The T20 World Cup Defeat is One Small Loss for India, One Giant Leap for Women’s Cricket

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The T20 World Cup Defeat is One Small Loss for India, One Giant Leap for Women’s Cricket

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

For supporters of the Indian women’s cricket team, yesterday could not have been more disappointing. After a near-perfect showing at the ICC T20 World Cup, the final hurdle proved too difficult to overcome, and India crashed to a meek defeat against a rampant Australia. To long-time fans, the scene had all the makings of 2003, and evoked painful memories.Just like yesterday, in 2003, the fateful match was held on a Sunday in March. India would play Australia in the final, before a full house of cheering fans. And India, who had remained unbeaten in the tournament thus far, seemed to be overawed by the occasion. Back in 2003, Australia pummeled a hapless India and scored 359. Sachin Tendulkar hit a clumsy boundary and then got out to Glenn McGrath in the first over of the Indian innings. End of story. 

I felt the same way when I saw Shafali Varma get caught behind in yesterday’s match. It was that same feeling of dread, of being so near yet still so far, of helplessness that slowly but steadily recedes into acceptance. 

But Shafali Varma is only 16 years old, and she is already playing a World Cup final in front of 85,000 screaming fans. Can you imagine the weight of a World Cup final on her teenage shoulders? When most of us were 16, we were studying for our board exams, the results of which we would later realise had no bearing on how our lives would turn out. At 16, Shafali Varma was having the biggest night of her life. 

When Jemimah Rodrigues and Smriti Mandhana , besties off the field, returned to the dugout in close succession, the chase was falling apart even before it began. Before you know it, India were teetering at 51/4 and the rest of the match seemed like a formality. Getting all out for 99 seemed very symbolic – so near, yet so far. 

To watch sport means to live in eternal hope and denial at the same time.

To watch sport means to live in eternal hope and denial at the same time. That’s why when all seems lost, you remember your dad telling you about how Kapil Dev came in at 17 for 5 and played the innings of a lifetime against Zimbabwe in 1983. You find yourself wishing for something like that. Rationality gets thrown out of the window and every new player who walks in is a knight in shining armor who will save the day. 

For India at yesterday’s final, there was no saviour. The match wound to its predictable conclusion, and the tearful faces of the team were this week’s most heartbreaking viral images. But even in defeat, there is still victory to be found. Before this tournament, I only had a fleeting interest in women’s cricket. I kept tabs on it via newspaper reports and features. Something changed this time. 

I have become an unabashed fan of the spunky Jemimah Rodrigues. Her impromptu dance with an off-duty security guard made you want to break free, get up, and dance. My respect for Shefali Varma is growing by the minute, and Smriti Mandhana’s silken shots are a sight to behold. Harmanpreet Kaur is leading a side that is breaking ceilings with every tournament in which they participate. 

But sexism, or some form of it, is never far behind. 

Not one senior BCCI official was present on the ground to cheer the team. If it were the men’s finals, wouldn’t there have been talks of heads of state flying in to watch the all-important match? And why would Sourav Ganguly — whom I respect immensely for what he did to resurrect Indian cricket — tweet tagging @BCCI when @BCCIWomen have their own handle? Meanwhile, Bishen Singh Bedi uses Twitter to tells Shefali Varma and other girls to “control their emotions on the field” as if no man has ever cried after a heartbreaking loss. These are things that make you realise the Indian women’s game has a long way to go to achieve true parity with the men’s. 

Nonetheless, this has been a tournament to remember. 

Not one senior BCCI official was present on the ground to cheer the team.

Last week, I was going for a walk with my sister when we passed some men playing gully cricket. The India vs New Zealand test match was going on, but what was being discussed was the women’s T20 World Cup. The next stop will be seeing posters of women cricketers adorning the walls of their fans and a women’s IPL. The signs of the changing times are there to see, if you know where to look. When people are staying home and refusing to go out, and large gatherings are being avoided, the women’s cricket final saw 86,174 people crowd the MCG to cheer for their teams, coronavirus be damned. 

The women did more than break the glass ceiling. They brought the whole house down. 

How’s that for a Women’s Day celebration?

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