The Indian cricket team may have lost the ICC Women’s World T20 semi-finals against England, but the ‘Women in Blue’ and their game are gaining popularity and viewership thanks to online live streaming channels like Hotstar.
ThePrint asks: With online channels like Hotstar, is women’s cricket finally getting its due in India?
Hotstar started streaming women’s cricket only after women forced its hand with brilliant performances
Senior associate editor
In this chicken and egg situation, one can definitely say that the chicken came before the egg.
Hotstar started live streaming women’s cricket only after the girls had forced its hand with their brilliant performances.
The turning point, perhaps, was last year’s ICC Women’s World Cup in England, where Mithali Raj’s team reached the final — for the first time ever.
Like Kapil’s Devils in 1983, Mithali’s merry band were a bunch of no-hopers who toppled host England in the opening match and went on to knock out defending champions Australia. Although they lost to England by just nine runs in the final, their underdog story won them attention and adulation.
The women’s game, often dismissed as a slow and boring cousin of the men’s, has picked up pace and power — with boundaries and sixes now common. The rise of this talented Indian team alongside traditional powerhouses Australia, England and New Zealand has resulted in more exciting matches.
The other factor in popularising India’s women cricketers — Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana — is social media. It’s not just that they are tweeting, the world is tweeting about them. Mandhana’s power and calculated risk-taking has earned her an almost Sehwag-esque reputation, and Harmanpreet’s action in the World Cup — a 171 that knocked Australia out — did more than just take India to the finals.
Had it not been for a happy conspiracy of these elements, Hotstar would probably have not bothered to show the Women in Blue.
Hotstar might provide platform, but women’s cricket largely relegated to margins of newspapers
The answer depends on the threshold at which we declare that something has ‘got its due’. Hotstar may provide a platform for viewers to easily access women’s cricket online, but unlike well, ‘cricket’ — no need to qualify the mainstream — anything other than news about women’s world cup finals is still largely relegated to the margins of major newspapers.
However, a series of serendipitous factors have created an environment for women’s sports to be taken more seriously. For one, India’s women’s cricket team is actually doing well — we made the World Cup final against England last year, as well as the semi-finals of the World Twenty20 in 2018. We also have a recognisable and marketable face in Mithali Raj — it’s easier to sell something when you can make a poster out of it that people want to buy. Success sells, and money generates money — Prize money for Women’s Cricket World Cup in 2017 increased to $2m, double the 2016 figure, and 10 times that of 2013, which was just $200,000.
We are also in the midst of what may come to be viewed as a feminist revolution — women are speaking up against mistreatment — economical, sexual, political — in a way that can no longer be ignored. It is worthwhile to be watching women’s cricket right now — even if to merely bandwagon with a new definition of wokeness. In the same breath with which we spotlight #MeToo, we must remember that the BCCI CEO Rahul Johri was given a clean chit in a sexual harassment case — he’s back at work.
Therefore, we must decide what ‘due’ really means, and whether it’s too little, too late.
The pay gap between India’s women and men cricketers still remains appallingly huge
Online platforms like Hotstar have probably increased the viewership base of women’s cricket in India. But a lot more needs to change for us to finally say that women’s cricket is getting its due.
For starters, the game’s apex body in India, BCCI, will have to take certain steps. In 2015, India became the last ICC full member country to give its women cricketers a central contract. And while it revamped its women’s pay structure in March 2018 this year to make it the highest in the world, the pay gap between India’s women and men cricketers still remains disproportionately high. The highest pay band for Indian women cricketers is Rs 50 lakh, while for the men it stands at Rs 7 crore.
One of the reasons often given to explain this salary difference is the difference in revenues generated by women’s and men’s cricket. Even if one acknowledges that there might be some merit to this argument, the extent of the difference is still appalling. What an online platform like Hotstar does is that it undercuts such arguments by generating a larger viewership, and thereby, generate larger revenues for women’s cricket.
But more importantly than any equal salary structure, women’s cricket in India will get its due when a Harmanpreet Kaur becomes as much of a household name as Virat Kohli. Or, when a Mithali Raj becomes as much a favourite of advertisers as say M.S. Dhoni.
Hotstar is a good start, but a large scale Indian behavioural change is what will give Indian women’s cricket its due.
Women’s cricket team has a long way to go to achieve even some of the limelight that the men’s team enjoy
With online streaming platforms like Hotstar gaining viewership and popularity, aided of course by India’s access to 4G internet, watching live shows — concerts, tournaments or matches — is no longer restricted to the confines of one’s living room. Technology has equipped us to catch live action from stadiums and fields while carrying on our chores for the day. Such convenience and comfort guarantee a rise in viewership across forms of entertainment — sports being at the forefront because of the complete package of drama and adrenaline rush it promises within a limited time frame.
While cricket, more specifically men’s cricket, is almost like a religion that brings together all, the women’s cricket team, regardless of their consistently praiseworthy performance has been bereft of attention.
As far as women’s cricket is concerned, nobody has even come close to have the same level of media attention as that of the Kohlis or the Dhonis of the men’s cricket team. To be brutally honest, women’s cricket team has a long way to go in order to achieve even half of the limelight that the men’s team enjoy.
By Neera Majumdar, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @NeeraMajumdar.