By Poojil Tiwari
The Indian women’s cricket team created history in the cricket world cup of 2017 by reaching the finals after twelve years. The team lost to England by nine runs in the closely fought final. However, they defeated the six-time champions, Australia, in the second semi-finals held at the Lords Cricket Ground.
While our women may have lost the finals, they sure did win hearts. The days leading up to the final saw many popular cricketers and celebrities extending their support for the team on social media. Sachin Tendulkar, for one, uploaded a montage of the team on his Instagram profile, focusing on the personal journeys of individual team players.
In fact, for a country that adorns its male cricketers with inflated expectations, we reacted quite positively to the women’s defeat in the finals. However, the men’s team received a lot of flak for their dismal performance in the Champions trophy finals.
Contrary to this, the women’s team received an overwhelming reception on their arrival at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport with fans flocking to the airport at as early as 2:30 AM. They also received tremendous financial support of which the most remarkable was BCCI’s reward of Rs. 50 lakhs to each player. Railway minister, Suresh Prabhu, too, announced out of turn promotions for cricketers from the railways. Harmanpreet Kaur was offered the post of Deputy Superintendent of Police by Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh.
Battling for recognition
In spite of the present support, the harsh reality is that women’s cricket in the country is obscure. One might argue that this is true for all sports in the country. Yet, in spite of not being the national sport per se, cricket sure does enjoy a certain unparalleled fervour in the country. In such a scenario, it is disappointing to see the little support the women’s cricket team receive as compared to the men’s team. This is evident from the low crowd turnout in matches and little visual media marketing by broadcasters.
This is undoubtedly connected to the larger narrative of an ongoing gender bias against women. Historically, women have had to put up a fight to be acknowledged in circles where men are appreciated. The attention that women’s cricket receives is periodic at best. They only come into the limelight when they do something noteworthy, such as reaching the world cup finals. Unlike men’s cricket, there exists no established system of coverage of women’s cricket. We receive little to no news of the matches that they’re playing. This unequal coverage of women’s cricket in the country can largely be attributed to the broadcasting media.
Skewed preferences of the broadcasting media
It was only after the women’s cricket team reached the world cup finals in 2005 that BCCI took it under its jurisdiction. This included broadcasting and televising of the game. Moreover, it gave an impetus to women’s cricket in the country by providing them with digital representation, thereby drastically increasing their reach. However, the disproportionate representation of women in broadcasting media continues to remain appalling.
When India hosted the men’s world cup in 2011, the whole country went into a frenzy. Star Sports ran an intensive campaign encouraging Indians to support their team by showing how they “Bleed Blue”. Every second TV commercial featured members of the men’s team talking passionately about winning the World Cup. Even Shankar Mahadevan crooned to “De Ghuma Ke”, the official World Cup song. On the other hand, when India hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2013, it barely caused a ripple.
Today almost every news channel has a daily hour-long segment devoted to sports in which men’s cricket is analysed. However, such platforms do not even deign to analyse women’s cricket. To put it simply, when the men played the Champions trophy in England, Star Sports asks us to #followtheblues. However, when the women’s team competes in the same country, we don’t see any Facebook posts asking us to follow our women in blue.
Mitali Raj and the team are now pushing for a women’s cricket league much like the IPL. Hopefully, this will increase the reach of women’s cricket in the country.
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