Indian women’s cricket has had consistent performers. There were victories worth celebration and performances worth taking pride. But, the Women in Blue lacked recognition worth their game. There is Mithali Raj. A veteran of nearly 10,000 international runs with a double hundred in Tests. Then there is Harmanpreet Kaur, with a potential and performances laced with more six than fours in an innings. The Women in Blue among them had towering Jhulan Goswami – a veteran of over 300 international wickets, more than 200 Test scalps.
All renowned names, but little recognition in person. “People know us by names, but they don’t recognise us in person,” not very long ago lamented Mithali Raj. Their performances would count, but recognition was missing.
The scenario changed primarily when the Women’s World Cup last year was broadcast live and India went on to play the final. Then comes the golden letter day for women’s cricket in India. For once, country’s two leading national dailies have given a place of pride to the Indian women’s cricket team. Hindustan Times and Times of India have placed Indian girls win over Pakistan in the ICC World T20 ahead of Rohit Sharma-led teams 3-0 white wash of the West Indies in the T20 home series.
Monday thus becomes a golden letter day for women’s cricket in India. But to sustain this new found status, the team and the girls need more such performances and better support from the Men in Blue, opines Harish Bijoor, brand and business strategist and owner of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. “Women’s cricketers getting recognition is a good development but these are still baby steps. Women’s cricket in India deserves a lot, lot more than it gets.
“I do believe women’s cricket needs a fillip. Being headlined (ahead of men’s team) in not enough. The real fillip can come when the Indian cricket team with Virat Kohli and Company makes it a point to promote women’s cricket for a full year. This needs to be a gratis plug the top 11 men’s cricketers will dedicate and devote to promote women’s cricket.”
Today, a majority of Indian women’s team players have endorsement deals. Captain Harmanpreet Kaur is a power to reckon with in professional T20 cricket for her outstanding show in the women’s Big Bash Down Under. Then there is a leading brand icon like Samriti Mandhana who will give many a male cricketers a run for their money in the brand market.
As women’s cricket grows in stature, the performance is translating into commercial values, says Tuhin Mishra, MD, Baseline Ventures, the company that also manages commercial interests of Jemimah Rodrigues. “Smriti Mandhana is a brand ambassador for Hero Motors, Power, Vaseline, Red Bull and has signed another big deal. She is already a brand ambassador for five brands. Jemima Rodriguez just before leaving for the World Cup has inked a deal Laver and Wood, the same bat Mithali Raj is playing with. Brands are looking up to them,” says Tuhin.
However, a seasoned sports market professional still won’t count too much into the women’s team getting a better deal than the men for a day. “The series against West Indies had lost its significance for absolute domination by India. Secondly, women’s game became important for two factors – first it’s a World Cup happening and secondly it was a win over Pakistan. Indian girls had played the one-day international World Cup last year. There is a certain amount of anticipation. So if you take these factors into account it has become better viewing in comparison to the last game of the men’s series which was already decided,” adds Mishra.
India had fallen on the last hurdle in the ICC Women’s World Cup last year. In the World T20 now, it is yet another outstanding beginning. The girls have been announcing their arrival at the big stage time and again. A title triumph in the Caribbean will now be the stamp of authority to confirm that they belong to the place. The Indian girls have potential. There are expectations and there is hope. Women’s cricket in India has taken a big leap forward. Indeed.