Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How will the WBBL impact the world?

Will the WBBL inspire girls across the world to take up sport? (photo courtesy

When Cricket Australia announced in February that their women’s domestic T20 competition would be replaced by the new Women’s Big Bash League, they could not have timed the decision more perfectly. Little did they know it, but 2015 was about to become a groundbreaking year for Australian women’s sport. The Diamonds, their female netball team secured the World Championship, and the Opals, their women’s basketball team clinched their spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics. And then their women’s cricket team, the Southern Stars, emphatically won back the Ashes on English soil, with some ruthless, one-sided wins.

It meant that Cricket Australia could ride a wave of interest in women’s sport going in to the 2015-16 domestic season, as they launched the WBBL last weekend. And they made all the right moves to make sure that they cashed in. Arguably the biggest, was to align the WBBL teams with existing BBL teams, and thus raising the profile of their brand even before the product had started to take shape.

To do a quick number dance, the WBBL will encompass 59 matches, featuring eight teams, spread over 51 days, with games mostly organised around weekends. Each team can recruit five internationals, including not more than three overseas players. 21 international stars will be participating in the competition, from four countries: England, New Zealand, South Africa, and the West Indes. All players will be paid to play, with retainers in the range of AUD 3000 to 10000 (INR 1,46,000 to 4,86,000). Eight matches will be played as double headers with the BBL, and will be televised.

By ensuring that eight of the 59 games –including the final - will be televised on free-to-air television, Cricket Australia have secured mass viewership for their flagship domestic competition. The televised games will offer the players an exceptional opportunity to showcase their skills on the biggest stage, and could potentially be a game changing advertisement for women’s cricket world wide.

"There's no doubt Australia knows what it's doing when it comes to women's cricket," said England opening bowler Kate Cross according to the Cricket Australia website..

"We've got a stage to showcase our product and as you know we don't get a lot of airtime," she added. "I think it's something that's been needed, I think it's something that's been a long time coming and Australia's put it all together... it's going to be a great competition."

 However, the WBBL has meant that the best of Aussie talent would be divided into eight teams, as opposed to the seven that play in their usual domestic competition. There were fears that this would dilute the talent pool further, and thus lower the standard of cricket played. This could also have been why some retired internationals have been coaxed into making returns to the WBBL, notably prominent commentator Lisa Sthalekar and star all-rounder Shelly Nitschke.  But going by the first round of WBBL games, these fears seem to have been allayed. The influx of more than 20 of the best players from around the world has helped too.

One addition that could have made the WBBL even more attractive is the participation of Indian players. It was reported that the WBBL powers-that-be were keen on securing Indian participation, but like in the BBL, the BCCI seems to have given their financial bedfellows the cold shoulder. Especially with India women also due to tour Australia immediately after the WBBL concludes, it smacks of a golden opportunity missed.  As England’s captain and Scorchers recruit Charlotte Edwards put it, "As an international cricketer you want to play in the best competitions in the world and I believe that is (one of those).”

If the first few games were anything to go by, the tournament promises some mouth-watering contests. Both Australian and overseas talent has shone through, and there have already been high scoring games, and a last ball cliff hanger. The scores have been at par with average scores in women’s T20 internationals. Crowd attendance at the matches has been healthy, and is likely to increase for the double headers. But the litmus test will be the viewership of the televised games. Yet, Cricket Australia’s Big Bash League boss Mike McKenna said, “To be perfectly honest, we're not that concerned about attendance figures.” He insists that the prime objective of the WBBL is to inspire more girls and young women to take up the game.

“Ever since the IPL started, people kept saying we should have a similar league for women,” said N. Niranjana, India women’s pace bowler . “Great that Australia have gone ahead with the WBBL after the BBL. It will inspire so many girls to take up the sport, not just in Australia, but around the world because of the presence of overseas players.”
“It’s also a great opportunity for the grass root talent to impress the selectors and the world, just like so many lesser known Indian players stood out in the IPL,” she added.

For many in India and the world, even the biggest stars of women’s cricket are lesser known than the least famous IPL player. Perhaps one reason, was because women’s cricket hitherto did not have a vehicle that was attractive enough –in substance and appearance- to drive into the imagination of viewers around the world. Thanks to the WBBL, that may soon change. When (not if) Meg Lanning and Stafanie Taylor do become household names, it is very likely that the WBBL will have played a big role in that happening.
 The teams and players to watch:









This article first appeared on       

Friday, 4 December 2015

WBBL 2015 Preview

This article first appeared in my column ''Seamstress" for Wisden India

Come 5th December, all eyes in the women’s cricket community and beyond will turn to the southern hemisphere. The first ever Women’s Big bash League, or WBBL, will blast off, taking domestic women’s cricket into a new dimension. Cricket Australia can already take a bow, even before a ball is bowled. Judging by the buzz the tournament has  generated on social media platforms, they seem to have laid the foundations to create the world’s most lucrative, most followed and most competitive female T20 domestic league. 

The tournament will feature the same eight teams as the BBL, as CA has aligned the women’s teams with the existing men’s clubs. Players from Australia’s women’s cricket team, the Southern Stars have been spread out across the eight teams, to ensure a well balanced competition. With teams allowed to sign up to three foreign recruits and a maximum of five internationals, a number of the biggest names in women’s cricket have jumped on board. Here’s a quick look at some of the high profile players in each team:

· Adelaide Strikers :
Sarah Coyte, Sophie Devine (New Zealand), Shelley Nitschke, Megan Schutt, Sarah Taylor (England)

The strikers broke new ground when they lured former southern stars all rounder Shelly Nitschke out of retirement. With more than 100 international caps under her belt, her experience will be invaluable to the likes of in-form wicket keeper Sarah Taylor. 

· Brisbane Heat:
Jessica Jonassen,  Jodie Fields, Holly Ferling, Delissa Kimmince, Kate Cross (England), Lauren Winfield (England).

The Heat will feature former Southern Stars captain Jodie Fields, along with current internationals Ferling and Kimmince. Englishwoman Kate Cross is likely to lead their strong pace bowling unit. 

