India v Pakistan women: A different world of cricket

They may not lose their sleep about it but the lack of hype is evident. The policemen guarding the nets are more relaxed. The entry to the stadium is easier. There are no television cameras desperate to get sound bytes. There are no provocative questions during the press briefing and no talk of 'war', 'arch-rival' or 'national pride'.

Indian captain Mithali Raj with Vellaswamy Vanitha and coach Poornima Rao at a practice session in New Delhi on Friday.

As the Indian and Pakistani men's cricket teams get ready to battle it out in what may well be the biggest match of the ongoing World T20 competition in terms of eyeballs and nationalistic fervour, regardless of it being just a group stage game, their women counterparts would be doing the same at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, sans the hype and the hyperbole.

India-Pakistan cricket is the biggest attention-grabber in the subcontinent only if it involves the men. On Friday, as the two women's teams went about their practice session ahead of the big game, there was little to indicate, inside or outside the premises that an India-Pak game was being prepared for.

“I never compare women's cricket to men's because they have been around for a while now. We need to be patient with women's cricket. The progress we have made is wonderful and I believe the hype will come in the coming years if we keep improving,” Pakistan captain Sana Mir said nonchalantly.

It is the same with the Indians with Mithali feeling more exposure was the way ahead. “The game is not as hyped as the men because I think people have not seen both our teams play. This is probably the first time people would see women's teams from both countries play live on television. I don't think we need to play on different days to get attention. That the matches are being televised and we have the opportunity to showcase our brand of game is itself an incentive enough to do our best,” she said.

They may not lose their sleep about it but the lack of hype is evident. The policemen guarding the nets are more relaxed. The entry to the stadium is easier. The access to players is smoother, even if security rules force a minimum distance to be maintained. There are no television cameras desperate to get sound bytes. There are no provocative questions during the press briefing and no talk of 'war', 'arch-rival' or 'national pride'.

“Coming into the World Cup, the intensity is obviously going to be a little more than at other games. We would love to have a big crowd. We really love playing here in India, we definitely love playing back home more because we don't get that opportunity a lot,” Sana said when asked about playing in India. In the context of the controversy created by her male counterpart Shahid Afridi's statement a few days ago – and Sana was aware of it -- it was a measured response.

It wouldn't have mattered much, though, if she hadn't been politically correct, given the lack of attention around the women. How many people wondered about the team's participation in the run-up to the tournament even as security for men kept delaying Pakistan's arrival? “We have done well even without the warm-up games so I guess it's off our minds now,” Sana said about the delay.

There is no ill-will but one realises the difference in their stature within the establishment from the kind of modest expectations they have. “The way forward would be to have more matches televised after this gets over. That will ensure a follow-up and get more people interested when they see us play,” Mithali suggested.

On Friday, Asmaviya Iqbal went about bowling her yorkers and working up impressive pace in the nets, unmindful of the rest of the world. Besides her, Diana Baig kept sending the ball in with unwavering accuracy for more than an hour. Earlier in the day, Mithali and her girls did the same for over two hours, stroking the ball cleanly and spinning the ball with panache.

Pity, there was a grand total of seven people watching them sweat it out. Sadly, the number of people watching them fight it out in the middle won't be too many either, unlike the men at Eden Gardens, under the spotlight.