompts young girls to pick up badminton and tennis rather than cricket.

Therefore it is imperative that schools get involved at a grass root level. Schools must be directed to encourage young girls to play cricket, and that too organized cricket. At a young age, the gap in physical strength between girls and boys is not as pronounced, as it is at a senior level, therefore girls must be encouraged to play on the same team as the boys. Inter-school tournaments are also a must to be able to identify talented cricketers amongst the girls, in order to take them to the next level, be it Under-14 or Under-16 cricket.

Private organisations also have a role to play in development of cricket in a country. Take for example the initiative in Australia called Cricket Without Borders (CWOB), spearheaded by Clare Cannon, a former chair of the Women of Melbourne Cricket Club along with Ken Jacobs, a former CEO of Cricket Victoria and Sarah Elliot an experienced international cricketer. CWOB organises a cricket team of young girls from Cricket Victoria’s development program and takes them on foreign tours to play cricket and experience foreign cultures. A similar organisation in India, managed by well-meaning experienced administrators and cricketers, could do wonders for the women’s game, as it would boost morale, and encourage more women, and especially young women to take up the game.

Another possible initiative could be through corporates who deal in products exclusively for women. These companies could be possible sponsorship partners for women’s cricket events once the administration gets its house in order. It could be a wonderful opportunity for a brand to associate itself with an event or a league based tournament catering exclusively to women and a woman-centric audience. The opportunities, if considered carefully, are endless. What’s required is foresight, imaginative branding and the ability to execute and manage such leagues or tournaments professionally. Such a partnership could provide great visibility for these brands while at the same time providing our women cricketers the best platform to showcase their skills and talents to a cricket loving audience.

Development through T20 cricket

Another way, in which women can be encouraged to take up the game, is through the route of T20 cricket, which has attracted more women into watching the game. Currently the T20 domestic competition is played on a zonal basis, with the teams being run by the state associations. A possible way forward would be to give over the running of the domestic T20 teams to existing Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises and make it an obligation for them to put up a women’s team for the BCCI run domestic competition. In time, if the IPL franchises put in the requisite effort, the quality of the game is bound to improve, and may become a viable commercial property with a paltry running cost and investment in comparison to the men’s game.

Most of the IPL franchises have the man-power, funds and infrastructure to be able to run a women’s team side by side to a men’s team without it being overly financially onerous on them. Not only would it encourage more women to take up the game of cricket, it would be positive branding for the IPL franchises and could garner significant good-will with the women who play and watch the game in India. Another happy side effect of handing over the T20 competition to the private sector so to speak is that it will free up funds and resources of the state associations to be able to formulate and manage a 4 day, first class league, to encourage test cricket among women as well.

We have a long way to go to improve the women’s game in India. There is an undeniable love and passion for the game in this country, and this love and passion is not the exclusive domain of men but includes women who love the game with as much passion and fervour as any man. This passion can be harnessed and a world class team can be produced if only the BCCI stops viewing the women’s game as a child which must be humoured. Improvement at the grass-root level is a must, larger budgets must be allocated and ex-players who have represented India at the highest level must be given a larger say in running the women’s game.

(Aditya Shamlal, a graduate from National Law School of India, Bangalore, worked with one of India’s leading corporate law firms in Delhi and moved as Senior Consultant at Gamechanger in October 2012. The above post has been reproduced with permission from Gamechanger)