· Hobart Hurricanes:
Julie Hunter, Heather Knight (England), Hayley Matthews (West Indies), Amy Satterthwaite (New Zealand)

The hurricanes will have serious strength to their batting unit, with all three internationals likely to feature in the top four.  With mostly home grown Tasmanian talent forming the rest of their squad, the expectations from the international stars will be high. 

· Melbourne Renegades
Sarah Elliott, Dane Van Niekerk (South Africa), Danielle Wyatt (England), Rachel Priest (New Zealand)

Their two international all-rounders are both spinners, and they will be relying on Priest’s experience behind the wickets to make a serious mark. The Renegades will be led by super mom and Aussie Test opener Sarah Elliot.

· Melbourne Stars:
 Meg Lanning, Mignon DuPreez (South Africa), Morna Nielsen (New Zealand), Natalie Sciver (England).

The stars snagged the big fish, Aussie skipper and precocious batter Meg Lanning. At just 23, she has already stamped her authority on the world game by claiming a number of batting records. Leading the stars, she will have the services of South Africa skipper DuPreez, and a host of local talent from a strong Victoria Spirit side. 

· Perth Scorchers:
 Nicole Bolton, Suzie Bates (New Zealand), Katherine Brunt (England), Deandra Dottin (West Indies), Charlotte Edwards (England), Elyse Villani. 

The Scorchers will unleash some serious firepower in their both departments, with White Fern skipper Suzie Bates likely to open the innings with the bat, and fast bowler Brunt with the ball. Bates will be replaced by Deandra Dottin when she will be unavailable due to international duties. They will also benefit from the vast experience of England skipper Edwards, although Nicole Bolton will lead the side. 

· Sydney Sixers:
Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry, Lisa Sthalekar, Marizanne Kapp (South Africa), Sara McGlashan (New Zealand), Laura Marsh (England)

The sixers will feature the services of the world’s best all-rounder and dual international Perry. They have also coaxed out of retirement Lisa Sthalekar, a legend in the women’s game, and now a prominent commentator.  Joining them is White Fern McGlashan, who recently collected her 200th international cap. Alyssa Healy , now the first choice keeper for Australia, will don the gloves. 

· Sydney Thunder:
 Alex Blackwell, Stafanie Taylor( West Indes), Rene Farrell, Erin Osborne.

With one international signing yet to be disclosed, the Thunder squad already looks good. Led by veteran batter Alex Blackwell, who is also the Australian vice captain, they feature many members of the New South Wales Breakers squad who won the WNCL title for 10 consecutive years. And now joined by Windes captain Taylor, one of the best all-rounders in world cricket, they are set to make a big impression.

The WBBL will last for a month and a half, with games to be played on some of the most historic venues across Australia, including the SCG, the Adelaide Oval, and the WACA.  In her column for the Brisbane times, Southern Stars and Brisbane Heat fast bowler Holly Ferling  said, ”2015 has been the year of female athletes with many successes coming from female sporting teams and taking over the media coverage. In terms of women's sport, this is arguably the biggest step forward to commercialising and professionalising a women's domestic competition.
You definitely do not want to miss this.’’

By taking the decision to align the teams with the existing BBL, CA have given the women’s competition access to existing set ups, fan bases and rivalries. In turn, having been handed a new team to bring up from scratch, the franchises have all responded with a slew of initiatives, which are likely to amplify the effect of the WBBL. Here’s a look at some of them:

· The two Melbourne based franchises have gone a step further to raise the tempo of the rivalry between the two clubs. When the Renegades and Stars face off in January, they will be vying for the Lanning-Elliot Cup, christened after the two captains of the Melbourne based teams. 

· Most franchises have signed on dedicated sponsors for their women’s teams. In fact, both Sydney teams have the same sponsor (XVenture), and both Melbourne teams will also sport the same name on their shirts (VicHealth). 

· WBBL franchises have created their own pathways into their female squads. For instance, the Brisbane Heat launched the Heat Girls Cricket League to get more young girls involved in cricket, and thus nurture the grass root level talent. Coaching clinics in local clubs conducted by the franchises’ star players, have given young children a chance to connect with their role models, and deepen the fan-star bond.

· Former Australia all-rounder Lisa Sthalekar will appear in all the televised games of the WBBL, albeit behind the microphone. When not playing and training with the Sydney Sixers, she will be calling the BBL games as well. 

· The WBBL clubs will offer eight talented cricketers from associate and affiliate countries an opportunity to train for two weeks with the WBBL squads, as part of their rookie program.  They could even debut in the competition, if a contracted player is ruled out due to injury. 

Arguably the biggest takeaway that women’s cricket will gain from the WBBL is creating a high profile domestic cricket centrepiece, which will provide a clear pathway for young women in cricket. The Southern Stars have already established themselves among the best female sports teams in the country, and have provided young girls some fine role models. The WBBL will provide a platform where young girls can aspire to rub shoulders with their heroes, as well as a galaxy of other international stars. According to the CA website, Big Bash league boss Mike Mckenna said, "We're pretty keen to see how the broadcast goes and what it looks like on television but the most important thing is that it's inspiring girls to play cricket." "If we see recruitment numbers going up at clubs and school or girls playing at the park or the beach, that's what we're looking to see and that's what would constitute a successful first season," he goes on to add.  

 With eight of the 59 games being televised live as double headers with the respective BBL games, the WBBL promises to provide a wonderful exhibition of the women’s game. We must now wait till the 24th of January next year, to see who grabs the rights to call themselves the first, ever, WBBL champions. 

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

A TALE OF TWO CITIES : Adelaide vs Nagpur

Adelaide grabbed all the eyeballs, while Nagpur, the headlines.

Two three-day test matches unfolded over the last weekend, but it seemed that was about all the similarity they had. While one set the stage for the longest format of the game to enter a new era, the other was a throwback to times when spinners wreaked havoc in the subcontinent.  Both elicited different reactions: one mostly adoration, and the other, largely condemnation. The centre of attention in the first was the ball, and in the second, the pitch.

