Women's cricket: When will Team India return to the field?

Over the last few months, there have only been verbal assurances by BCCI officials that they would take all measures to resume domestic and bilateral cricket for the women cricketers of the country.

Jemimah Rodrigues bats for Supernovas during the Women’s T20 Challenge final in November 2020. “Somewhere you need some motivation to practise. Initially, you can do it, but after a while you are like, ‘Why am I practising so much when we don’t know when are the next matches?’" says the batter.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

September 2020: England played a five-match Twenty20 International (T20I) series against the West Indies.

September-October 2020: Australia hosted New Zealand for three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20Is each.

January 2021: South Africa played three ODIs and three T20Is at home against Pakistan.

February 2021: Zimbabwe featured in an ODI against Pakistan.

But for the women cricketers from India, it has been a long wait!

Even though they played three Twenty20 exhibition matches — the Women’s T20 Challenge in Sharjah during the Indian Premier League in November — the country’s women cricketers haven’t had any international or domestic assignments since March last year. While the senior men’s team travelled to Australia for a full-fledged series and is currently playing a home series against England, the domestic cricketers featured in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in January.

But India’s women cricketers can only hope their time will come soon.
 

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The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been trying to start the domestic tournament for women cricketers and also resume international cricket by inviting South Africa for a home series in the first week of March.

“We are working on a bilateral series. But we have to wait for the series to be finalised,” says BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal. “Last year was difficult for everyone because of Covid-19 and we have to begin from somewhere. We started with the Mushtaq Ali Trophy followed by the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and we plan to start bilateral cricket for the women’s team. But we also need to see how conditions are in those countries, and depending on that we have to take a call. All the details are being worked out.”

The series was to begin from March 7 in Thiruvananthapuram, but the Kerala Cricket Association told the BCCI that it would not be able to host the tournament. “The stadium authorities have allocated the ground for an army recruitment rally at the same time. I requested the state chief secretary if they could shift the army rally to some other grounds, but that was not possible,” KCA chief Sajan Varghese says.

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With no official communication from the BCCI yet, the players have independently started training to keep themselves ready for assignments. While Jhulan Goswami underwent a rehabilitation process at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, some senior cricketers — including Mithali Raj and Poonam Yadav — were in Bengaluru for the Railways camp.

“At least we have something to look forward to. We did not have any competitive cricket since last year, so it is important to at least start from somewhere,” Yadav says. “We have been reading reports that there could be a series against South Africa. But so far there has been no communication. It would be great if that happens,” says the spinner.

Individual efforts

Even though the BCCI has moved at a snail’s pace to resume women’s cricket, some state associations and individuals have taken initiatives to at least get the ball rolling. The state units of Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Bengal and Odisha have started conducting T20 tournaments and camps for women, whereas in the first week of January, an array of Indian cricketers — including Jemimah Rodrigues, Veda Krishnamurthy and Deepti Sharma — featured in the Nippon Cup, a club-level tournament organised to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Falcon Sports Club in Bengaluru.

“At least we have something to look forward to. We did not have any competitive cricket since last year, so it is important to at least start from somewhere,” says spinner Poonam Yadav, who was in Bengaluru for a Railways camp.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

 

The tournament, which was organised by former India captain and BCCI Apex Council member Shantha Rangaswamy and saw the participation of four teams, indeed was the first of the year to feature some of India’s top cricketers.

“As a cricketer, you want to go out there and play matches. You have been practising so much, so this tournament was a blessing for us as we all wanted to play matches, and the kind of quality and standard that was there was really good. It was better than domestic tournaments because you had India players joining in and also the current Karnataka players,” says Rodrigues.

Back in the groove

Rodrigues had to travel to Bengaluru from Mumbai for the tournament, but she was happy to be back on the field after a hiatus. “For any batter, it always feels good to go out there and score runs. For me, this tournament was a confidence boost as I was playing games after so long. So, you kind of get a bit nervous. We usually have domestic or international games going on, but this was a confidence boost. That helped me. Every game teaches you something or the other, and even youngsters learned a lot since the international players were part of the team. They were getting a chance to play and interact with the Indian cricketers. It was good for everyone to get back to the groove,” she said.

 

While Rodrigues was one of the lucky few to have featured in a tournament, Yadav had to be content with just local matches. After returning from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after the Women’s T20 Challenge, the India spinner could only feature in local club games in Agra. With no major tournaments happening and no clarity from the BCCI on the season, she would travel to nearby areas to “get some match practice.”

“In Agra, there are quite a few cricketers and we have basic infrastructure. So, I decided to feature in a few local tournaments in a bid to stay in the game. Obviously, it is not easy to return to action after so long. But at least those tournaments gave me some confidence,” Yadav says.

Itching to get back

When the players travelled to the UAE for the Women’s T20 Challenge, they hoped things would improve soon, but they remain quite the same four months on.

While Rodrigues now trains with her father and coach Ivan in Mumbai, her colleagues too are keeping themselves fit in various parts of the country.

“Somewhere you need some motivation to practise. Initially, you can do it, but after a while you are like, ‘Why am I practising so much when we don’t know when are the next matches?’ It has been so long since we played international games. Just watching the men go out there and play, somewhere you feel that when will our turn come and when will women’s international cricket start? When will we go out and play?” she wonders.

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While there are disappointments, the batter hopes that the series against South Africa goes ahead. “It has been a mixture of emotions where you are excited to go out and play. Somewhere you will need some motivation and that head space to go out there. We can’t wait to get back and we have heard that there is a South Africa series, so we are really looking forward to that,” the youngster said, hoping the women finally get an opportunity to return to action.

From reaching the final of the T20 World Cup at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in March last year to having no clarity on the future, the last 12 months have been challenging for women cricketers. But they aren’t losing hope.

 

“As cricketers, we just want to go out there and play. How long can you sit and wait?” Yadav asks.

Over the last few months, there have only been verbal assurances by the BCCI officials that they would take all measures to resume domestic and bilateral cricket for the women cricketers of the country. However, things haven’t really moved much so far, leading to questions on whether the BCCI really has enough time to spare for women’s cricket.

(An update on South Africa's tour of India arrived after this piece was published)