India will begin its campaign against arch-rivals Pakistan on Sunday. The team has come agonisingly close to the title twice, finishing runners-up to Australia in 2005 and to England in 2017. A look at how India are placed going into the tournament and why the women’s game deserves more attention:
1. Counting favorites
Heading into the competition, India’s form leaves a lot to be desired. The team was almost unstoppable for two years after the 2017 World Cup, but a recent dip in form is a cause for concern. It has lost all three of its overseas bilateral series since last year. Moreover, in New Zealand, where the World Cup is being played, the team has won only 40% of its matches and India lost an ODI series last month.
Six-time champions Australia are a firm favorite, having won 31 of their 33 matches since the last World Cup, including a whitewash of New Zealand. England, the defending champions, and South Africa are also solid, with just one loss in bilateral series since last year. Hosts New Zealand look shaky based on their recent form, though their series victory against India and the home advantage could give them confidence.
India faces a stiff challenge from Australia and England in the round-robin stage.
2. Key players
While India’s batting is experience-heavy with the likes of Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana, the pace bowling attack is relatively inexperienced. Apart from Jhulan Goswami, who has played 195 matches, the rest of the quicks have played a combined 20 ODIs.
The team will then depend more on spinners, who bring enough experience to the table: Deepti Sharma has picked up the most wickets among visiting spinners in New Zealand since the last World Cup.
While the conditions in New Zealand have traditionally favored pacers slightly more than the spinners, the latter have also been among the wickets in the last few years. India will hope that its young pace attack takes advantage of the conditions.
The South African bowling attack is among the strongest. Its pace spearhead Shabnim Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka are among the top five wicket-takers since the last World Cup. The all-round attacks of Australia and England will also be under the spotlight.
3. Legends at play
This World Cup could well be the last for two of India’s most prolific players: Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, both of whom would be 42 by the next edition. Raj, the skipper, has represented India in every World Cup edition since 2000, the only player in this tournament with that feat. She also led India in both its finals. With 11 scores of above 50 including two centuries in World Cup matches, she is second only to New Zealand’s former skipper Debbie Hockley. Raj also recently became the first batter to score 7,500 runs in the format.
Goswami is also in the twilight of her career. In her 29 World Cup appearances for India since 2005, she has picked up 36 wickets, the third-highest for a bowler. She also has 245 ODI wickets to her name di lei, the highest by a far margin.
Both players will look to end their World Cup journey with a victory at last.
4. Prize inequity
Only last week, the US women’s soccer team won the right to equal pay as the country’s men’s side. Despite the women’s side being more successful at the global stage than the men’s team, they had battled for pay equity for several years. Gender pay parity in all the four Grand Slam tennis events was achieved only recently. ICC cricket events are far from that — and the upcoming World Cup is a stark reminder.
The winner will take home $ 1.32 million, a third of the amount the England men’s team received three years ago as their World Cup prize money. It falls short of even the $ 1.6 million the champion of the 2021 men’s T20 World Cup received. This is despite a doubling in prize money since the 2017 tournament. This shows that despite their exploits on the field and growing popularity, the business of cricket treats women’s teams unequally.
5. Less game time
Since 2017, the Indian women’s team has featured in 60 ODIs. Between August 2017 and March 2021, the team won seven of its eight bilateral series, including four overseas: in South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies. This period also saw milestones such as Jhulan Goswami’s 200 ODI wickets and Mithali Raj’s 7,000 ODI runs.
However, this all is alarmingly short of the 90 matches the men’s team has played in the same period, getting chances to claim records and staking claim to greater financial might. Across all top-ranked teams, women have played fewer games than men.
As the women’s game gains popularity in India, clamor for a women’s Indian Premier League has got louder. The BCCI, the richest cricket body, says it has plans for a full-fledged women’s IPL in 2023. Such domestic leagues for women and men alike are already played in England and Australia. It’s time for India to start one so that its women cricketers get their due.
Tauseef Shahidi contributed to this piece
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