I’m talking of course, about the pink ball vs. the dust bowl. Adelaide vs. Nagpur. Both very different test matches.

Or were they?

Runs were hard to come by in both games. The 200 mark resisted achievement, like it had a magnet there that repelled teams under it, and pulled back teams that went passed it.  Only two half centuries punctuated the eight completed innings, both in the pink ball test. Strike rates languished sluggishly around the fifty-mark, rare for four teams filled with high quality batters. Bowlers had the upper hand in both games from ball one. Wickets were thrown away thanks to some poor decision making on both sides of the world. The side that bowled better won, on both occasions, as almost always is in test cricket.

Both were played on result oriented wickets. Both ended in three days.

Then why the public flaying of the Nagpur wicket on social media? Because it was too one sided, they said. Because it was not an even contest between bat and ball. Because it was un-entertaining.    

By that reasoning, the test at Perth, preceding the pink ball test, should have received an equal amount of flak. A venue that is considered to be a fast bowlers dream to served up a pitch that ended a fast bowler’s career. It was like turning up expecting to see Smaug, only to find oneself confronted by an imitation, a paper dragon. Runs were piled on in a seemingly facile manner. Records tumbled, and the turnstiles clicked over for all five days. For the most part, people were happy. With a draw. One that was so interesting it was compared to the rained out second test in Bangalore. Sure, a few people made some noises about the pitch. But no one was really complaining. After all, this is a batter’s game.

This is a rant. By a bowler, against the batter’s game. And more so against the ‘batter’s game mindset’. And here’s why:

Both Adelaide and Nagpur served up pitches that challenged the batters, irrespective of the condition of the ball. In Adelaide, a smattering of grass lay on the wicket, to make sure the pink ball felt comfortable on its debut. In Nagpur, the track reflected the water shortage in the region that has sadly driven so many farmers to suicide.

Admittedly, the Nagpur track had a great deal more to offer the consistent bowler than the Adelaide pitch. But is that to say it gave any one team an advantage? I feel it did not. Both teams could avail use of the same conditions on day one, and on day two.  Therefore it was a more sporting wicket than a green top that gives the team bowling first a huge head start as it gradually but inevitably flattens out every day.

It did challenge the batters from ball one. But does the community deplore the many ‘roads’ test matches across the world are played on, which give the bowlers nothing? Let’s not even get started about the condition of wickets in ODI cricket.  Aren’t those challenges, for the bowlers, and if they are, why is the international cricket community in outcry only against wickets that challenge batters? Can we not gain entertainment from such wickets too? Can we not say to ourselves, “Alright, this isn’t a 400 wicket, it’s a 150 one’’ and stand and applaud the team that gets 200?

Another attack made against the Nagpur track was that it produced a one sided match. It did, but was that the fault of the pitch?

India are infamous for being bad travellers. It is usually because the batters can’t cope with the foreign conditions and the bowlers aren’t as good as their counterparts at exploiting them.  That is exactly what happened to South Africa in Nagpur, in a more dramatic fashion than anyone could have imagined, making them the cynosure of the cricket world, and making the Nagpur pitch the villain. 

The fact of the matter was that the South African spinners weren’t consistent enough to take advantage of the purchase that the wicket offered, allowing the Indian batters to look better than they were. That Morne Morkel was their second highest wicket taker in the first innings is testament to that fact. Their batters on the other hand, were undone by a combination of brilliant spin bowling and bad shot selection. Murali Vijay, Wriddhiman Saha and JP Duminy  showed that one could bat on that track, one where getting to 40 was equal to scoring a hundred.

Adelaide on the other hand, was a game featuring two very evenly matched batting departments, and two bowling attacks equally adept at exploiting conditions that suited them. Bowlers on both sides picked up five-fors, and there too, bowling spells provided the defining moments of the match. Thus the audience there witnessed an even contest; a game that ebbed and flowed either way, in which both teams stood a chance of winning.

Every country has a right to prepare pitches that offer them advantage. I’m positive Kohli and co will not be complaining about pace and bounce when India tours Australia next year. And spare a thought for the curators. I know next to nothing about the art of pitch making, but I am certain it is an art, not an exact science. After the furore over CEO pitches in England, this recent recrudescence of result oriented wickets is a breath of fresh air.

So I venture that we abandon the ‘batter’s game mindset’ while rushing to judge these three day tests. With all the recent rule changes in ODI cricket, bowlers have had to learn to swim in the deep end for far too long. It’s good to see some smiles on their faces.

And let’s celebrate, not denigrate home advantage. In the Hunger Games, the Gamemakers created different environments each time the tributes entered the arena. But it was the tributes who were able to adapt, and outlast the competition that survived, even if the environment was a far cry from that of their own districts. So too it is in the sacrosanct arena of test cricket and so should it remain.  


Monday, 23 November 2015

Lets talk about contracts

                    This post first appeared in my column ''Seamstress'' for Wisden India.

Jhulan Goswami will be one of the old guard of players who finally benefit through women's contracts.

With the BCCI's announcement that central contracts will be introduced for the Indian women's cricket team, a collective exhalation could be heard from those who were holding their breath for the last few months. Ever since the BCCI announced their intention to do so, there had been unbridled excitement, loud scepticism, and a quiet optimism that women's cricket will see better days.

As it stands, credit must be given to the current BCCI administration for walking the talk. By introducing graded central contracts, they have shown as concrete their intention to develop women's cricket.

As per the BCCI announcement, eleven players have been contracted to start with. The four players who find themselves in Grade 'A' will earn Rs. 15 lakhs per year, while the remaining seven in grade 'B' will be paid Rs. 10 lakhs a year.

The move will come as a boon to all female players who have been included in the list, who will now be free from financial insecurity. Currently, the vast majority of female players were dependent on jobs with the Railways, who are almost the sole recruiters of female cricketers across India. (To give you an idea, ten of the 15 players in India' most recent ODI squad are employed with Railways.) However, this means that railway duties would take up a certain amount of the athlete’s time, which meant that India's players always remained semi- professional at best. By introducing central contracts, the eleven players now have the financial freedom to train full time as professionals.

