A timely ad­di­tion to cricket lit­er­a­ture


Suprita Das, in her book of­fers an anec­do­tal his­tory of the strug­gles faced by the pi­o­neers who helped es­pouse a sense of pur­pose in the for­ma­tive years of women’s cricket.

Free Hit

Suprita Das Harper Sport In­dia Price: ₹499

The nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion of women’s cricket has fi­nally started to en­com­pass In­dia, with the team prov­ing its worth, first at the 50­over World Cup in Eng­land last year where it reached the fi­nal, and then at the World Twenty20 in the West In­dies when it sealed a semi­fi­nals berth at a can­ter.

These feats have en­sured that women crick­eters and their achieve­ments don’t get ig­nored any more, and are in­stead talked about by fans and crit­ics alike. Think about Har­man­preet Kaur and her land­mark 171 against the mighty Aussies in the 2017 World Cup semi­fi­nals comes to mind. Ut­ter the name Sm­riti Mand­hana and you are re­minded of her el­e­gant cover drives.

Now, any tall build­ing ought to be built on a firm foun­da­tion, and the ground­work for this ed­i­fice was laid by the likes of Shan­tha Ran­gaswamy and Diana Edulji in the early 1970s. Mov­ing away from so­ci­etal stereo­types, and buoyed by an ir­re­press­ible pas­sion for the game, the duo went about sow­ing the seeds for women’s cricket in In­dia to flour­ish.

This rather un­charted ter­ri­tory has been de­tailed in the book Free Hit by Suprita Das, who of­fers an anec­do­tal his­tory of the strug­gles faced by the pi­o­neers who helped es­pouse a sense of pur­pose in the for­ma­tive years of women’s cricket.

Thanks in part to Das’ sto­ry­telling, the open­ing chap­ters set the tone for an in­sight­ful look back at the ca­reers of Ran­gaswamy, Edulji, Mithali Raj, An­jum Cho­pra and Jhu­lan Goswami, whose trysts with the sport, at dif­fer­ent stages, make for a rivet­ing read. Like the time “Edulji stood on the pitch sans her front teeth, four of them, and the up­per half of her gums” hav­ ing copped a hit to the face af­ter play­ing a “full for­ward shot” to a tall seamer on a mat­ting wicket, or when Jhu­lan Goswami, two years into in­ter­na­tional cricket, re­ceived a prank call from Raj, who was then cap­tain, send­ing the seamer “into the mood she was mostly found in be­fore bowl­ing her spells — fiery.” Be­sides be­ing a take on in­di­vid­ual crick­eters, the book also can­vasses the early in­dif­fer­ence of the Board of Con­trol for Cricket in In­dia to­wards the women’s game, which owes its ex­is­tence to the Women’s Cricket As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia, founded in 1973. The WCAI com­prised samar­i­tans and of­fi­cials who spurred the game among the fe­male pop­u­la­tion, of­ten burn­ing holes in their own pock­ets. But crip­pled by a lack of fi­nances, and forced to toe the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil’s line, the or­gan­i­sa­tion came un­der the BCCI in 2006. But in­stead of bring­ing ben­e­fit to women’s cricket, the board’s prom­ises were re­signed to just lip ser­vice, writes Das.

Sam­ple this: In 2011, at a func­tion at the Wankhede Sta­dium, Edulji met then BCCI pres­i­dent N. Srini­vasan and ex­pressed her op­ti­mism about the growth of women’s cricket un­der his lead­er­ship. “If I had my way, I wouldn’t let women's cricket hap­pen. Women have no busi­ness play­ing cricket. We’re only do­ing this be­cause it’s an ICC rule,” was Srini­vasan's curt re­sponse, sum­ming up the board’s ini­tial ap­a­thy.

The book high­lights the dif­fer­ent phases of play, from cru­cial en­coun­ters over the years, which tend to get mun­dane in parts, but at a time when women’s cricket in In­dia is tak­ing strides in the right di­rec­tion, this book is a timely ad­di­tion to the plethora of cricket lit­er­a­ture.

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