A few days before a woman Finance Minister was to present the fifth consecutive Budget of the world’s fastest-growing major economy, the ‘Girls in Blue’ scripted history in South Africa. The Budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman was a definitive assertion in terms of laying a strong blueprint for Naya Bharat’s onward journey from India @75 to India@100. The idea was to give equal opportunities and platforms to those at the bottom of the pyramid to be the best in the world. The Indian girls, representing the same bottom of the pyramid, winning the inaugural Under-19 Women’s World Cup title, set a strong base for India’s continued reign as a global cricket powerhouse in the next 25 years. The victory coinciding with the launch of the Women’s Premier League on the lines of the IPL is a strong message of women being an equal stakeholder in this phenomenal growth story. This silent sporting growth story needs to be put in perspective within the context of India’s overall growth story as a global power.
From Privileged Few to Masses
For a long time after Independence, cricket in India represented the ruling, established and entrenched microscopic minority. It used to be the preserve of the influentials, the zamindars, the Princely States and the traditional centres. Kapil Dev, representing the masses, leading India to the World Cup victory in 1983, challenged this rule of the few and let the floodgates open up for those at the bottom of the pyramid to come up. In 2007, another from amongst the masses led the team to the inaugural T20 World Cup victory and thus paved the way for the IPL revolution in the country. After this, cricket became the vehicle of aspirational India. With every edition of the Indian Premier League, ‘new crorepati icons’ from the hitherto deprived sections of society started emerging. In turn, they inspired others to pick up bats and balls and aspire to be the ‘crorepati icons’ in the coming editions. Why will only the Indian boys have all the fun? was the next question. The BCCI, by launching the ‘Women Premier League’, announced its strong intent for Indian women being more than equal stakeholders in the great Indian global cricket story. The Indian girls, after winning the inaugural Under-19 Women’s World Cup, has given a strong indication that they are more than ready for the new challenge.
There is a strong connection between Haryana and Indian cricket’s growth story. Men’s cricket in India was for the Khaas Aadmi (privileged few) till a boy from Haryana, Kapil Dev, led the country to 1983 World Cup victory. Just as the Indian women’s cricket team was desperately looking for its first major World Cup, it was again a girl from Rohtak in Haryana, Shefali Verma, who led the team to victory in the inaugural Under-19 World Cup. Like Kapil, Shefali has got an element of fearlessness in her cricket. Like the Haryana hurricane, Shefali Verma, too, had a strong non-cricketing pedigree in terms of background or surroundings, which made her not to get bogged down with the colonial legacy or the past reputation. Haryana’s first love is wrestling. But Shefali’s father, Sanjeev Verma, was a huge cricket fan. Despite so many limitations, he started coaching his daughter in the sport. At the age of 16 years, Shefali Verma became the youngest cricketer to represent the country in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in the year 2000. Soon she made a reputation of being a fearless cricketer. Almost two years later, she inspired a bunch of girls to play a fearless game of cricket, defeat England in the finals, and win world titles. The profile of the team led by Shefali helps us to understand the depth of the historic victory.
Like Kapil, Shefali has got an element of fearlessness in her cricket. Like the Haryana hurricane, Shefali Verma, too, had a strong non-cricketing pedigree in terms of backgroundor surroundings, which made her not to get bogged down with the colonial legacy
Trisha Reddy, the opening batter of the winning team, is the daughter of the former Under-16 national player, Gongagi Redyy, from Bhadrachalam in Telangana. The girl possessed excellent hand-eye coordination, and this excited her father so much that he sold his four-acre ancestral farmland to further her cricketing ambitions. Richa Ghose, the team’s wicketkeeper, hails from former Indian wicketkeeper Wridhiman Saha’s town in Bengal. She grew up idolising MS Dhoni, and her father, Manabendra Ghosh, started honing her power game. The backup wicketkeeper, Hrishita Basu, is a Howrah girl. She is the third player from the state who has come up from the grass root development program. Her humble background has become her forte. Titas Sadhu, the pacer of the team, is carrying forward the great legacy of Jhulan Goswami from Bengal. Titas bowls fast generate bounce and has the ability to swing the ball both ways. Her family runs an age-old cricket club, and she used to accompany them as a scorer. Initially, she tried becoming a sprinter like her father. Titas also scored 93 per cent in the class tenth board exam. But she left all these to become a cricketer.
Sonam Yadav, the left-arm spinner of the team, is from Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh. Her father, Mukesh Kumar, works in a glass factory. Sonam used to play with the boys, and when Mukesh saw her interest in the sport, he got her enrolled in the local academy. She spends hours in the nets. Mannat Kashyap, the left-arm spinner, is from Patiala in Punjab. She started growing up playing gully cricket with the boys. Her cousin pushed her to take the sport seriously. Archna Devi, the spinner all-rounder, lost her father early to cancer. She was born in a poor family in Ratai Purwa in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district. One day while searching for the ball hit by Archna, her brother died of a snake bite. A career in cricket was what her brother Budhiram wished for from her sister. Archna is living her brother’s dream today and is looked upon as a strong prospect for the future. Hurley Gala, the all-rounder, was born in a Gujarati family in Mumbai. She made her debut at the age of 15 years and grabbed headlines after taking the wicket of Shefali Verma and Deepti Sharma. The grassroot and diverse base of Indian women’s cricket is thus more than obvious.
In a few weeks time, these girls will be up for auction for the upcoming Women’s Twenty 20 cricket franchise league in India. The league’s five franchises will be bidding for them, along with the best cricketers of the senior teams from all across the globe. The franchise rights of the league have already been sold for five years, raising a total of Rs 4669 crores. Viacom 18 has acquired the global rights for the global and digital broadcast of the tournament for five years worth Rs 951 crores. Even before the first ball is bowled, it has already become the wealthiest women’s league in the world by a fair distance. And these girls from the bottom of the pyramid and aspirational India will be the stakeholders in the coming 25 years. Indian women’s cricket time has come. Just as India’s time has come as emphatically emphasised by the women Finance Minister presenting her fifth budget in the Parliament.