Updated March 07, 2020 14:14:28
The men’s cricket team in India hold a god-like status, and while the women are a long way from that level of adulation, the likes of Poonam Yadav, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana are changing the way women are perceived.
- India captain Harmanpreet Kaur said she hopes any parents watching the World Cup will let their daughters play sport
- When Poonam Yadav, the tournament’s top wicket-taker, was a girl, her father did not want her to play cricket
- With so many fans in Melbourne, Kaur said Sunday’s final against Australia will feel like a home game for India
India’s success at this year’s Twenty20 World Cup is a huge part of forging social change.
Witnessing the increase in women playing cricket in the past few years has been an honour for captain Harmanpreet Kaur.
“This is a way you can change the world and what our team is doing today is giving a lot of positive messages to the young girls and especially to parents as well who are watching,” she said.
“We are so proud we are able to inspire young girls and have them watch us. Not all children are allowed to play sports, especially girls, and hopefully parents will allow their daughters to play.”
The stars who will take on Australia in Sunday’s final at the MCG acknowledge it is hard being a woman in India, and the barriers to excelling in sport are difficult to clear.
“It’s really important girls get the kind of support that men get and is required to go higher up,” all-rounder Shikha Pandey said.
Pandey said she “was blessed to have very supportive parents” and while that was not the norm when she was growing up, perceptions were changing in India.
Leg-spinner Poonam Yadav dismantled Australia in the tournament opener and is the leading wicket-taker of the World Cup with nine scalps, but her father never wanted her to play cricket because it was not seen as a proper profession.
When she got a contract with the Indian cricket board, the first thing she spent her wages on was a cow shed for her father’s farm.
That is the kind of empowerment these women are creating.
“A five-year-old girl can actually dream of playing cricket for India professionally and it’s a real ambition to become a cricketer now,” Pandey said.
She added the beauty of sport was that it created a level playing field regardless of who people are or where they come from.
“Cricket does create social change. As cricketers, gender and all those barriers do not come into the picture — it doesn’t matter which region you belong to, which country, the hard work is what matters,” Pandey said.
“Sport in a very big way is breaking barriers and we are so proud and privileged to be on that journey.”
Pandey said the women’s team was on track to become as popular as the men, with a noticeable boost in attention from fans and the media after reaching the final of the 2017 ODI World Cup.
“Things are really growing and getting better, it can only go up from here,” Pandey said.
MCG final to feel like a home game for well-backed Indians
With a World Cup at stake, opener Smriti Mandhana does not want to get too caught up in the hype, with a self-imposed social media ban preventing her from seeing some of the support (or criticism).
“But definitely when we were leaving, everyone was really excited and I am sure we will be getting a lot of support in India and here in Australia as well,” she said.
India proved they can match it with anyone by going unbeaten through the tournament thus far, and Mandhana said bringing home the trophy after a win over Australia would be a catalyst for more change.
“Definitely women’s cricket is on the rise in India, people know our names and we’re becoming positive role models,” she said.
“For me that is a very big thing and hopefully it keeps rising.”
India’s rise in the tournament saw them rattle host Australia with a 17-run defeat in the tournaments opener.
Convincing wins over Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka saw the team top its group, leading to automatic qualification for the final after the semi against England was washed out.
Australia will get its shot at redemption in front of a crowd tipped to set a new record for attendance at a women’s sporting fixture, with a 90,000-strong crowd hoped for at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday night.
But the Indians don’t see it as an away game for them.
“It’s very visible that we have a huge Indian community in Australia,” Kaur said.
“It feels like home.”
First posted March 07, 2020 14:04:19