India fast bowler Shikha Pandey said that the Women’s Premier League (WPL) and the introduction of more age-group tournaments have enabled women to take up the sport during a discussion on cricket’s future with former Goa captain Swapnil Asnodkar and Vipul Phadke, President, Goa Cricket Association (GCA). The session was moderated by Shayan Acharya (Senior Assistant Editor, Sportstar).
“I just played one year of Under-19 cricket, but now we have Under-15 tournaments for girls. Then you have Under-23, which has been introduced by the BCCI. Earlier, what happened was that after Under-19, not all the girls would make it to the senior team. There were times when the whole batch would be washed out. Now, because of the Under-23 tournament, they are still involved... When I started playing cricket, I had so many more friends who were really good, but they could not continue playing because they couldn’t persuade their parents.
“But with WPL and so many other tournaments happening now, a five-year-old gets to see a woman cricketer playing on TV, and they can dream bigger. The parents can also support their dreams,” she said during the Sportstar Sports Conclave Goa in Panjim on Friday.
Shikha, who hails from Goa and plays for the State cricket team, said that the advent of the Goa Women’s Premier League last year helped grow the game and called for setting up more private academies in the region.
“The Goa Women’s Premier League last year was one of its kind. Before that, 2016 was the last time we played a tournament of that sort. Unfortunately, we don’t have club cricket for women in Goa. There were a few girls who caught the eye of the selectors. They gradually moved to the Under-19 and Under-23 teams. For women to have that opportunity to play under lights was really good. When you have a cricketer from Goa who is consistently in the national set-up, be it an NCA camp, or Under-23 or Emerging India camp, you gather a lot of information and standards that are to be set. Then you come back to the team and tell everyone else that, ‘This is what we are supposed to be doing and this is what I learnt there.’ That is something which is missing. With Suyash [Prabhudessai] being there in RCB, I am sure he must be coming back and talking to a lot of cricketers,” she said.
“The player I am today is because of the summer camps we had under Nitin [Vernekar] sir. Purnima Rao, an ex-India cricketer, she would take our summer camps. The learnings from summer camps were huge. I am sure we have a lot of summer camps planned for Under-15 and Under-19 girls. That sets the tone for players to develop.
“We have a lot of SAG (Sports Authority of Goa) centres around here. We have SAG cricket qualified coaches. Private academies are not a thing here. They are slowly coming in. The competition will start when you have more girls and boys playing cricket,” Shikha added.
The 34-year-old engineering graduate, who has served in the Indian Air Force, also said that it was still difficult for women cricketers to make a living out of playing the game, especially for those who don’t make it to the national team.
“I started playing in the 2007-08 season. There were a lot of challenges because I had an engineering degree and I had to take a leap of faith. I debuted for India in 2014 and I had already joined the Air Force. For women cricketers, it is slightly difficult because, till today, the only employment-giving organisation to women cricketers in India is Railways... Male cricketers make good money, but women cricketers who do not get into a WPL team, for them to continue playing cricket with financial security is very important,” Shikha said, calling for a contract-based pay system for cricketers at the domestic level.
Phadke, meanwhile, attributed Goa’s inability to win a Ranji Trophy title in almost 45 years to the lack of hunger among players and also said that the GCA had failed to identify talent from the grassroots.
“It is quite unfortunate that we haven’t been able to win the Ranji Trophy for almost 45 years. The GCA has also failed on some aspects. The players don’t have the right attitude. The hunger is missing in many players now. During Swapnil’s time, the players were a little bit more dedicated. Their final aim shouldn’t be just playing the Ranji Trophy, but eventually playing for India. That is how they can push the bar. GCA has failed to produce young talent from the grassroots. We need to work at the Under-14 and Under-16 levels. We have started centres for junior boys, and we plan to expand this, decentralize the whole system, and take cricket to the villages of Goa. This will be a long journey, and it will take time. We need professionals to set the bar higher. Getting an outstation player to play for Goa is always a gamble. At this moment, we need them. The ideal situation will be that we don’t need them,” he said, while citing the examples of Ashoke Dinda and Smit Patel, who have played for the State as professionals.
Phadkar also cited inclement weather and infrastructural constraints as factors that have held back the development of cricket in the State.
“Goa is a State where we have monsoons throughout the year. We have a crunch period before the season starts and we need to have maximum matches. These days we have started sending teams to Jaipur and Delhi so that they can get practice matches because in Goa it is raining at that time. We plan to have more grounds, expand the existing infrastructure. We need to nurture young talent and have centres all across Goa. We will get the results in six to seven years. As far as the senior team is concerned, the only thing we can do is provide them with good infrastructure, which we have done,” he said.
“Goa has been doing well in the shorter formats. We do well in the T20s and one-dayers. But we are not so good in days’ matches. Two-three years ago, we started again with the three-day format of the premier league. Earlier, we used to have a single-day premier league. We plan to expand tournaments for juniors. I am stressing on the decentralised system of cricket. We are going to start these centers and we are going to hold matches between these centres.
“We cannot have a lot of three or four-day matches due to constraints in Goa. We already have a lot of other matches in other formats. We have the school under-14 and under-16 matches for boys and girls. We are going to start higher secondary matches very soon. We have 107 clubs that play matches against each other. Due to the lack of grounds and the constraints of the weather, we can hardly have one tournament - the three-day premier league. If we have more number of grounds, then can we work on that. The GCA is trying to work on that,” he added.
Asnodkar, who was the first player from Goa to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL), alluded to a similar lack of hunger among Goan cricketers when referring to the State’s empty trophy cabinet.
“Talent is there, but the challenge is to nurture it. Players need to give their whole heart and not just rely on the association to provide the facilities. When we played, there wasn’t much exposure or facility, but the hunger was there. The hunger is dying. Maybe because they are being spoonfed... Once you fool around with this game, the game fools around with you. The biggest spoiler for any cricketer today is the mobile,” he said.
The Conclave was held in association with Hero We Care, a Hero Motocorp CSR Initiative, Goa Tourism, Indian Oil, Geno Sports Club, KSG India, State Bank of India, KPMG, Great SportsTech, Casagrand, and NewsX. It can be watched on Sportstar’s YouTube channel.
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