Heads of government and sports teams have the luxury of a ‘honeymoon period’ when there is greater tolerance of failure, and the media (and public) are not as harsh on them as they might otherwise be. The Indian women’s cricket team – a wonderfully talented bunch – has had an extended honeymoon period, their individual and collective achievements highlighted and their obvious drawbacks glossed over.
In the latter category are fitness issues and their impact on the field of play. India’s running between wickets in the recent World T20 was abysmal as was their catching. India made too many fundamental errors like not running the first run fast and not grounding the bat and sliding it into the crease. When skipper Harmanpreet Kaur was run out after a brilliant innings that looked like taking India home, she put it down to bad luck as her bat got stuck on the turf.
Not bad luck
It was not bad luck. It was poor training, poor fitness, poor match awareness. Her opponent Alyssa Healy said she “cruised back (for the second run) and probably could have gone past the crease an extra two metres if she put in the effort.”
That Harmanpreet virtually walked from hospital to play the match is commendable, but fitness for the team as a whole was a problem throughout the tournament.
When Ellyse Perry dived near the boundary line, and in one action both prevented the ball from going over and flicked it towards a colleague, she showed up India’s fielding. India dropped three catches — perhaps playing the fitter, more focused Australian women shone a sharper light on the weaknesses in India’s game.
Indian women’s cricket has reached a stage where “Tough luck, ladies,” no longer cuts it. “Why did this happen? Where were the coaches? Why weren’t the obvious problems noticed earlier and corrected?” are the more useful responses. There has to be accountability. It is no longer politically incorrect to criticise the Indian women’s cricket team!
Cracking the whip
There are important lessons for India from this defeat. Former player Diana Edulji has spoken of cracking the whip (she put it more colourfully, saying, “they need absolute danda”). She has pointed out that it is time for a fully professional support team, and not necessarily one borrowed from the National Cricket Academy. The Board of Control for Cricket in India is pumping money into women’s cricket, and fans deserve professionalism on and off the field.
There was a point when Harmanpreet and Jemimah were batting together against Australia when the run rate was 9.3, a whole run ahead of the required rate. To chase 172 with such confidence and flair speaks of a world class team, but not necessarily a champion team. Champion teams don’t think that luck plays such an important role. Champion teams counter unluck with professionalism and greater focus on winning. Like Australia did.
There is too a superficially attractive theory in T20 cricket that reducing the number of dot-balls is somehow crucial. We shouldn’t have so many dot-balls when batting, said the skipper after losing to England where the Indian batters had 51 of them. But this is a false connection. Australia had 49 dot-balls in the final where they beat South Africa. When you lose a match by five runs as India did in the semifinal against Australia, the might-have-beens are incalculable.
It is not the number of dot-balls that matter, but how many you score of the non-dot ones (you could finish with a total of 120, for example, without a single dot ball).
Iron out the snags
With the arrival of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) this week, India’s players get a chance to iron out some of their snags while playing alongside the best players from around the world. This, even if the men haven’t won a World T20 after the IPL began 14 years ago.
A quick calculation shows that the eleven women who played the World T20 semifinal attracted ₹18.65 crore at the WPL auction; add Pooja Vastrakar to that list and the earnings top ₹20 crore. That can work both ways. Either it can tighten the women’s individual games, making each player conscious of her responsibility towards fitness and teamwork, or it can lead to a situation where the top players are easily satisfied and forget that what you earn is directly related to how you perform.
At any rate, there are interesting days ahead. The honeymoon period is definitely over.