Yesterday’s match saddened many while others have become increasingly optimistic despite the ‘defeat’. Women’s cricket travelled from the depths of despair to the cheering crowd at the packed Lords as the world celebrated their effort. We missed the 2017 World Cup by inches due to lack of strategy but one thing was clear, the women in blue definitely had it in them and losing the tournament wouldn’t take them away from our hearts. Just like behind every successful man there is a woman, all successful female cricketers in India owe their beginning to a gentleman known as Mahendra Kumar Sharma.
The founder secretary of the Women’s Cricket Association of India gave Women’s cricket it’s first boost making by it official under the Societies Act at Lucknow in 1973. This was made possible under the President-ship of Begum Hamida Habibullah. Though women of our country played cricket in the early 70’s, it was intermittent and irregular. Mr. Sharma’s efforts to consolidate the potential of Indian women with a penchant for the sport paid off as for the first three years these women played close to nine out of twelve months.
It was in Pune in April 1973 that the first Women’s Inter-State Nationals was held. Mumbai, Maharashtra and UP were the participating teams. In the second edition, the number of teams increased from three to eight and was held in Varanasi at 1973. The third championship was held in Calcutta and by that time the number had grown to 14. Soon all states took active interest and made their entry into Women’s cricket.
Next came in Railways and Air India, who motivated their women cricketers to represent them in the sport. At that time the tournament was played by all states but that changed later as inter-state tournaments were held in each zone and the winners and runners up of each zone would qualify to play in the Nationals.
By and by other tournaments came into being. In 1974 the inter zonal limited overs tournament – the Rani Jhansi Trophy – was held at Kanpur and in the same year the inter university tournament was held at Rajkot. The sub-junior and junior tournaments were held for the under-15 and under-19 players. The winners of each zone played the Indira Priyadarshini Trophy and the winners of the Nationals played against the Rest of India team for the Rau’s Cup.
Mrs. Chandra Tripathi and Mrs.Pramilabai Chavan were appointed as the chairperson and president of the executive committee after the second National tournament at Varanasi. Along with Mr Sharma, the two enterprising ladies played a major role in laying the foundation of women’s cricket in India. Unlike England, New Zealand and others who have merged with the men’s association, the WCAI is an independent body not related to BCCI. The WCAI received the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) membership in 1973 and Government recognition in 1978.
In 1975, the Australian under-25 team came to India to play a three `Test’ series in Pune, Delhi and Calcutta respectively. Interestingly, the skippers for the three tests in the series were three different players. Ujwala Nikam, Sudha Shah and Shreeroopa Bose captained the three tests against the Australian Women’s Team.
Two years before that the inaugural Women’s World Cup was lost by Australia against host team England in a one-sided final. Indians made their debut in the tournament which we also hosted in 1978 and is yet to get their hands on the trophy. Hero Honda sponsored this tournament in which eleven countries participated and the final match played between Australia and New Zealand at Eden Gardens reportedly witnessed a crowd of nearly 80,000 spectators.
India took part in the World Cup competitions in 1978, 1982, 1993 and 1997 which it hosted again. The team and its spirit soared finally in the the 2005 tournament but Indians got struck off at the finals as after being beaten by Australia.
In the 2017 World Cup our women not just came close to the cup they also inspired millions of young girls who will plunge into pursuing their interest in cricket looking up to the achievement of Mithali Raj and her admirable team of girls.