Also, by stipulating that those players who play at least three international games will be include in the Grade 'B' list, the BCCI has created an environment of healthy competition amongst the players in the fringes, and left the door open for deserving candidates to join the club.

But were contracts necessary as a motivating factor in the first place? Certainly not. Female cricketers have been playing for nothing but the love of the game until the early 2000's. The reason senior players in the Indian team had been pushing for contracts to be implemented, is that India were lagging behind.

England were the first to introduce a contract-like system in 2008, by appointing some players as ambassadors in the now hugely successful 'Chance To Shine' program. Australia followed suit soon after, linking their national team contracts to ambassadorial roles in their Females In Cricket  strategy. Sri Lanka, the West Indes, South Africa, Pakistan and New Zealand also joined the contract bandwagon –with different levels of financial assistance - which meant that India was the only major team left out.

This offered a huge competitive advantage to the other sides, whose progress have left India eating their dust on a number of occasions. In the last four years alone, India have conceded series losses -some on home soil- against Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indes. From being a top four team, India have slipped to the bottom half of the pecking order in the ICC women’s championship, despite having no shortage of talent. With the central contracts in place, the core members of the Indian squad can now afford to train as professionals, like many of their opposing numbers already do.

However with professional contracts come the expectations of results. It is pertinent to note that most other national teams were handed contracts on the back of consistent improvements in international performances. While the England women became fully professional after retaining the Ashes in Australia, the Southern Stars received a huge pay hike after their hat-trick of world T20 titles. The Indian women on the other hand, have blown hot and cold over the last year and a half, putting in some good performances in the test format, but struggling in the shorter formats. India are receiving contracts more out of necessity than reward. The BCCI has awarded contracts lest it be left behind, not that it may forge ahead. 

Also, the build up to awarding contracts to their women's teams differed with most other countries. Contracts, particularly with the English and Australian women's teams, were a natural progression of the increase of the standard of cricket in the domestic and national sides, which led to more revenue through better viewership and more sponsors. The more money the boards invested developing their national and domestic women’s setups, the better the performances, and the more money they attracted. The goal of the boards involved was to grow women's cricket from a game that needed financial assistance to one that could ''stand on its own two feet commercially through ticket sales and attracting commercial partners'' according to Clare Connor, revolutionary head of women's cricket at the ECB. Whether the BCCI holds such plans for its team remains to be seen.  

Looking forward, there are a few more financial consolidations that the BCCI still could make to crystallise the initiative it has taken to make cricket a more inviting career option for young women. One of these is an increase in match fees at domestic level. Such a move has been proposed in the BCCI annual report. While contracts will benefit only a score of players, an increase in match fees will benefit the hundreds who play in the domestic circuit. This will also help bridge the gap between the standards of cricket of domestic cricketers and international cricketers.

 And within the Indian setup, the BCCI would do well to introduce higher match fees for those who play in the playing XI, as opposed to the current system of equal payment for all squad members. It will only increase fairness in selection, competition within the team for places, and accountability.  

The game of catch up now begins. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, the awarding of contracts is a trifle for an organisation with pockets as deep as the BCCI’s. Will the women’s team be awarded a long term vision of progress, and the people and commitment required to achieve it? The new BCCI administration must take the famous riddle of the sphinx one step further. They must take women’s cricket from being a creature that walks on three legs in the evening, to two the next dawn. 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Calling Time

In action.

This is a bittersweet post. After almost 15 years in which cricket has been the central theme of my life, I have decided to retire from BCCI domestic cricket.  

At the outset, I would like to use this post to sincerely thank everyone who has been a part of my journey. From coaches, trainers, physios, fellow teammates, captains I have played under, administrators and selectors, thank you all. To my employers and sponsors BAS, thank you for the continued support.

Representing India and Maharashtra has been an honour, and looking back, I cherish every occasion I got to wear my country and state cap. The experience has helped make me the person I am, and for this and much else, I am sincerely grateful. 

Drained after one of the many Maharashtra training sessions.  
My first India Blazer

We try to play cricket like it is life-or death. We try to prepare like there's nothing else. We leave our homes, families, friends, comfort zones all behind, and chase leather like there's no tomorrow. But at the end of the day, we are taught to maintain perspective, be grateful, and remember that it is just a game. At the end of the spectrum, looking back, I can see how that statement stands true and false at the same time. 

True, because it is just a game. there are always more important things in life. A country at war, a relative fighting disease, a friend struggling with the loss of a loved one . We cricketers are incredibly fortunate to get to spend our days playing the game we love, often earning our livelihoods from it. As a player who has just lost a close emotionally draining game, its important to reflect on such things, and not let yourself be bogged down by the weight of defeat. It is just a game after all. 

False, because it is so much more. It is a family, within a dormitory, or a team bus, or a hotel terrace. It is a place we explore ourselves, often find ourselves, and even more often lose ourselves again. It is rivalry and friendship existing seamlessly in the same relationship. It is the ultimate learning process. It is said when the student is ready, the teacher shall appear. Thus cricket teaches so little to some people, and so much to others.  

With my inspiration, Jhulan Goswami, on my first tour. 
At the Chinnaswamy, a ground that housed many a camp and many a memory. 

It is this that I will leave behind. It weighs on my heart, but hey, it's just a game remember?
One of my favourite memories, beating the Railways in a Super Over in Pune.

Life offers few such experiences  that give us so much, and I will always be on the look out for new ones. There are a number of things that I want to devote my time to in this second innings of sorts. Who knows. Perhaps 15 years later, I will write about something else that has given me so much. Perhaps not.

Cricket has given me a chance to see some tremendous beauty.

At the SCG. After India, Australia is my favourite country.

Looking forward to where life takes me. 

Friday, 9 October 2015

The Big Barabati Bottle Theory : The Bollywood Infection

Salman as Prem, the quintessential hero the Indian  public wants to see.

