The 7th edition of the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup has begun in Australia, but much of the conversation is still around the number of viewers tuning in. The 50-over tournament was widely celebrated for its ‘record-breaking global reach’ in 2017 — 180 million viewers. The men’s 2019 World Cup had a global ‘average’ audience of 1.6 billion.
ThePrint asks: What can women’s cricket do to enjoy the popularity of men’s cricket?
Women’s cricket will never be as popular. But if you saw India play in T20, you would say — ‘Yel dil maange more’
Editor (Media) and Editorial Skill Development, ThePrint
Let’s begin by being brutally honest: women’s cricket will never be as popular as the men’s game —just as women’s soccer will never attract the fanatical following men’s football inspires in its fans.
However, if you had watched India’s opening match in the current T20 World Cup against Australia, played in Australia, you’d have shouted out that old favourite demand: “Yeh dil maange more!’’
It was an exhilarating game of cricket and a famous victory for Team India, which was up against the tournament favourites. The Indian players showed a hunger to win while defending a low total of 132 runs—as Australian wickets fell, you remained glued to the match.
There were some stirring performances too — the way 16-year-old Shafali Varma batted put Rishabh Pant to shame, the googlies Poonam Yadav bowled to bamboozle the Aussie batswomen – and take home four prized scalps for just 17 runs – would have turned Shane Warne’s blond hair green with envy. Sure that’s an exaggeration, but as Yadav spun India to victory, she was definitely a head-turner.
With loads of batting talent in the likes of Smriti Mandhana, captain Harmanpreet Kaur and exciting youngsters like Jemima Rodrigues, India could go all the way to the final. If it does, that will give the women’s game a booster shot.
Good cricket, some great performances and a few stars—that’s what the game needs to take it over the boundary.
Men’s cricket tackling popularity fall with T20 league & pink ball match. Women’s cricket will also have to stand out
It needs to be acknowledged that the public perception and popularity of women’s cricket has gone through a metamorphosis of sorts. While players like Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj are not household names yet — akin to Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag — they are still widely recognised.
That said, when it comes to popularity, men’s cricket is far ahead of women’s. And there seems to be one dominant reason for it.
With empty stadiums, and dwindling interest in test and ODI matches, cricket as a whole has been experiencing an identity crisis for the past few years. Popularity of women’s cricket, or the lack of it, needs to be seen in that broader context.
Men’s cricket is trying to combat that fall in popularity with events such as T20 leagues, pink ball test matches, and test cricket championship.
If women’s cricket has to really make a place for itself, it has to do so by product differentiation. We haven’t yet begun to seriously deliberate how women’s cricket can be turned into a unique product. But if women’s cricket has to reach the same pedestal as the men’s, then we have to begin by thinking about what makes women’s game cooler than a men’s one. And then you use those characteristics to create an entirely new product.
Women’s cricket perhaps needs it’s ‘Chak De! India’ or ‘Dangal’ moment to draw attention. Whatever helps the cause
News Editor, ThePrint
Cricket has traditionally been referred to as the ‘gentleman’s game’, although it seems rather ironic now given the conduct of some players on the field. Unfortunately, despite India building together a formidable women’s cricket team, the sport has remained in the men’s domain in public perception and popularity.
This is hardly surprising, given the deeply patriarchal and stereotypical mindset of Indian society. Women get attention for the glamour quotient of winning Miss Universe and Miss World (which is a good thing too), but not really for a ‘masculine’ sport such as cricket.
While P.V. Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Mary Kom now and P.T. Usha earlier have managed to break out of that mould and rightfully get their share of adulation, team sports for women in India continue to remain a few steps behind the men’s.
Maybe women’s Indian cricket needs a Chak De! India moment — a mainstream Hindi movie to draw attention to the sport and how exciting it can be. Dangal helped bring focus on women wrestlers, Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom made the boxer a household name — unfortunate that women’s sports need masala films to be visible, but well, whatever helps the cause.
India’s women cricketers are toiling as hard as the men, know the nuances of the sport and deserve every bit of the attention, perks and importance that Virat Kohli and gang get. After all, why should boys have all the fun?
T20 World Cup can change the course. One cup in the bag and women’s cricket could be the next big thing in India
Deputy Editor, ThePrint
Cricket is undoubtedly India’s most loved game. But the love for the game has predominantly been gender-biased. The current women’s T20 World Cup in Australia can change the course. One cup in the bag and women’s cricket could be the next big humdinger in India.
It could be both the best advertisement and recognition for India’s women’s team. This young team has the potential to clinch it under Harmanpreet Kaur, a wonderful ambassador of cricket. They have started off well in the tournament by beating the best in the business in their own backyard. The win has turned many heads away from the men’s tour in New Zealand.
But cricket lovers also enjoy the game more because of its characters. This World Cup can throw up a few unknown names like Deepti Sharma, who switched from big-hitting to running those crucial singles once the big guns were back in the pavilion. In fact, the men’s team can take some lessons from Poonam Yadav’s bewitching loopy turners in the opener. One thing gone missing in the modern-day spin is the same loopy flight, and the ability to beat the batsmen in the air.
Fans also enjoy the game for its glorious uncertainties, no matter whether a man or a woman is holding the bat or hurling the cherry. A close tussle, a fascinating battle of the bat and the ball, combined display of skill and grit—are things that bring eyeballs to the game.
So let’em maidens bowl those maiden overs and bring India its maiden victory.
The onus is not on Indian women’s cricket team, but on audience and authorities to ensure sportswomen get due
I don’t think this question should be posed to women’s cricket, but instead to the audiences and authorities.
In India, cricket is religion. If so, it’s now time to cede the space of being a ‘cricketing god’ or the ‘master blaster’ to women also.
Men’s cricket had a head start, and for women to enjoy the same popularity as their male counterparts, efforts from within the community are required.
Authorities need to put in more money into women’s cricket, be it endorsements, tours, prize money or even broadcast matches. All these factors add to a player’s popularity and can definitely help bring women’s cricket into the limelight.
What probably would be most effective is if the male players promote their female counterparts. The women put in just as much hard work and dedication and are equally determined, if not more. It’s time everyone addresses their inner biases, changes them and supports women’s cricket.
By Unnati Sharma, journalist at ThePrint