Women on top:
Cricket is often referred to as the gentleman's game and throughout India's illustrious sporting history the game has often been synonymous with the men's cricket team. But not anymore. If you haven't been living under a rock for the past few months, you will know all about the giant strides that the Indian women's cricket team has taken after each match they played. The ladies have stepped on the plate and how. The Mithali Raj outfit has taken all on comers and except for a few hiccups along the way, have demolished all of the opposition. The revolution has become so strong that it sometimes has stolen the thunder away from their male counterparts.
Yes, the women's matches may not be as popular as the men's but nobody can deny the ladies their share of the spotlight at this moment. In a country like India where women are almost always stereotyped or are confined to some specific jobs, carefully etched by society's patriarchal attitude, these women have taken their limited opportunities by the scruff of the neck and turned themselves into bonafide superstars.
In the centre of the success is skipper Mithali Raj who is leading by example. She became the first woman to cross the 6000 run barrier in the history of women's ODI. She wiped England's Charlotte Edwards aggregate of 5,992 in 16 less innings, and in the process also brought up her 49th ODI fifty, a record Raj already owns. It is a phenomenal feat and she deserves each and every accolade she is receiving. Before the commencement of the Women's World Cup, the tournament where she broke the record, few would have known how close she was in breaking the record but after that fateful match against Australia, she made sure that everyone remembered the name of Mithali Raj.
From current cricketers like Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane to world record holder himself, Tendulkar took to social media to congratulate Raj on her stunning record. In a country obsessed with men's cricket, she has shown the way to become a superstar.
But the road to success didn't come easy. It is a testament to someone who gave up on her passion of Bharatnatyam at the age of 10 and realised her priority had to be cricket. It was a difficult decision to make nearly two decades ago considering women's cricket was just an amateur sport. She made her debut for India at the age of 16 and from that moment on she seemed destined to greatness. She created a world record in her debut innings itself, an achievement that continually goes under the radar. While everyone seems to know that Shahid Afridi was the youngest centurion in ODI cricket, the fact that Raj scored her maiden ton at a younger age than the 'Boom Boom' man from Pakistan, showed her immense talent. It's hard to believe but Raj was only 16 years and 205 days old when she stroked a masterful ton in England. From that point on, Raj has been the golden girl of Indian cricket or known as the 'Sachin Tendulkar of women's cricket.'
Another woman who is shining brightly in the tournament is Smriti Mandhana. She opened her account with a fiery 90 against England and an unbeaten 106 against the West Indies but has slowed down since. At the ripe young age she already has established herself as one of the finest cricketers of this generation and if everything goes as plan, we may be looking at India's next captain. She is just 21 after all and has broken a barrage of records. At the age of nine, she was picked in Maharashtra's Under-15 squad and by the time she was 11, she made it to the under-19 squad.
She made her ODI debut at the age of 16, back in April 2013 against Bangladesh in Ahmedabad. Almost after a year later, she played her first Test match for the national team against England. In 2016, the young southpaw had signed a year-long contract with the Women's Big Bash League team, Brisbane Heat. She became only the second Indian cricketer after Harmanpreet Kaur to sign such a deal. She was also the only Indian to be named in the ICC Women's Team of the year that was announced by ICC, last year.
This Indian team is full of winners and few encapsulate that feeling than the veteran pacer from Bengal, Jhulan Goswami. Before the 2017 World Cup, Mithali Raj and Goswami were the only two recognisable names in the squad, the two cornerstones that stand as imposing figures in the top echelons of world cricket, and also the two 34-year-olds playing their last World Cup. She grabbed the spotlight earlier this year when she became the highest wicket taker in the history of women's ODI cricket but that is not her only recognisable feat. The majority of us are aware of Virat Kohli's two biggest national feats. The India captain received the Arjuna award in 2013, and most recently, the Padma Shri award in 2017. However, not many cricket fans would be aware that Goswami too has both of these coveted awards in her bag. In 2006-07, she became the fastest bowler in the world with a speed of 120 km/hr.
She was all of 19 when she played her first ODI game for India, against England in Chennai. In the seven overs that she bowled, she conceded 15 runs and scalped two wickets, cementing her place in the squad and eventually in Indian cricketing lore.
During her 15 years in international cricket, she has played 150 one-dayers in which she has picked up 189 wickets. Goswami took the wicket of South Africa's Raisibe Ntozakhe in an ODI in May this year to claim her 181st victim, breaking Australia's Cathryn Fitzpatrick's record of 180 wickets from 109 matches. Goswami, who played the 2005 World Cup in which India lost in the finals, the 2009 World Cup in which India lost the semi-finals, and 2013 when India finished 7th, would be eager to sign off her career with the elusive victory at this year's competition.
On Thursday the Indian team saw the rise of another superstar who goes by the name of Harmanpreet Kaur. By sheer power of will, she fought through the pain and scored 171 against Australia in the semi-finals of the World Cup taking India to a massive 281 which proved to be the match winner.
Indian women's cricket still has a long way to go and the work of making it a serious alternative career choice for women is still in progress but if the feats of these aforementioned women are anything to go by the sport is heading towards the right direction. Young girls now have role models to look up to in the women's playing field and may be in the upcoming days, we'll see a slew of young talents making their way into Indian cricket culture. Then probably, the Indian male cricketers will be asked who their favourite women cricketer is and you can bet that more than half of this country will know their name. The revolution might be just in its infancy but it has started.