The women languish

MITHALI RAJ, the Indian skipper, receives the Asia Cup from Pakistan legend Wasim Akram.-AP

Some newspapers give a full page for Ranji Trophy matches. But I must say that there was very little coverage when we played the Asia Cup in Pakistan, says Mithali Raj to G. VISWANATH.

Fresh from leading India to the Asia Cup win in Karachi recently, Mithali Raj, 23, took the Indian Railways to victory in the Reliance Energy National limited overs tournament at the Reliance Ground in Dahanu, Maharashtra. Mithali was also the captain of the Indian team that reached the final of the women's World Cup in South Africa last year. She has played five Tests and scored 416 runs, while in 66 one-day internationals her run-aggregate is 2075.

In this freewheeling chat with Sportstar, Mithali feels that women's cricket will receive a boost with television coverage and look up once the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Women's Cricket Association of India (WCAI) agree to merge. Mithali has been named captain of the Indian team that will play a Test and one-day series in Australia and New Zealand in February-March.

Excerpts:

Question: Does the Cinderella treatment prevail even after the women had made a big impact by reaching the World Cup final last year in South Africa?

Answer: Since the time I started playing cricket there's been a perceptible improvement. Nowadays people don't give us the sarcastic smile. We have become popular after the World Cup. Recently, the home series against England was telecast live. In that sense there have been gains. But the sponsors show interest only for internationals, not for the domestic tournaments.

Is Mithali Raj recognised in public places like airports? Or do women cricketers per se and Mithali in particular, need more visibility to be instantly recognised?

Well, we are not always on television. The World Cup matches were not broadcast live. Maybe people know us by name. They will probably not be able to recognise me if I stand next to them. But if I say I am Mithali Raj then it would register. It only proves that we need to be more on television to become popular. If all our international matches are telecast the public would come to know about the States we represent and also more about our performances.

Do you think the visibility quotient is less because of the lack of interest in the print media?

Some newspapers give a full page for Ranji Trophy matches. But I must say that there was very little coverage when we played the Asia Cup in Pakistan. A handful of newspapers ran pictures, but there were not many write-ups on the team and how it was performing. More space should be given to match reports.

Which are the areas in women's cricket that need to be properly addressed for increased visibility?

I think we need to play aggressive cricket. We should make it more entertaining, because the public feel women's cricket is slow even in one-day matches. So they do not turn up for Test matches at all. We need to put up big totals. We have to hit more fours and sixes for the public to come and see us play. Maybe because of our physique we may not be able to clear the fence many times, but we should try and do that. Overall, I think, we should try and play aggressive cricket.

So what do you tell your colleagues in the team? Mithali became a hit because of the double century (214) against England at Taunton three years ago?

Of course I would be telling the openers to utilise the first 15 overs, so that we can put pressure on our rivals. It would look nice if they play attacking shots and the crowd would love it. And it would be good for the team as well. There are girls in the team who are capable of playing a big innings as I did. Hemlata Kala (not selected for the tour of Australia) is one player who has always proved that she is a good bat. I personally feel she is one of the best bats among women in India. And also Anjum Chopra, who can score big runs. Then we have Jhulan Goswami who bowled really well in the home series against England. She was at her peak and after Cathryn Fitzpatrick (Australia), I would rate her as the best bowler in the World.

How do you go about the business of picking your team? Do you have reliable and quality all-rounders?

We do have allrounders in the team. There are batsmen who can also bowl like Anjum and Rumeli Dhar. And bowlers like Amita (Sharma) and Jhulan who contribute in the lower order with the bat. But we need to work in these areas. There are a few players who have the potential to be all-rounders. Virender Sehwag, who was never a bowler, got wickets once he got more overs to bowl. So we have to encourage the players to try and do something apart from an aspect of the game which is their strength.

How is the coaching scene in women's cricket?

There are pretty decent players in women's cricket, there are a few who are exceptional, because they train with the boys. I train with the boys and this helps me face international bowlers with confidence. The foreigners use their shoulder a lot and rely on pace. One will find the spinners only in the subcontinent. But before an international series we play matches against boys' teams in order to improve our fielding, running between the wickets and batting in general. We have to be very disciplined in our bowling because the boys will hit us everywhere if we bowl a bad ball. So we play more matches against the boys to enable the women get into the mould of international cricket.

All of you must be eagerly waiting for the merger of the men's and women's associations?

That's the thought two or three years ago. We thought that women's cricket should get merged with the BCCI. Of late the team is doing really well and I don't find any reason why it should not be done. It would make a world of a difference to our cricket as and when it happens. It would solve problems related to finance, infrastructure and publicity. Even now many people ask what'll be their daughter's career after cricket. Age-wise it's very short for us as a career. The maximum age is 30 years. There's no other area a retired player can fall back on. In men's you play the Ranji Trophy and you earn. But when we play for India we earn 1000 bucks for a one-day international and 2500 for a Test match. It's comparatively peanuts. So what's that one gains in women's cricket? Job opportunities are there only in the Indian Railways.

So what do you think should happen once the BCCI and WCAI merge into one body?

I think the State associations could become financially sound. I also think a good amount should be paid to the women cricketers, especially the India players so that the other players will get motivated. They should get the feeling that all facilities would be available once you become an India player.