Hemlata Kala takes the spotlight

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

ANJUM CHOPRA speaks with the same confidence that she generates when commanding her mates in the middle. "Women's cricket is coming up. I agree there's still a long way to go but the horizon looks bright," she made a quick assessment of the state of women's cricket in India. As skipper of the team, the Delhi-bred Anjum was taking stock of the team's potential and was candid enough to admit that even if the effort was quite visible, the girls had to work a lot on various aspects of the game.

Hemlata Kala punishes Dawn Holden. She made a fine 110.-V. V. KRISHNAN

"Strength for example," she stressed. "We are not as strong and as fit as the Kiwis and the Aussies even though there is awareness among the Indian players to be physically strong to meet the demands of international cricket," she pointed out. A little later, Hemlata Kala hoisted spinner Helen Wardlow straight for a six, much to the delight of Anjum. A few moments later Hemlata pulled Jackie Hawker to herald her maiden century in Tests, much to the joy of the team, and of course Anjum.

That century signified the progress the women cricketers have made in the last few years. The incentives for them have been non-existent but the desire to pursue their interests has been strong enough to keep them going. The draw in the one-off Test at Lucknow was a fair result after the Indians had swept the first three one-day matches of the series.

For a team which hardly gets worthy competitions for long spells, the Indian combination made an impression on the audience which was mainly students from girls' schools. Even as the home players matched their opponents on the field, it was a pleasant change off the field for the women cricketers.

With IG (Police) Kashmir Singh raising finances for the event, the girls enjoyed some splendid hospitality. Decent accommodation, prize money worth five lakhs and excellent playing conditions greeted the Indian and the English teams. It was a privilege unknown to someone like Diana Eduljee, presently one of the National selectors and an icon in her field. "I remember two teams sharing a room at the same venue for a national championship and the girls jostling for space to sleep," recalled Diana. She was the happiest person at the presentation ceremony as Neetu David (best bowler) and Hemlata (best batswoman) climbed the podium to receive a television set each for their wonderful performance. From the English side, Caroline Atkins (best batswoman) and Clare Connor (best all-rounder) were honoured for their efforts.

The Indians were expected to dominate the contest but the English opening pair of Caroline and Arron Thompson came up with a 200-run stand to ensure it was the home team which faced the pressure. "They showed us the way," remarked skipper Clare Connor, praising Caroline and Arron. The English may have been a trifle defensive, scoring 150 on the opening day, but they had a job to do. "We were not defensive but our aim was to make the best of a batting track and pile up a big total," said the skipper.

The Indians, however, proved equal to the job. Led by Hemlata's century, a disciplined innings which spoke of her skill and temperament, the Indians batted with a lot of conviction. There were some competent knocks from Anju Jain, Anjum, Mamta Maben and Amrita Shinde to ensure the honours were shared. England made 314 and the Indians replied with 312 for nine.

Caroline Atkins and Arron Thompson came up with a 200-run first wicket partnership for England.-V. V. KRISHNAN

"We have some very exciting strokemakers in the side and I was pleased by the manner in which they adapted to the situation by grinding. The girls have proved to be quick learners and I must say it was an overall satisfying performance," commented coach Tarak Sinha. One sore point which stood out was the exclusion of seamer Sunita Singh from the eleven.

"You would have good things to say about them provided no comparisons are made with men's cricket," Diana had a valid point to make. As someone who strove for more than 20 years to gain recognition for women's cricket, Diana was overwhelmed by the response to this one-off Test. The media and the sponsors had responded to the requests of the Women's Cricket Association of India (WCAI) even as there were rumblings of a change in the manner in which the game was being conducted.

Even as Anjum and her girls showed the progress women's cricket had made, this being a team with six new faces, there was a silent plea to rid the association of some veteran officials. "They lack the vision to market the game and present it in an attractive manner to the public and the sponsors," remarked a young administrator connected with the event.

"The old officials have done little for the benefit of the women cricketers," complained another administrator. In associations like Maharashtra, Mumbai, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the same set of officials have hung on to the posts from the time of inception. Winds of change are likely to sweep these units, raising the hopes of young cricketers who have toiled to make a career out of the game. Someone like Amrita Shinde is a shining example as she left her home in Kolhapur and went to Pune. "There were no facilities to practise in my home town," said Amrita, who is jobless but not wanting when it comes to dedication and commitment. There are many like her hoping to make a living out of playing cricket.

The English team was without five of its main players but then the Indian team too was a combination of young and experience. The fact that someone like Purnima Rau could not find a place in the side reflected the change in the attitude. The emphasis obviously is now on youth and only fit and agile cricketers would find a place in the scheme of things.

Even as more and more parents encourage their daughters to play cricket now, a ray of hope emerges from this series. A win in the one-day series and a draw in the one-off Test should be ideal encouragement for the cricketers and the administrators. Women's cricket has come a long way from the time promising players like Rajeswari Dholakia and Sandra Braganza could not make a trip because they lacked the finances. Diana had to spend from her pocket to pursue her love for the game. Anjum and company are 'privileged' enough to make some money by playing cricket. "I wish them well," says Diana as she pats the girls for their good showing at Lucknow.

Women's cricket may pale when compared to men's competitions but there is a place, and future for Anjum and her mates. The drawn Test at Lucknow, and its conduct, was the right indication in that direction.

Mithali Raj bowled by Dawn Holden for no score.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The scores:

England 1st innings: Caroline Atkins (run out) 90, Arron Thompson b Goel 85, Jane Cassar c Raj b David 0, Clare Connor b Kulkarni 40, Laura Newton b David 11, Kate Lowe c Amrita b David 0, Jackie Hawker b Shinde 13, Dawn Holden b David 11, Helen Wardlow (run out) 4, Clare Taylor b Kulkarni 27, Lucy Pearson (not out) 0, Extras (b-16, lb-13, w-3, nb-1) 33, Total 314.

Fall of wickets: 1-200, 2-200, 3-200, 4-217, 5-217, 6-265, 7-275, 8-280, 9-314.

Indian bowling: Jhulan Goswami 19-9-26-0, Mamta Maben 9-2-19-0, Anjum Chopra 6-4-9-0, Neetu David 52-26-88-4, Bindeshwari Goel 36-16-49-1, Deepa Kulkarni 34.3-10-70-2, Amrita Shinde 8-2-17-1, Mithali Raj 2-0-7-0.

India 1st innings: Anju Jain (run out) 47, Amrita Shinde b Pearson 29, Anjum Chopra b Connor 45, Mithali Raj b Holden 0, Hemlata Kala c Atkins b Wardlow 110, Mamta Maben b Taylor 49, Arundhati Kirkire (run out) 3, Deepa Kulkarni lbw b Taylor 1, Jhulan Goswami (not out) 1, Bindeshwari Goel b Connor 0, Neetu David (not out) 1, Extras (b-5, lb-12, nb-6, w-3) 26, Total (for nine wkts) 312.

Fall of wickets: 1-46, 2-111, 3-111, 4-168, 5-301, 6-304, 7-308, 8-310, 9-311.

England bowling: Lucy Pearson 34-11-58-1, Clare Taylor 21-7-45-2, Dawn Holden 30-7-61-1, Lowe Newton 21-10-24-0, Helen Wardlow 26-6-58-1, Clare Connor 16-6-32-2, Jackie Hawker 4-1-17-0.