It’s been a while since I wrote an article but I’ve been extremely absorbed in this Women’s World Cup and have been thoroughly amazed by the sheer amount of support and hype it has generated that I almost forgot to write… almost.
12 years ago on April 10th 2005, India played Australia in a Women’s World Cup final at SuperSport Park. Was anyone watching? Did anyone know it was going on? Mithali Raj didn’t think so. My reason for not knowing is that I was 12 myself so I had no idea. However I could have named every male cricketer playing for India – and most likely every other team at that time (and probably most of their stats) so I have no excuse.
This year however, I, along with my ladies cricket team and 26,000 others have my ticket ready to watch two of the most exciting ladies teams go head-to-head to a sell out crowd at the home of cricket. Women’s cricket has been on the rise the past few years. Last year Sky Sports dedicated a whole week to promoting women’s cricket from visiting local ladies clubs to broadcasting the England v Pakistan ladies T20 games live but even I could not predict such an incredible explosion in popularity this tournament has brought.
The opening game of England v India was a sell out and over the course of the past month, 47,000 tickets have been sold. Viewership in both India and England has increased by 50% in comparison to 2013 whilst in both South Africa and Australia it has increased by roughly 300% (no that is not a typo). From a game that was dominated by three teams (England, Australia and New Zealand) for as long as I can remember, to becoming this internationally competitive and truly absorbing sport on the cusp of a professional revolution.
This series, 12 players from seven teams averaging more than 50 so far (double that of 2013) and almost double the number of innings have passed the 250 run mark from 2013. The series as a whole has improved dramatically since it’s last appearance and in particular one team have stepped up to the plate. Mithali Raj’s ladies have taken it upon themselves to show the world what they’re made of. For a country where cricket is followed as a religion, where the men’s team could barely step out of their house without being mobbed, and where a champions trophy final ticket against Pakistan could fetch over £1000, the ladies have found very little support.
At the beginning of the tournament Raj was asked who her favourite male cricketer was and she shot back “Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer?”. Since then, India have played at the only two sold out games, toppled the reigning champions and favourites of the tournament and set themselves up for a third and final packed out game at Lords against the hosts, England.
Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami have become household names, they’ve put the Indian Women’s team on the map and have been backed up by a hoard of youngsters this tournament. Mithali Raj has finally been able to come out of her shell and play unburdened by the weight of a whole team. The fearless Mandhana and talented Deepti have taken responsibility and the upcoming final at Lords will be one to remember not just for the players but for the spectators too.
Women’s cricket is on the up and I hope this momentum continues past the tournament and the ladies continue to build their presence in world cricket.