Indian women’s cricket lost momentum with the defeat in South Africa. Now is the time to take corrective action

Indian women’s cricket has seen exponential growth in recent years. The team has made two ICC championship finals, money has gone into the sport as the BCCI raised Rs 20 crore as sponsorship income from the T-20 women’s challenge in 2020, and we have the emergence of new stars like Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Varma seen walking with the seasoned trio of Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Harmanpreet Kaur.

The improvement under coach WV Raman was noteworthy enough for analysts to suggest that in a year or two India could challenge the hegemony of Australia and England in ICC competitions. The momentum was lost due to Covid, as the girls did not play international cricket for a year. And now, as the games resumed, poor pick calls resulted in India losing a 50 home series to South Africa 4-1.

At a time when men’s cricket is higher than ever, those results aren’t good for women’s game. While the selectors have not spoken on record, the only explanation available is that players like Shikha Pandey, Ekta Bisht, Tania Bhatia and others were rested when the selection committee, led by Neetu David, wanted to try out new talent. In all fairness, when a team returns to international cricket after 12 months, it can’t be a stage for experimentation. This is international cricket where the winner always takes everything.

It was shocking to see a youngster in Monica Patel overtake Shikha Pandey, who is a constant for Goa in domestic cricket. Not only is Patel not ready for the international stage by picking her over the veteran pandey the selectors did a disservice to her and Indian cricket. It is only natural that bad performance should play out in your head now and cause serious self-doubt in the future.

After Jhulan Goswami was injured for the all-important fourth game in the series, India faced nuts and a sailor as the captain and coach didn’t trust Patel. And the lonely sailor in Mansi Joshi looked confused because there was no guiding hand in Jhulan. This is where Pandey’s experience could have made all the difference. Again, Radha Yadav, who was preferred to Ekta Bisht, was dropped after just one game, a clear sign that management has little confidence in her skills in the format.

The selectors must recognize three things in the future. First, they are in public office and perform public duties. Second, the Indian team is associated with national pride and the selection is accountable to millions of Indian cricket fans. Third, they need to give the captain and coach the team they need to get results and not impose selection decisions on them, which makes the team’s think tank look lost and frustrated.

The truth is, with this defeat, the women’s game has lost momentum. The game was pushed back a few years due to incompetent selection. Corrections are an immediate necessity. It is of the utmost importance that the BCCI, led by Sourav Ganguly and Jay Shah, sit down with the captain, coach and selection committee to work out a vision plan for the women’s game that leads to the World Cup in just 50 months.

Indian women cricket has serious potential. It will be a farce if fundamental errors cost us less than a year on the world stage. In determining the way forward, BCCI could also decide to use legends of the women’s game like Shantha Rangaswamy, Diana Apulji and Subhangi Kulkarni, who are already members of the Apex Council.

With the women’s T-20 challenge a month away, that defeat could also have an impact on the existence of the sport in the near future. India haven’t been competitive in three games and that’s what upset the fans the most.

People in positions of power must deal responsibly with authority. A good Indian performance at the World Cup means thousands of aspiring young girls are engaged in the sport, making it a viable career option in the country. With a lot at stake, the game is just around the corner. Can the selectors cash in and get themselves back on track, or will the profits made in recent years be lost? The jury is not there in this case.

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