Over the years of covering Odisha in domestic cricket, I have come to know Shiv Sundar Das quite closely. As the long-time batting coach of the side and then the head of Odisha Cricket Academy, Das is the most deadpan person you’d meet. It’s not that he is not emotional but he just shies away from expressing them. However, as Sneh Rana defended Kate Cross’s full ball from the middle of her bat, Das, the batting coach of the side, suddenly stood up to applaud in such a fashion I had never seen before. He was truly ecstatic.
That forward defense from Rana was a significant moment in the game. As broadcasters Adam Collins and Alex Hartley had predicted at the start of the day, 100 runs of lead would be enough for India to close the door on the English ladies face. And thus it did. First with Shikha Pandey and then with Taniya Bhatia, Rana, a Test debutant, not just laid siege on the hosts but also brought the tyranny down, furnishing a strong example of how to deal with prejudice.
Despite two final finishes in the last three global events, no one in the board can say, with hands on heart, that they have done enough. When Sourav Ganguly took over as the BCCI president in late 2019, he promised increased attention for domestic and women’s cricket, yet so far all of them are just another promise. A four-game worth Women’s T20 Challenge is all they have got so far, with the side playing just their second series since MCG 2020. The less we talk about the pay structure the better - it would at least be less embarrassing for the richest board in the world.
From the cricketing standpoint, the middle-order batters tanked completely in Bristol. Senior members of the side - Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur - never found the rhythm to take on the English bowlers. One can’t naturally fault them but that puts the achievements of the young batters in context. In what was the first official multi-day red-ball game of their career, Shafali Verma and Taniya Bhatia took the bull by its horns to leave a charismatic impact and force the followers to ask for more Women’s Test matches in the future. Some of them even have gone as far as calling for five-day Test matches.
They are not wrong. But the system is and for that to change, more Test matches now is not the solution. A fundamental structural overhaul is the need of the hour. Better pay structure, more matches, and a strong domestic system that would thrive under the stewardship of the National Cricket Academy is a must if the Indian Women’s team would want to be as professional as Australia and England have been in the last decade and a half. Seasoned multi-day games at the domestic level would allow the players to get into the groove and transition wouldn’t seem like a one-off exercise. A Women’s IPL is fundamental to the growth of that culture, as we have seen with the Women’s Big Bash League with Australia and Kia Super League in England.
In their path-breaking research report, Equal Hue, former Indian cricketer and broadcaster Snehal Pradhan and journalist and author Karunya Keshav enlightened on some of the nuances pretty well. In one of the reports, Pradhan argued, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. Those words, attributed to Arthur Ashe, should be the BCCI’s mantra for a tournament that will bridge the gap between international and domestic cricket. A women’s IPL is no longer a matter of good optics or gender equality. It is necessary for something far more basic than that. It is necessary for winning games of cricket.”
It has to be the basic premise on which the whole system would operate. The Bristol Test is a phenomenon but it would remain as a one-off memory if it is not backed by a rightful reaction. Can a whole ecosystem be replaced overnight? Maybe Not. But if it doesn’t become the inflection point from where the BCCI would attempt a course correction, Indian cricket is in for a longer period of frustration.