A timely addition to cricket literature

Suprita Das, in her book Free Hit, offers an anecdotal history of the struggles faced by the pioneers who helped espouse a sense of purpose in the formative years of women’s cricket.

Free Hit by Suprita Das. Harper Sport India. Price: Rs499.

The natural evolution of women’s cricket has finally started to encompass India, with the team proving its worth, first at the 50-over World Cup in England last year where it reached the final, and then at the World Twenty20 in the West Indies when it sealed a semifinals berth at a canter.

These feats have ensured that women cricketers and their achievements don’t get ignored any more, and are instead talked about by fans and critics alike. Think about Harmanpreet Kaur and her landmark 171 against the mighty Aussies in the 2017 World Cup semifinals comes to mind. Utter the name Smriti Mandhana and you are reminded of her elegant cover drives.

Now, any tall building ought to be built on a firm foundation, and the groundwork for this edifice was laid by the likes of Shantha Rangaswamy and Diana Edulji in the early 1970s. Moving away from societal stereotypes, and buoyed by an irrepressible passion for the game, the duo went about sowing the seeds for women’s cricket in India to flourish.

This rather uncharted territory has been detailed in the book Free Hit by Suprita Das, who offers an anecdotal history of the struggles faced by the pioneers who helped espouse a sense of purpose in the formative years of women’s cricket.

Thanks in part to Das’ storytelling, the opening chapters set the tone for an insightful look back at the careers of Rangaswamy, Edulji, Mithali Raj, Anjum Chopra and Jhulan Goswami, whose trysts with the sport, at different stages, make for a riveting read. Like the time “Edulji stood on the pitch sans her front teeth, four of them, and the upper half of her gums” having copped a hit to the face after playing a “full forward shot” to a tall seamer on a matting wicket, or when Jhulan Goswami, two years into international cricket, received a prank call from Raj, who was then captain, sending the seamer “into the mood she was mostly found in before bowling her spells — fiery.” Besides being a take on individual cricketers, the book also canvasses the early indifference of the Board of Control for Cricket in India towards the women’s game, which owes its existence to the Women’s Cricket Association of India, founded in 1973. The WCAI comprised samaritans and officials who spurred the game among the female population, often burning holes in their own pockets. But crippled by a lack of finances, and forced to toe the International Cricket Council’s line, the organisation came under the BCCI in 2006. But instead of bringing benefit to women’s cricket, the board’s promises were resigned to just lip service, writes Das.

Sample this: In 2011, at a function at the Wankhede Stadium, Edulji met then BCCI president N. Srinivasan and expressed her optimism about the growth of women’s cricket under his leadership. “If I had my way, I wouldn’t let women's cricket happen. Women have no business playing cricket. We’re only doing this because it’s an ICC rule,” was Srinivasan's curt response, summing up the board’s initial apathy.

The book highlights the different phases of play, from crucial encounters over the years, which tend to get mundane in parts, but at a time when women’s cricket in India is taking strides in the right direction, this book is a timely addition to the plethora of cricket literature.

From the tomeTaal gaach, palm tree, they called Jhulan Goswami. For the eighteen-year-old, almost six feet tall, this reference was most apt. Jhulan’s pace was always deadly and it intrigued everyone at the camp. Such was her talent that with only a few junior matches under her belt, the teenager quickly went on to play for the senior Bengal side.