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The anatomy of India’s eternally recurring heartbreaks

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Last updated on 25 Feb 2023 | 05:46 AM
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The anatomy of India’s eternally recurring heartbreaks

If a proper system is not established immediately, then bats will keep getting stuck before the crease and Indian women’s cricket will remain stuck in an eternal cycle of heartbreaks

Freidrich Nietzsche is the last name you would ever expect to read in a cricket article. However, he did give a new life to the antique idea of ‘Eternal Return’ by interpreting it as a repetition of a single moment in one’s lifetime. And it is this “Eternal Return” that we are concerned with here because the Indian women’s cricket team are stuck in a loop of recurring heartbreaks. 

2017 ODI WC Final at Lords. 2020 T20 WC Final at MCG. 2022 CWG Gold Medal match in Birmingham. And the latest open wound - the 2023 T20 WC semifinal at Cape Town. 

It wasn’t only Harman’s bat that got stuck. The entire Indian women’s cricket ecosystem is in a vicious cycle of rookie errors, mismanagement, and mediocrity. 

The Recurring Mistakes

Let’s begin with India’s fielding. 

When 32-year-old Ellyse Perry dived on the boundary rope in the penultimate over and saved a certain boundary in the semifinal, it was almost like she wasn’t just slapping the ball away. She was also slapping the Indian fielding awake by setting an example of how to lift your team through fielding efforts. 

Indian fielding was, bluntly speaking, abhorrent. You’d be deluding yourself if you think of winning a semifinal against Australia by dropping two catches and a stumping. One of those drops was Meg Lanning on 1*, and she ended up scoring 49*. India also fumbled at least 6 times, costing themselves 10-12 runs. In the end, India lost the game by 5 runs. Delusion ends right here with that fact. It’s not as if these errors had occurred only in this game. Fielding has always been India’s Achille heels. Fitness, agility, and catching skills - India performs poorly in all three significant aspects of fielding. 

The situation isn’t much better with bowling either. Renuka Thakur tried to swing the ball from her delivery itself, but there was none. The ball went straight into the barrel and raced to the boundary like a tracer bullet. After that, India’s best bowler was just doing a containing job and at the death, lost all control as if she was driving a car without brakes. The other and the more experienced pacer in the XI, Shikha Pandey, was brought in the power play only after Deepti leaked a lot of runs from her end. By this point, spinners had sprayed it around like a hose in the entire tournament, mostly failing to do the job required for the team. 

The erratic bowling changes like the one involving Shikha were a feature of India’s bowling plans (or lack thereof) throughout the tournament. Just like the fielding, these issues have persisted with this team for a long time. Captain Kaur hasn’t been able to swiftly move to plan B if the opposition has gone after her bowlers. 

In T20 cricket, the field placements are key to getting wickets as it’s not very often that batters get out defending. Especially in women’s cricket, where there are only 4 fielders allowed outside the inner circle, field positions based on matchups become even more crucial. Harman’s field placements, like the one she had for Mooney (no deep extra cover for her inside-out shots which earn her a living), showed a lack of proper pre-match planning. 

India’s unpreparedness with their match strategies reflects the fact that the think tank in the team management is not doing its job properly. But in reality, how much blame lies with the management? The picture is way more complex just to blame them alone. 

The musical chair of coaches & support staff 

The job of an Indian women’s team coach is not just of a manager like the men’s team. The coach also needs to work on the loopholes which exist in the players’ skill, who come from a system that fails to bridge the gap between domestic and international levels through A tours or franchise leagues. 

Keeping this fact in mind, it is shocking that in the last decade, India has had 6 different head coaches, with a rotating medley of support staff who come and go like plot twists in an Abbas Mastaan movie. Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the batting coach, is also multitasking and performing the duties of a head coach as India went to this World Cup without one. 

Apart from a permanent head coach, as far as we know, the team also don’t have a proper performance analyst to help out with their strategies and planning. No wonder India’s on-field strategies start melting like ice cream whenever the opposition responds with serious heat.  

The team does have a fitness trainer but needs a proper strength and conditioning team to look after workload management and fitness regimes. This mismanagement blows the gaff when one realizes that despite being in the international setup for more than three years now, Shafali’s fielding has hardly improved. 

There is no sports psychologist to help out the players during tough times or pressure situations, which come very often as an elite sportsperson. Mugdha Bavare was the team’s sports psychologist during the 2022 WC and helped Harman come out of a career-threatening run drought. This time, the team was left to do its therapy. 

Successful teams like Australian women and even Indian men have dedicated permanent coaches and other support staff of all kinds to help them be the best. Matthew Mott had a seven-year stint with the Australian women’s team, and it helped him establish an unprecedented culture of ruthless dominance. To look for any such precedent in the history of women’s cricket in India is like looking for physics-based logic in SS Rajamouli’s action scenes. 

The need for administrative competence 

The question - Why is everything so unorganized and chaotic in Indian women’s cricket management? - comes up next. 

To begin with, the BCCI doesn’t have a separate wing to look after women’s cricket in the country. There is no public information available on who are the ones running the women’s cricket operations, and how responsibilities are relegated to different committees and individuals working on Indian women’s cricket. 

The Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) looks after the key appointments, but if you ask about on what basis are those appointments made - your guess is as good as mine. The selection committee headed by Neetu David has taken many controversial calls including dropping Jemimah Rodrigues and Shikha Pandey from ODI WC in New Zealand but is yet to explain its decisions in a press conference. 

All this points out the fact that transparency in decision-making and clear division of labor within the BCCI is of urgent and utmost importance. After all, the body that is Indian women’s cricket, can’t run with a head that is clouded by inefficiency and translucent decision-making. 

Is there hope?

The issues with Indian women’s cricket may start on the field, but they can trace their origins right up to the top echelon of the BCCI. Systemic issues persist, and the entire ecosystem is in need of a deep cleanse. Only when the right calls are taken at the top, the effects will start showing on the ground. 

The BCCI recently has been quite proactive in improving the state of women cricketers by initiating equal match fees, and getting the inaugural season of the WPL kick started. Now, as it has already hit the jackpot with the WPL money, BCCI ought to invest it wisely to fulfill needs of the international side which requires a permanent head coach, a long term bowling coach, a sports psychologist and a performance analyst along with a dedicated strength and conditioning team. All these are key to dealing with the lack of strategic preparation, playing technique, mental health and fitness issues in the Indian team. 

One also can’t expect the WPL to be a panacea to all the different malaise that afflict the Indian women’s cricket ecosystem. The WPL maybe like a paracetamol tablet which can reduce the fever by upskilling players and putting them in pressure situations, but the real cause of the fever will still remain uncured. 

The Indian women's team needs an antibiotic supplement to cure itself of the pathogen that caused the fever, and that can only be supplied by the BCCI. The team will then have to ensure that it looks after itself and keeps working on its skills and temperament. They can’t just rely on the medicines alone. Precaution is more important than cure after all. 

If that is not done, then bats will keep getting stuck before the crease and Indian women’s cricket will remain stuck in an eternal cycle of heartbreaks. 

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