The incredible achievements of Mithali Raj, who has become only the second woman to score 10,000 international runs, must be viewed in the backdrop of the utter indifference of the cricket officialdom, media and fans towards women’s cricket. The 38-year-old Mithali has battled official apathy for most of her career and kept herself motivated to go on and score heavily since making her international debut as a 16-year-old. This 22 years’ worth of service to Indian cricket is priceless, because she has inspired a generation of girls to pursue cricket seriously. Sport makes its practitioners fitter in body and mind, gives them confidence and ability to work with people and make complex decisions — and also earn a livelihood. Sport is a godsend for women.
The Indian cricket board (BCCI) has always been male-centric. After the International Cricket Council (ICC) took over women’s cricket too, BCCI was the last of the top-eight cricket-playing nations to take women’s cricket under its wing. Over the years, India’s women cricketers got central contracts and gained greater visibility, but it still is an uphill battle for the women. For instance, Covid wiped out one full year off the professional lives of India’s women cricketers — after the team reached the final of the 50-over World Cup last year, they didn’t play international for a whole year. Another weird fate that can befall only women cricketers — the current series against South Africa was scheduled to be played in Thiruvananthapuram, but last month it emerged that the stadium had been made available to Indian Army for a recruitment drive! And mind you, these are ‘good times’ when women cricketers can use the infrastructure and facilities of BCCI.
Sport is a great vehicle for social mobility, and for improving health parameters and raising incomes. It’s a terrible idea to keep one half of the population shut off from the benefits of sport. In India, a very large number of girls are still not allowed to go out to play, study or seek employment. Mithali and her ilk in different sports are doing a great service to the nation by inspiring girls to take up sport.