On Sunday, the Under-19 women’s cricket team won the inaugural World Cup in South Africa, and congratulatory messages poured in from across the nation—although most people probably weren’t aware of the team before the win or of the participation. But as always, a win had put the women’s team in the headlines.
While men’s cricket team players have to just step out for dinner to make it to the headlines, the bar is significantly higher for the women’s team: a win is mandatory. Even participation certificates are not acceptable. The stark difference in the treatment of Indian men's and women’s teams in sports is apparent but normalised.
Take, for example, the pandemic in 2020. As restrictions relaxed a bit, the men’s cricket team got busy with a packed schedule, participated in the 2020 Indian Premier League season, went on an international tour of Australia, and played against England at home. The women’s team, which reached the finals of the T20 World Cup final on March 8, 2020, did not play cricket for an entire year.
The gaps between the two teams are obvious in every aspect. However, while the expectation of results for both remains the same, the support hasn’t been consistent. A female cricketer, speaking anonymously to the sports news site Sportskeeda early last year, said, “Look at the men. Whatever the situation, they will be having matches. The difference arises because men get more opportunities than women. They have back-to-back matches for months together. For women, we have no other matches apart from the T20 and one-day tournaments.”
In 2018, former Indian team captain Mithali Raj had spoken about the futility of comparing the men’s and women’s teams in an interview. “The men’s team have an international series every month. How much do women’s cricket teams play?... So the more the number of matches you play, the better you get.”
Even without comparable resources or platform, the Indian women's team won last year’s Asia Cup in Bangladesh and the nation’s first medal in cricket at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Yes, the gender pay gap was addressed recently. It was termed ‘historic,’ although it should have been called ‘long delayed.’ In October 2022, the BCCI announced equal pay for centrally contracted men and women Team India cricketers. According to the press release, the women’s team will earn match fees of ₹15 lakh per test match, ₹6 lakh per ODIs and ₹3 lakh per T20I, the same as their male counterparts. Before the changes, the women’s team was paid ₹4 lakh for tests and ₹1 lakh for T20s and ODIs, as reported by Reuters.
Notably, the invisibility of women’s cricket teams is also often blamed on the audience. However, it doesn’t hold when the statistics come in. For instance, as pointed out by journalist Prem Panicker in his article for Lounge, “The ICC’s official press release said the final of the 2020 World Cup was the most watched event in the history of women’s cricket and the second most-watched event in all of cricket history after the 2019 men’s World Cup — and that a whopping 35% of the total viewership for the tournament came from India.”
The reality is quite simple. Men’s teams are heavily promoted and romanticised. Women’s teams, on the other hand, only make the news for a brief while, if and when they win. The U-19 women’s win shows that immense talent cannot be dismissed in the patriarchal world of meagre opportunities. The hope is that the congratulatory messages will translate into much-awaited support as the Indian women’s cricket team gets ready for the 2023 ICC Women's T20 World Cup, which starts on 10 February.
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