Indian women crying for attention

S. DINAKAR

IT'S a journey against daunting odds, a struggle for greater recognition. And the Indian women could just be turning the corner.

Neetu David receives the Player of the Match award from Anuradha Dutt, Secretary, BCCWI.-N. BALAJI

There is talent in the National squad, and the performances too have been noteworthy, with a third place finish at the last World Cup standing out, yet women's cricket has remained in the backwaters of the Indian sporting consciousness.

The matches were few and far between - Indian women did not figure in an international game in 2001 - which meant the earlier good work was often undone, with the team having to start from scratch again.

Lack of sponsors, and a dearth of money and opportunities for the players were the other stumbling blocks. At the start of 2002, women's cricket in the country was clearly at the crossroads.

Seen against this background, the England tour of India is probably the best thing to have happened for Indian women's cricket, representing a chance to make a new beginning in the new year.

For a start, the one-day series was being sponsored by Hero Honda, a big step forward in itself. Then, the matches were being telecast live on Doordarshan Sports, which again is the right way to go.

And the Indian women responded with a matching performance in the field of play crushing England by eight wickets in the first ODI at the ICL-Guru Nanak ground in Chennai.

Anjum Chopra's women had seized the early initiative and there were plenty of smiles in the Indian camp when Mithali Raj struck the winning run in just the 28th over. The victory was indeed comprehensive.

Mithali Raj, who hastened India's victory march in Chennai with a quick-fire 36, drives Arran Thompson. Mithali shone as a bowler too, in the second of the one-dayers in Hyderabad.-N. BALAJI

The striking aspect of India's win was that the team got its basics right. The bowlers operated to their field, the fielding was adequate for most part, and the batswomen were positive in their approach.

There was a cloud cover in the morning and Anjum Chopra opted to field. And the English innings was a one-way ride to disaster against a persistent Indian attack.

Debutant Jhulan Goswami, who bowled with a fluent high-arm action, and Sunita Singh, put the new ball to good use, and then left-arm spinner Neetu David - later named the Woman of the Match - had the English batswomen in knots.

Neetu has been a fine performer for India over the years, and she only enhanced her reputation on this day. Bowling an off and middle stump line from round the wicket, she picked up four wickets in nine overs, conceding just 14 runs, an influential piece of bowling.

The left-arm spinner's key wickets were that of middle-order batswomen Laura Newton (20) who was done in by a quicker, straighter one as she shaped to pull and Kate Lowe (5), consumed on the cut.

Clare Connor (22), essayed some productive shots on the leg-side, but Neetu returned to snare her with a flighted delivery, the English captain holing out to mid-off. In the event, England made just 106 in 44.4 overs and it was never really going to be enough.

The sun shone brightly in the afternoon, and a good holiday crowd was on hand to cheer the Indian women, as the chase got underway on the quaint, green ICL-Guru Nanak ground, surrounded by lovely trees.

England began the proceedings with left-arm spinner Dawn Holden and pace bowler Lucy Pearson. Yet, despite the early loss of debutant opener Jaya Sharma, the Indians were hardly stretched as they raced towards the target.

The experienced wicketkeeper and opening batswoman Anju Jain (21) appeared compact before shuffling across to part-time seamer Aaran Thompson and then skipper Anjum Chopra (26 not out) and Mithali Raj (36 not out) snuffed out the English hopes raising 59 unbeaten runs for the third wicket in 10.1 overs.

The left-handed Anjum was fluent on the off-side, while Mithali, who struck seven fours in her breezy 33-ball knock, cut and drove with aplomb.

The victory was an important one for India with the side going through a transition phase - there are as many as six new faces in the squad. Tarak Sinha, for whom this is the first assignment as the coach of Indian's women's team, was a pleased man at the end.

It was a different story for the England coach John Harmer, whose young side came up short in batting, leaving the bowlers and the fielders with a mountain to climb. They failed. The Indian women were not complaining though.

The scores:

England: Caroline Atkins c Mithali Raj b Jhulan Goswami 10; Aaron Thompson b Mamta Maben 9; Mandie Godliman c Arundhati Kirkare b Neetu David 10; Laura Newton b Neetu David 20; Kate Lowe c Anju Jain b Neetu David 5; Clare Connor c Nousheen (sub) b Neetu David 22; Sarah Clark b Sunita Singh 0; Jane Cassar b Sunita Singh 5; Clare Taylor (run out) 8; Lucy Pearson lbw b Goswami 0; Dawn Holden (not out) 0; Extras (w-10, nb-1, lb-6) 17; Total (in 44.4 overs) 106.

Fall of wickets: 1-20, 2-31, 3-55, 4-61, 5-71, 6-77, 7-93, 8-102, 9-106.

India bowling: Jhulan Goswami 7-0-15-2; Sunita Singh 10-1-25-2; Mamta Maben 8-0-18-1; Anjum Chopra 2-0-9-0; Neetu David 9-0-14-4; Deepa Kulkarni 8.4-0-19-0.

India: Anju Jain lbw b Arran Thompson 21; Jaya Sharma c Pearson b Holden 2; Anjum Chopra (not out) 26; Mithali Raj (not out) 36; Extras (b-2, lb-4, w-19) 25; Total (for two wkts. in 27.4 overs) 110.

Fall of wickets: 1-12, 2-51.

England bowling: Lucy Pearson 5-1-16-0; Dawn Holden 8-1-19-1; Laura Newton 2-0-10-0; Clare Connor 5-1-14-0; Sarah Clark 3.4-0-28-0; Aarran Thompson 2-0-10-1; Clare Taylor 2-0-7-0.