Dont worry Cuttack!

So you screwed up. So you threw a few bottles. So you will probably not see any international cricket again in the foreseeable future. So what?!

In just a few weeks you will get to see Salman Khan returning to the iconic Rajshri Productions banner! Prem Ratan Dhan Payo will release in Diwali, and watching a magnum opus like that is so much better than those annoyingly unpredictable cricket matches! Right?


You see, for Indians, cricket is not just a sport.

It’s a movie.

Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of Salman Khan films. He’s our family favourite you see. Not just movies which have released recently, but even his hits from years gone by (currently we’re on Maine Pyar Kiya)! And the trailers too. All this overdose of a shirtless Prem serenading his helpless heroines makes me tend to see Bollywood in everything, and blame it for the country’s woes. And so I think i'll blame the Barabati bottle storm on Bolllywood as well. 

Except we all should. It makes perfect sense.

Like I said, In India, cricket isn’t a sport. We don’t go to the cricket to watch one team win and one lose. We don’t go to watch amazing skills on display (when mishits are going for six, I start to question how skills matter anymore.)

We go for the entertainment. We go to the stadiums to watch our heroes. Not watch our heroes play, but just watch our heroes, period. Even if the match were to be washed out, a glimpse of our stars strolling around the field would be enough to make it worth the while. A few autographs and selfies would be icing on the cake! It doesn’t matter how they play the cover drive. It matters whether they are fielding in a spot where we can scream at them to grant us a hint of a look, a shy smile, maybe even a wink.

Isn’t this like going for a movie? We go for the sake of our stars, not the scripts. We will watch Akshay Kumar no matter what, even if it’s in a debacle such as Tees Maar Khan.  We will wolf whistle Salman Khan, no matter how hollow the acting and the storyline, and no matter how terrible his haircut (Tere Naam). We will even watch a movie with an overused regurgitated story featuring a couple of debutants, just because our Hero has sung a song in it!

Even if the more evolved part of our brains demands that we walk out at the interval, the reptilian part of the brain will take over and make us wait until the item song at the end credits!

And that is why the bottles were thrown.

You see, in our movies, our heroes always win. Always. No matter what the odds, no matter how many thugs and goons stand in the way, the hero always wins. All he has to do is switch to anti-gravity combat mode.  The goons get beaten up, and the damsel in distress is rescued. Job done and good has prevailed.  Always.

Everyone knows that cricket doesn’t work the same way.

 Everybody except everybody that is.

Everybody had been waiting for the match to come to Cuttack for more than two months. Since the music was released, the premiere was all everybody could talk about. Everybody wanted to catch the first day first show, as there was no other. Everybody took leave from work. Everybody stood in line in the baking heat for hours to buy their tickets. Everybody paid good money for them. Everybody lined up at the stadium three hours in advance, just so they could glimpse their stars getting out of the bus, and walk the proverbial red carpet into the theatre.

The stage was set. The stars descended. Everybody greeted the hero’s entry at the toss with a raucous roar. The villain’s decision to field was even more welcome. The popcorn began flying. The theatre was packed. Everybody was on their feet! Everybody was already dancing in the aisles. India was batting, and everything was going according to script! Everybody was enjoying the movie so far!

But when the Indian batting order began its slide into the abyss at Cuttack, everybody got confused. “This wasn’t how things are supposed to happen!”” Something’s wrong!” ‘’This isn’t what I paid for! How can the villain be winning?’’ said everybody. ‘’How can the heroine not be saved?

 And worst of all, how can the hero die???’’

Finally, somebody among everybody couldn’t take it. 

So somebody decided to save the day. Inspired by the numerous comebacks his hero had made on screen, somebody decided to rise above his ordinary existence. Somebody decided that he would become a hero!

 Even better, he would step in and save his heroes from an ignoble defeat and certain death!  Somebody would thwart the villain, and ensure justice! The cheerleaders would be charmed by his courage and daring, and swoon in his arms! The portly policemen manning the boundary would genuflect before him in gratitude, Gandhi topi tucked under their armpits, hands folded in reverence. They would even insist that their rescuer receive the Man of the Match award for his services to heroism.

And thus, the first bottle flew.

And as a new hero was born, the masses followed in blissful blind adoration.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

To Bash or not to Bash

This article first appeared in '' Seamstress '', my column for Wisden India

These are exciting times for the women’s cricket community. The inaugural Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) is set to begin in December this year, and England will launch the Women’s Cricket Super League in the English summer next year. The women’s game is about to pass through the alchemy that transformed the men’s game eight years ago, and enter the radical sphere of T20 leagues.

While the ECB’s Women’s Cricket Super League is still in its cocoon stages, the WBBL is already recruiting players for its eight teams, aligned to the BBL teams.  As the Kings XI Punjab showed in the previous edition of the IPL, recruiting the right team is the first step to success. To quote Ed Smith,’’ Once the players are out on the pitch, they are on their own- which makes it important to get the right ones out there in the first place’’. 

With teams allowed to recruit up to three overseas players each, a possible total of 24 overseas players may find themselves playing down under this Aussie summer.  As teams look to recruit the best possible international talent, five teams have already announced the signing of a total of 12 overseas players so far. Conspicuously absent from the list so far though, are any Indian female players, although Cricket Australia has expressed an interest in recruiting them.

It is a well known but little mentioned fact that the BCCI does not encourage Indian male players to participate in foreign domestic T20 leagues. While overseas players from all countries flock to the Indian Premier League, how many Indians have you seen in the BBL? Or the Caribbean Premier League? None.

All players require an NOC from their home boards before participating in any foreign competition, irrespective of format. The BCCI seems to reserve Indian players for the IPL however, and no male player has played in a foreign T20 league in recent times.

But with no domestic league to reserve their female players for, the BCCI stands to gain in a number of ways by setting a new precedent and allowing its female players to participate in foreign leagues:

1.       Higher standard of cricket:
Indian players will gain infinitely by the experience of playing in Australia, widely considered to have the strongest domestic competition in women’s cricket. And the WBBL will be an extension of that competition. With the influx of international players, the standard is likely to rise even higher.

