Wisden India: India Women take step in right direction

Three games apiece against the No. 1-ranked team in the world across all formats. Not a bad result, all things considered.

For a team that arrived on Australian soil with four backroom staff to Australia’s 14, and whose One-Day International and Twenty20 International win-record against their hosts read just 7 from 38 and 1 from 9 respectively, India Women were given little chance on their recent tour. This too was a team which the recent wide-ranging Lodha report detailed as being subject to ‘general chauvinism’, ‘paltry earnings’ and ‘governance apathy’ by its own governing body, the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Australia, by contrast, thrice T20 world champions and pushing for a fourth title next month, were coming off the back of a groundbreaking and hugely successful Women’s Big Bash League. The fear among administrators and journalists was a shared one — that Australia would wipe the floor.

When India won the first T20I – an upset – and then the second to secure their first bilateral series win over Australia Women in any format, even their normally composed captain Mithali Raj couldn’t quite keep it together.

“With the factors all against us, and playing against the world champions, I gave a 20-80% [of India winning],” said Raj following their series victory. “Earlier also, there were close matches with Australia, but winning it was definitely not there in my mind.”

While Australia reversed the T20I result in the ensuing ODI series to register a 2-1 series win, in that too India can take heart in having prevented a whitewash. The intensity, fielding and batting composure they had displayed in the T20Is was, perhaps disappointingly, lacking in the longer form but they proved worthy challengers throughout.

The T20I series, however, was a historic one. To Australia, this will undoubtedly prove but a blip on the radar, the series loss serving as a wake-up call in their pursuit of yet more silverware.

For India it was momentous. While the BCCI’s Twitter handle remained decidedly silent throughout the first T20I, awakening only to gorge on the men’s ensuing win, the rest of the cricketing world had awoken. The hope, in due course, is that the BCCI and its legion of subservient followers will realise the value of investing in its women’s team too, a team that now, finally, is performing above and beyond the pitiful status conferred on it by its governing body.

In both the last two T20 World Cups, India Women had failed to make it past the group stages. Their underwhelming on-field performances did little to enamour them to the BCCI. Only late last year did India’s women finally get awarded central contracts, years after the likes of England and Australia, and which were restricted to just 11 players.

Pre-tour, Raj spoke of the hope of a good showing in the World T20 paving the way for a women’s IPL. “Every second person asks me when the IPL will have a women’s edition,” Raj said. “I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

Shikha Pandey's haul of eight wickets included that of Meg Lanning three times, including the ball of the series in the first T20I to dismiss the Australian captain. © Getty Images

While the bilateral T20I series win is important, Raj is right – it means nothing in the context of the World T20. Less than seven months after India’s men won the 2007 World T20, the first match of the inaugural IPL was played. Do well, and a similar turnaround for the women becomes a distinct possibility. Fail as before, and the path might prove a trickier, and lengthier, one to tread. Symbolism aside, the most important feature of India’s performance in the recent series will be the confidence that it gives them that they can perform, and compete, with the world’s best as they head into the World T20.

As for the substance of the team, in the past India have relied heavily on their two spearheads, Raj and Jhulan Goswami. While these two both once again shone, this tour has delivered encouraging performances from others too.

The upward trajectory of Smriti Mandhana, still only 19, continued apace. Despite missing the first match through injury, she averaged 78.5, including India’s first and only century of the series in the second ODI. Skiddy seamer Shikha Pandey, still early in her career, picked up eight wickets across the three ODIs. Remarkably, across both formats, her haul included on three occasions that of the best batter in the world in the women’s game, Meg Lanning, and featured the ball of the series in the first T20I to york the Southern Stars captain just as she was getting going. Harmanpreet Kaur, still only 26, was the lynchpin of the record-breaking run chase in the first T20I to steer India home past the 144 mark set by the hosts.

There’s a lot to like about this India side. They remain seventh from eight in the ICC Women’s Championship but have picked up points against England, Australia and New Zealand, and have the lower-ranked Pakistan and Sri Lanka still to come. They’re not averse to causing an upset against the major nations either. The task now is to turn those surprises into consistent returns, something they still find a struggle as the first two ODIs showed. Do this, however, and maybe, just maybe, the BCCI with its oodles of money and global influence might sit up and take notice.

Isabelle Westbury is a freelance cricket and politics writer and broadcaster. She has worked for The Telegraph, The Independent and the BBC. She is also the captain of Middlesex CCC. She tweets @izzywestbury.
• A version of this article was originally published in The Wisden India on 10 February 2016. To access the original, please click here.
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