For the women cricketers, it’s a series of ‘firsts’

Former players Shantha Rangaswamy and Nooshin Al Khadeer laud the BCCI for giving birth to a new award category for the eves. 

Harmanpreet Kaur (right) and Smriti Mandhana were announced as the winners of the Best International Cricketer (women) award for 2016-17 and 2017-18 respectively.   -  Vivek Bendre

Women’s cricket in India has been experiencing ‘firsts’ since 2006, the year the Board of Control for Cricket in India took charge of the eves.

It was a year after the Women’s World Cup where India had finished runner-up. In twelve years, the women scaled new heights but the stride to recognition was arduous.

It was only a fortnight ago that Harmanpreet Kaur, the India T20 skipper, bagged an honour in the ‘Outstanding Innings of The Year’ category at the CEAT Cricket Ratings Awards.

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Once again, it was a breezy knock — an unbeaten 171 off 115 balls against Australia — in the World Cup that mattered.

Following the year-after trend, the BCCI introduced a new category in its annual awards.

On Thursday, Kaur and her compatriot, Smriti Mandhana, were announced winners of the Best International Cricketer (women) award for 2016-17 and 2017-18 respectively by the board.

As Kaur and Mandhana iron their blazers for the big day, former cricketers — who had to be satisfied with rewards in their prime — believe it’s better late than never and that the parents have started accepting cricket as a profession for their girls today.

“It is a positive development. It is a big deal because the process has started. Last year, I received the Lifetime Achievement Award and that was also a first. Oh! We are all first-timers. There is lot more to be done but things are moving in the right direction and we will get there,” Shantha Rangaswamy, the first  Indian woman cricketer to receive the prestigious lifetime prize, told Sportstar.

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Shantha’s honour in the last edition of the awards was a wake-up call of sorts. The veteran of 16 Tests and 19 ODIs also revealed that it’s a misconception that women cricketers in the past were not popular. “We had good crowds. People used to buy tickets and come, but I agree that an award helps you introspect. It is a very good feeling for a player to be recognised by the board. I would say it is a welcome step and I am happy that it is happening,” she added.

Off-spinner Nooshin Al Khadeer, from the World Cup batch of 2005, feels the trend will continue with better performances.  “Any woman cricketer would want to be appreciated for her hard work. It is yet another best thing to happen. This is going to continue,” said Khadeer, who is also the coach of the Chhattisgarh cricket team.

Back in her day, awards were minimal. “I remember only two awards during those days — ‘the best batsman (senior)’ and ‘the best batsman (junior)’. Now international performances are being noticed. There are openings and it is also a result of how the girls performed in the World Cup,” she added.

Being a coach for all age-groups, Khadeer also disclosed how the popularity of the current Indian women’s cricket team triggered a change in the approach of parents. “There are a lot of cricketers in the U-16 group who have taken to the game. Around 80 to 90 girls are coming for trials in the junior category. The parents are supporting their kids. They believe the kids can succeed,” Khadeer, who has 100 ODI wickets under her belt, said.

An Indian Premier League-like tournament could be another ‘first’;the board already had a dry run during the cash-rich men’s league.

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