2.       Exposure to foreign conditions:
The players would spend more than a month travelling the length and breadth of Australia, acclimatise to the foreign conditions, speed of the quicker, bouncier Aussie pitches and the nuances of various venues. They could gain crucial insights into the adaptations that are required to succeed down under. And all such experience will only be useful as and when India tour Australia. (Incidentally, India will tour Australia for a bilateral series immediately after the WBBL in January 2016.  An acclimatisation period could not be more perfectly timed. )

3.       Financial benefits :
Domestic female players in Australia have recently benefitted from a significant pay raise, and WBBL contracts are likely to add to their windfall.  Such opportunities will be few and far between for Indian domestic players. While the BCCI can offer male players high financial rewards through its home league, the lack of any such league for women in India means that the board would be doing a considerable disservice to the women if they are not allowed to participate in foreign leagues.

Although the WBBL overlaps with India’s senior domestic women’s calendar, the absence of some Indian stars is a small price to pay in the bigger scheme of things. If the advantages gained by playing in the WBBL translate into an away series win, then the absence of the players during the domestic season will be worth it. Players can always be selected by the weight of their performances in the WBBL itself. And there is no preparation like match practice. As for the ECB’s Women’s Cricket Super League, it is unlikely to coincide with any domestic tournaments.

These leagues could open up uncharted opportunities for the world’s most talented players. Here are some Indian cricketers who teams in foreign domestic leagues might be keen on recruiting:

·         Jhulan Goswami :
The spearhead of the Indian attack for almost a decade, Jhulan’s pace and accuracy have been an asset to the Indian team. Ubiquitously known as a fighter, she has single handedly bowled her team to victory on many occasions. More than useful with the bat down the order, she adds value to a team through sheer experience and fighting spirit. On the fast, pacy pitches in Australia, a number of teams would have on their radar the ICC’s top ranked ODI bowler.
·         Mithali Raj:
The undisputed queen of Indian batting. She is the archetype of class. The Indian captain is known for her silken touch and effortless timing, both while playing the ball in the air and along the turf. With more than 15 years of international experience behind her, buoyed by truckloads of runs, she would be extremely sought after by team scouts. She opens the batting for India in the T20 format, and will lend stability to any team she may be a part of.
·         Harmanpreet Kaur :
Her batswing clearly tells a keen observer that Harmanpreet idolises Virender Sehwag. And like him, she is known for her ability to clear the ropes. In addition, she has recently added accurate off spin bowling to her skill set, and gained a reputation as a genuine all-rounder.  Combined with the fact that she is an exceptional fielder,  Harmanpreet is a captain’s delight, particularly for the T20 format.

With the BCCI  having announced that contracts will be implemented for the women’s team as well, the participation in such tournaments is likely to be addressed in those contracts.  The new BCCI administration has already taken positive steps towards the development of women’s cricket. For instance : the announcement of an intention to contract players, addition of an U-23 tournament and a three day tournament in the domestic calendar. Will the BCCI break down the wall it has built around itself for the greater good of Indian women’s cricket? I am hopeful. 

All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention, if only one may first conceive of doing so. – From the movie ’Cloud Atlas’

Friday, 10 July 2015

Points lost, series won, best possible result

This article first appeared in '' Seamstress '', my column for Wisden India

How often is it that both teams can claim a series victory? Once too often for New Zealand, who twice in succession now have lost a series after winning the ‘series within the series’.  The visiting New Zealand team won two of the first three ODIs in this series, claiming four valuable ICC women’s championship points that pushed them up to fifth in the ICC points table. But like their last series against England, they went on to lose the five match ODI series 2-3 overall, this time India dominating the last two encounters.
There are though, many positives to reflect upon for New Zealand. After falling into the trap of playing safe in pursuit of a small total in the first ODI, they adapted admirably in the next two games. Their batsmen showed a positive and aggressive approach, not unlike that which the Black Caps team has made their own. The results showed, as they stumbled over their small target in the second ODI, and waltzed past it in the third. All-rounder Sophie Devine spoke about both the approach and the comparison in a post-match interview, and said there was no effort to copy the Black Caps. The White Ferns wanted to create their own style, and playing attacking cricket was very much a part of that.

 It was not just their approach, but also their shot selection and application that were impressive. They used the sweep to good effect to nullify the Indian spinners, and made merry whenever the Indian bowlers erred in length, especially fond of anything short. Sophie Devine’s display of footwork against leg spin in the fourth ODI was worthy of a batsmen brought up on the dust bowls of Chennai, not windy Wellington. Amy Satterthwaite too was impressive throughout the tournament; though she could not go on to register a big score. But in the absence of veteran Sara McGlashan, the batting seemed a little top heavy on more than one occasion.

Debutant Leigh Kasperek lent some stability to the lower order, and with ball in hand, the former Scottish international showed a willingness to flight the ball irrespective of the situation. She displaced incumbent spinner Georgia Guy from the starting XI with her all round potential. Lea Tahuhu also impressed with her pace and ability to pick up wickets in her second spells. And by the time the series had moved on, ‘’Don’t hit it near Katie Perkins” was probably the instruction in the Indian team meetings. The redhead-who set the tone for the visitors in the first ODI with a stunning aerial catch to dismiss Mithali Raj- underlined the effort the White ferns had put into their fielding.

If the White Ferns adapted their approach after the first match itself, the Indian batting unit was guilty of taking two matches more to learn their lesson. In the first three matches, batting first, the Indian eves had managed 142 all out, 163 all out, and 182/9. The batting was tepid at best, underlined by a dependence on boundaries and indolent running between wickets. It was not until they had their backs to the wall in the fourth ODI, having been set 221 as a target, were they forced to bat more positively. Beware the cornered tigers indeed. In the last two ODIs, the Indian side, for whom bowling had always been the stronger skill set, put in two of the most dominant batting displays seen from this team in recent rimes. A deliberate effort to dominate the bowlers, to use the flight offered by the spinners, to not let the part timers settle, and to run aggressively, could be seen. The likes of Smriti Mandhana, Thirushkamini, and Harmanpreet Kaur, who had played cautiously in the previous games, opened up and gave a full account of the panoply of their strokes.   The difference was so stark, it was almost as if we were watching another team altogether. One can only wonder wistfully what would the score line have been had this change come sooner.

