It can now be confidently said that the cricket team led by Mithali Raj has established itself as the force majeure of women's sports. Their heart-stopping race to the finish at the Women's World Cup final against England and general performance throughout the tournament had the entire nation talking about a sport that, until now, flourished mostly in the shadows of its more popular men's counterpart.
Though England beat India by 9 runs, the Indian women won hearts all around for playing their best cricket. And on Wednesday, Raj definitely gave her vote of approval for a format that some have tentatively floated before — an Indian Premier League (IPL) for women's cricket.
Raj said at a press conference following the team's return to India, that a women's IPL will definitely give domestic players better exposure and recognition and propel the sport to the same competitive plane as men's cricket. The team is definitely better prepared, she said.
"If you had asked me a couple of years back I would have said no....but after going through the way women cricketers have improved the standard of cricket in the World Cup, and how a couple of our players have played for the team, I'm sure if something is started, it will help even domestic players in getting exposure," Raj said.
"It's just the beginning of good times for women's cricket."
"It's just the beginning of good times for women's cricket," she added. Asked if women cricketers are finally getting their due, Raj said "they always deserved the recognition."
"Broadcasting, televisation of the game, and also having come under the BCCI made a huge difference," she said.
After the bad performance in 2013 girls prepared really hard for this World Cup. We'll put the similar effort for T20 World Cup: Mithali Raj pic.twitter.com/px3HKjAejk
— ANI (@ANI_news) July 26, 2017
Coach Tushar Arothe said the fitness and fielding have markedly improved since he took over.
As Tim Wigmore writes in the Guardian, after the performance by women cricketers this World Cup, and seeing the global viewership the tournament generated, the International Cricket Council is determined to push on with a bid for Twenty20 competitions — for both genders — in the Olympic Games in 2024.
"After the World Cup the ICC recognises how cricket featuring in the Olympics would give the women's game even greater profile and open up new funding from national governments. There is stronger support for the concept among the ICC's 104 members than ever before, recognising the opportunity that the Olympics presents," Wigmore writes.
India's video-on-demand platform, Hotstar, announced that the Women's World Cup final, in the 48th over with India needing 11 runs to win off 12 balls, recorded a peak concurrency of 1.9 million simultaneous viewers — higher than the average viewership of many men's cricket tournaments on Hotstar last year.
Plans to give women's cricket wings are commendable.
However, among the BCCI are voices skeptical about the immediate scope for a women's IPL.
An unnamed BCCI official told Hindustan Times: "There is no doubt about the interest in women's cricket thanks to the World Cup. It is unprecedented. We will certainly have a roadmap now for women's cricketers like we have for the men's cricket. But to have an IPL is not practically feasible."
The Indian cricket board have announced a cash prize of Rs 50 lakh for each member of the Indian team for their performance in the World Cup at Lords.
Another BCCI official told CricketNext that while the game needs backing and funding, the idea of a women's IPL is "far-fetched" at the moment.
"But to think of a women's IPL would be a little far-fetched as it is not financially feasible at present. Also, the current unrest within the BCCI as the board is trying its best to implement the proposals of the Lodha panel at the earliest means that the women's IPL needs to wait at present," the official is quoted as saying.
There has to be a "supply line of women cricketers", the official said, to build on the work of Harmanpreet Kaur and Jhulan Goswami. The case for a women's IPL has been made time and again, recently from former Indian fielding coach Robin Singh who cited the Australian team as an example.
"Australia has a league, so why not (have one)? India is a big country and it will help us find more women cricketers," Singh said.
But Raj holds out hope, and to quote her — "the captain is what the team is" — who knows, maybe the time will come sooner than thought if she leads the way.