The Women’s World Cup Final. Possibly one of, if not the most heartbreaking matches I have ever been to – and I’ve been to my fair share of games. It came as a shock to me just how much my heart had invested in team India and their incredible rise from the qualifiers to the ICC WWC Final. Somewhere along the way from Smriti Mandhana’s opening century against the hosts to Harmanpreet Kaur’s 171* against the reigning champs they won me (and a whole nation) over.
It’s not that I specifically supported England as I’m sure you’ve seen my bias towards the men in blue and lack of article on the Champions Trophy Final. However I knew very little of the women in blue, I had never seen them play live and as a player myself in England I had seen friends develop into fantastic cricketers through the club and county system.
Naturally I admired the dedication to the game that I saw from the England Ladies, not only from the current players in their drive to succeed but also from ex-players like Charlotte Edwards and Isa Guha who had gone on to commentate and Lydia Greenway who put her expertise into developing the next generation of players though the ‘Cricket for Girls’ Academy. These names were household names to me. I had played BUCS cricket for Nottingham University against the likes of England opener Lauren Winfield and through default came to support England.
I started writing without an end goal but whilst thinking about why I had initially leaned towards supporting England and then changed, I wondered how people pick their teams?
What reason did I have to support a country that I had only visited twice? Is it genetic? Does supporting India run in my blood? If I pricked my finger would I genuinely bleed blue? My parents support India and I am 1000% sure my children would support India.
I was lucky enough to be born to watch the fabulous five of Indian cricket. A golden era of batting which included ‘The Little Master’ and ‘The Wall’. A legacy that will live on forever and players that will be talked about from generation to generation. I felt part of that legacy. The same must have applied for those who lived through the magnificent swing duo or Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis or the unyielding West Indies pace quartet.
But what if someone didn’t have that connection to a team as I initially didn’t with the Indian ladies before the Women’s World Cup?
I started thinking about my second favourite team and when India weren’t playing what reasons I had for supporting one team over another. Up until two years ago it was Sri Lanka over everyone else and one man in particular was the reason. The man with 12,400 Test runs to his name and over 14,000 ODI runs. Kumar Sangakkara. The man I, and it appears also Smriti Mandhana, idolise. A pleasure to watch at the crease he makes batting look like second nature. As if it came as naturally to him as breathing. His cover drives flowed seamlessly as if they were a part of him. Since his retirement (and Mahela Jayawardenas) I found myself supporting South Africa and in particular AB de Villiers.
During the 2015 ICC World Cup Final at the MCG I found myself faced with two teams who I neither supported nor identified with and immediately found myself rooting for the underdogs, New Zealand. I had hoped for India to make it to that final as I had flown out to watch it but it wasn’t meant to be. New Zealand were coming in off the back of a game that was fit to be a final. Had the tournament ended after that emotional New Zealand v South Africa semi-final I couldn’t have argued. Both teams had poured their heart and soul into the game and you couldn’t have asked for a better game and for that reason I was rooting for them to win. Plus I always find myself rooting against the Aussies anyway. Maybe I am part British after all.
In simple terms, there’s no science behind it, no genes, no picking the best team by stats it’s a purely emotional decision and one that I only made a few weeks back for the women in blue, the under dogs led by the incredible Mithali Raj, but one that will last a lifetime.
Well written Nirali!