On the bowling front, Jhulan Goswami showed no signs of the injury that kept her out of the Challenger Trophy just before this series, although the commentators did mention ‘pain killing injections’. She bowled with fire and accuracy, and was always given appropriate respect by the Kiwi top order, and often their edges. On a venue where the spinners and batsmen dominated, she along with Tahuhu showed the value of having a genuine quick bowler in the ranks.  India struggled to find a suitable new ball partner for her though, which meant spin almost always made an appearance within the first ten overs. And rarely did it disappoint. Rajeshwari Gayakwad made full use of the conditions on her home ground, and picked up wickets at crucial junctures with her efficacious left arm spin. As the series progressed, she became the go-to bowler for Mithali Raj, and was the only spinner to play all five matches. The Indian fielding however left a lot to be desired on a number of occasions, despite being punctuated by the occasional flash of brilliance.

With India due to travel to Australia in the Aussie summer for next round of ICCWC matches, this series win  against a quality New Zealand side will be a shot in the arm for the women’s team. Although India conceded four ICCWC points, coming back after being 1-2 down and dominating the next two games is a huge achievement. The ‘Women in Blue’ showed they have skills and pluck required to wrest the momentum comprehensively away from a side like New Zealand, and then to keep them on the mat in a decider. The self-belief gained from this performance is worth much more than all six ICCWC points that were on offer. Worst case scenario, India will need to play the ICC’s qualifying tournament to determine rankings before the World Cup, slated to be in England in 2017. More international matches against good teams leading into a World Cup can only be good news. If the Indian women can maintain this aggressive approach, and temper it with their abundant skills, wonders can be achieved in the forthcoming T20 series, and even down under.

It is also necessary to put this series win in another context : This series was the first home series to be broadcast live by the Star network (who are now the sponsors of the BCCI) and the first home series to be broadcast at all for many a year now. With the eyes of the world, and the powers that be at the BCCI upon them, it was important to put up a good show. With the new BCCI administration having recently singled out women’s cricket as an area that they want to develop, this performance is reassuring. It emphasizes the talent and potential that this squad has, and the impending contracts for women cricketers will go a long way in allowing the players to train professionally, which can only lead to an improvement in performances. Through this show, the Indian women’s team has shown the BCCI that the raw material exists, and with some smart investment, proper foresight, and a lot of hard work, the returns could be well worth it. 

Monday, 22 June 2015

T20 Season review

This article first appeared in my column ''Seamstress'' for Wisden India 

The T20 Women's domestic season proved to be closer and dramatic than  the One Day leg, punctuated by close finishes and the odd upset. The final winners though, were familiar faces, as Railways topped the Elite Division, and One Day runners-up Goa went one better in the T20 format to clinch the Plate Division title.

In the Elite Division, Group 'A' , played in Pune, proved to be the closest in the competition. It featured the teams that finished in the top four in the One Day format, along with minnows Gujarat. Odisha beat Maharashtra, who beat Delhi, who in turn beat Odisha again to open up the group. Railways stuttered in their matches against Gujarat and Delhi, until they were rescued in both games by the batting of Harmanpreet Kaur. She produced explosive yet mature innings of 81*(47) and 55*(33), and bailed her team out of high pressure situations. She also finished the highest scorer in the competition, with 262 runs from six innings. It took the last league match to decide who would proceed to the Super Leagues. It was a thriller, Maharashtra pushing Railways into a super over, and then proceeding to win it, thanks to the heroics of Smriti Mandhana, who along with Patil, scored 20 off the super over. Maharashtra Joined railways in the Super leagues.

In Group 'B', Punjab sprung a surprise by topping the group, winning all their games, mainly on the back of quick runs at the top of the order by Jasia Akhter. Madhya Pradesh were the second team to qualify.

In the Super Leagues, the other teams had a plan ready for Jasia Akhter, and thus tied down Punjab, who lost all their games. Maharashtra failed to repeat their upset performance of the league phase, as their total of 108 was not enough to stretch Railways. However, Smriti Mandhana continued her return to form against Madhya Pradesh, to make a chase of 105 against a good M.P. bowling side look easy. She scored an unbeaten 59 off 62 balls, to ensure Maharashtra finished second, and M.P. third on their home ground in Indore.

In the Plate Division, Karnataka, Goa, Assam, Andhra, Bengal, Assam, and Himachal Pradesh topped their respective groups and made the knock outs.

Goa were keen to avenge their One Day Plate Final loss to Andhra in the quarters, and did so easily with Shikha Pandey scalping two and then anchoring her side home in the chase. They then duly beat Assam to make their second final of the season.

Bengal benefited from contributions from their captain with bat and ball. Jhulan Goswami who finished the season with the lowest economy rate in the tournament (2.64 rpo), also finished as the sixth highest run scorer, with runs and wickets at crucial junctures. After making short work of Himachal in their quarter final, Bengal derailed  Karnataka in the semi final. Karnataka, who were chasing 101, imploded, losing five wickets for six runs, to finish on 88.

The final proved to be a thrilling encounter. Playing at home, the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Bengal got off to a poor start, losing four wickets in the first six overs. Three top order batsmen succumbed to Santoshi Rane's outswingers, before Paromita Roy and Jhulan Goswami stitched together a partnership. Bengal finally finished with only 79, but bowled tightly to have Goa at 34 for four in 11 overs. Jhulan had again delivered for her team, castling Goa captain Sunanda and the talismanic Shikha Pandey in the 11th over to tilt the balance in Bengal's favour. The pressure of seeing yet another title slip out of their hands almost got to the Goa batsmen, but the experienced Salma Divkar kept her head, and saw Goa over the line off the last ball, finishing with 31* off 30 balls. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Awards in Women's Cricket

This article first appeared in '' Seamstress ",  my column for Wisden India

With Mithali Raj recently becoming the only the fourth female cricketer to be awarded the distinguished Padma Shri award, I decided to compile a list of all female cricketers who have won major government awards. The exercise took me firmly out of my comfortable world of flowing prose and into the unyielding and inflexible realm of statistics, but it  was an enriching one all the same. This post is dedicated to all those incredibly talented and hard working women who deserve every accolade they can get, and to the many more whose way these awards may not have come.

