Never mind picking a single memory from the inaugural season of the Women’s Premier League, even listing ten would not do justice. Let recency bias rule: Issy Wong’s post-hattrick surfing on DY’s deafening wave of sound. Shikha Pandey’s face-of-fury fist-pump after launching into a six over cover, her team on 95-9. Nat-Sciver Brunt’s re-imagining the 360, carving the space between her leg stump and the keeper’s reach, paddling, reversing on her way to victory. Saika Ishaque, left out from East Zone, tossing the ball up, snaffling Alyssa Healy and Tahlia McGrath in one over. Harmanpreet’s diving single-hander slip catch against UP Warriorz, off Hayley Mathews’. Mathews being Mathews in every game…
This is what competitive cricket action does. Separate itself from whatever is roiling and boiling around the event and have hearts ‘n’ minds dive into the instant. Smelt men’s cricket and women’s cricket together into that larger much-loved entity called Cricket. But of course, there is a difference between the men’s game and the women’s, the matter of power and speed instinctively identifiable. Except once the brain and the eye switch frequencies, the comparison fades and we settle into women’s cricket and savour. At the WPL, we discover again that the women’s cricket frequency operates via lower heating and decibel levels. What comes through is in no way less authentic.
Women’s cricket appeals to the aesthetic form with the bat and trajectory, loop, dip and swerve with the ball. (What it does not require are WPL boundaries between 42-45m so chivalrously offered this season.) The WPL also showed that the women’s game is also responding to the athletic requirements of the day – fielding, diving, catching. The 80m six is no longer an anomaly and Wong & Sisters strive to race across the 130kph barrier. There haven’t been enough accurate speed guns around the women’s game, but as of today, the fastest ball bowled by a woman was Shabnam Ismail’s 128kph rocket in the Women’s ICC T20 World Cup semi-final versus England.
Mulling over speed and muscle as the point of difference is happening when there are already dark mutterings about the men’s game being turned into a six-hitting beast fest. One of the more appealing parts about the women’s game is the absence of testo-tantrums: ‘accidental’ collisions, finger-pointing, pushing-shoving, captains haranguing umpires, flying bats breaking glass, fountains of lip-readable eff-words plus that other tedium: sledging/ ‘banter.’
The most astonishing sight at the Eliminator was the absence of a collective UP Warriorz meltdown when the third umpire ruled out Anjali Sarvani’s superb diving catch in the outfield. UPW captain Alyssa Healy did question the umpire but once the decision was done, the game moved on, with some head-shaking but that was about it. After the final, Shafali Verma told the Hindi comms feed, that the only reason she left the field after being dead sure she had been given out off a no-ball, was because her Australian captain Meg Lanning asked her to cop the call and go. “Otherwise I would have sat down right there and not moved,” Shafali said and talked appreciatively about her many learnings from Lanning. Furious at the decision herself, Lanning’s eyes had blazed under her helmet like she was going to burn down our TV screens. Let no one tell you that the women care less just because either they don’t emote more or the stakes aren’t as high as for the men. Try that with Harman and see what happens.
At this point, this is a female journalists view of the WPL. I decided to find out what the women’s game looked like to a couple of men. Arvind Krishnaswamy, Mumbai-based sports nut for nearly five decades enjoys following women’s cricket. The play is most watchable, the batters are stylish and elegant, there’s less faux-aggression, “they look like they’re having fun” and there’s a chance to closely watch many varieties of the spinning, floating ball play its dipping, looping, drifting tricks. “In men’s cricket, if it’s a fast bowler, if you don’t have slow motion, you’re completely lost… by the time you blink the ball is gone and you are completely reliant on TV.” As someone who watches “99 percent” of men’s matches on mute, Krishnaswamy has enjoyed the WPL’s female commentators. “Men’s commentary is probably at its worst today – banalities, inanities. With the women, it’s been good to hear different voices, they’ve worked hard for it. Not like the current-day male commentators who, you know, seamlessly plug in. They retire and the next day, start commentary. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping the women don’t go the way of the men.” To watch the women live, Krishnaswamy even did what he very rarely does – went to the Brabourne to watch the final and messaged through it. “Saika flatter and faster, adapting nicely”, “high level of competence” “only difference is speed of the fast bowlers otherwise they are a match for guile, bat speed and reflexes.”
This is an urban cricket connoisseur, but the women’s game has also appealed to a variety outside that demographic. Like Mulayam Paras Yadav, 28-year-old cricket fan, who spent WPL ferrying media folk around between DY and Brabourne. He began watching “ladies” from the Women’s T20 World Cup onwards, on YouTube and mobile. “I don’t think gents and ladies cricket is a competition. It is not as if the women play any less. If they get a ball to be hit for a six, they hit it for a six.” He is from Ghazipur, UP and says, “Of course ladies cricket is slower than the men’s game, but they will go ahead, they have started later. Jitni bhi taakat hai woh behtar hi khelti hain (whatever power they have they play above that.).”
To those who ask him, “kyon ladies ko khilate hain” (why do they make the women play) he responds, “Ladies can be in police they can be teachers and doctors so why not cricket.” He refers to cricketers with the suffix of ji – Shafaliji and Deepti Sharmaji – and picks the most appealing part of their play. “Movement, their movement is very good, ek number (number one)” and explains he means the fluency and technique of their shot-making. With six needed off four balls in a group match, he saw Sophie Eccelstone hit a six and seal the win. Yadav says, “Kaunsa kamzor hai woh? Kaunsa kam? (How is she any weaker? Or any less?)” We’re not arguing.
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