In chronological order:

Shanta Rangaswamy

Arjuna Award- 1976

Shanta was the archetypal pioneer, at a time when women's cricket in India was in its infancy.  She captained the country in 12 of the 16 tests she played, and 16 of the 19 ODIs. In an era where Tests were the prevalent and sometimes only format, she played an attacking and entertaining brand of cricket. The  Bangalore all rounder could be destructive with the bat, as well as with her big inswingers. In a playing career that spanned 14 years, she accumulated 750 runs and 21 wickets in her 16 matches.  She is now a senior officer in a nationalised bank and currently a BCCI selector as well.

Diana Edulji

Arjuna Award- 1983

Padma Shri - 2002

The first female cricketer to be awarded the Padma Shri as well as the Arjuna, left arm spinner Diana Edulji was another member of the pioneering women's test team. Hailing from Mumbai, she is India's highest wicket taker in tests, and is third on the all-time list, with 63 wickets in 20 matches. Known for her unerring accuracy, she was the cornerstone of India's spin attack in those formative years. She also led the country in four tests and 18 ODIs. Now as Western Railway's Sr. Sports Officer, she has helped increase the employment opportunities for talented women cricketers in the country, and helped shape the sports policy of Western and Indian Railways.

Shubhangi Kulkarni

Arjuna Award- 1985

Leg spinning all rounder Shubhangi Kulkarni scalped 23 wickets in the seminal home test series against the West Indies that the Indian women played in 1976. Thereafter, she regularly contributed with ball and bat, and sits just behind Diana Edulji as India's second highest wicket taker, with 60 wickets in 19 tests. Her greatest legacy though, may be that of an administrator. She was Secretary of the Women's Cricket Association of India in 2005, when India registered their best ever performance in a World Cup, finishing runners up in South Africa. Previously, she had helped ink a sponsorship deal with Sahara, who were sponsoring the BCCI at the time.  She also played an instrumental role in the talks preceding BCCI's takeover of women's cricket in 2006. She currently runs a popular sports shop in her hometown of Pune.

Sandhya Agarwal

Arjuna Award - 1986

With an astonishing test batting average of 50.45 in 13 tests, Sandhya Agarwal was Indian women's cricket's run machine. Opening the batting, her presence at the wicket gave the Indian batting much needed stability. With four test hundreds, two of those on foreign soil, she is just behind England's Janette Brittin (five), who holds the record for highest number of centuries in women's tests. The Indore born cricketer was also a crucial member of a strong Indian Railways team for most of her career. She is now involved with the women's wing of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association.

Mithali Raj

Arjuna Award - 2003

Padma Shri - 2015

Mithali has been the face of women's cricket in the country for more than a decade. She has been the ever present silver lining  in an era of inconsistency for Indian women's cricket. Some of her famous exploits with the bat - her test double hundred at the age of 19 for instance- have single handedly raised the profile of the women's game in the country. Her heroic double ton won her the Arjuna in 2003 making her the first woman in 16 years to win the award, and her overall contribution has also earned her the Padma Shri, which she said took her by surprise, considering Virat Kohli was also in the fray.  In an era where one dayers and later T20 matches were the popular formats, her numbers are staggering. With 4888 runs, she is second on the all-time ODI leading run scorers list. She has led the team in roughly half of her 153 ODIs. With 1267 runs in 47 matches, she is India's highest T20 run scorer, male or female, ahead of Virat Kohli (972). This coming from a player who said in an interview recently, that it took her many years to actually start enjoying the sport!

Anju Jain

Arjuna Award - 2005

Wicketkeeper-opening bat Anju Jain was honoured with the Arjuna in the year that she helped the Indian team make the finals of the 2005 World Cup in South Africa. She was the mainstay with the gloves and at the top of the order for almost a decade. Her diminutive stature belied the power she could pack in her strokes, and lent her agility behind the stumps. The Delhi player was also a key member of the successful Air India team on the domestic circuit. She currently coaches the Assam Cricket Association women's team.

Anjum Chopra

Arjuna Award - 2006

Padma Shri - 2014

Anjum Chopra, with 2856 ODI runs, is India's second highest run getter, and also 10th on the all-time run scorer list. The stylish Delhi left hander is one of the most recognisable faces in women’s cricket, as she is a regular feature on television commentary for both women's and men's international games. Another Air India stalwart, her fluent batting style and safe hands in the slips were a prominent feature of her playing career. She led the Indian team to their first ever overseas test victory in South Africa in 2002. She also played an instrumental role in the historic away series win against England in 2006. She is now a professional orator, sportscaster and writer.

Jhulan Goswami

Arjuna Award - 2010

Padma Shri - 2012

Jhulan seen addressing the team in England, 2011.

Along with Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami's achievements have made her the poster girl of Indian women's cricket. Her height, aggression and pace have helped her captivate the imaginations of onlookers unlike any other cricketer.  With 167 wickets, she is no. 2 on the all-time ODI wicket takers list.  Since breaking into the Indian team as a precocious teenager, she has spearheaded the Indian attack for almost 15 years now. She bowled India to a famous test series win in Taunton, England in 2006, with one of the most clinical displays of fast bowling seen in the women's game. Her match haul of 10 wickets helped her claim the ICC cricketer of the Year award in 2007, the only Indian ever to do so. The tearaway from the small town of Chakda (in the outskirts of Kolkata) went on to lead the country in 42 internationals, including a third place finish in the 2009 Women's World Cup.