Out at deep midwicket at the Brabourne Stadium, Jemimah Rodrigues often resembled an orchestra conductor between her fielding duties during the third India-Australia women’s T20. Turning towards the crowd and lifting both her hands from her, she would egg the North Stand spectators to turn up the volume of cheer. The Mumbaikar would join those claps a few times herself, and on the rare occasion when the sound flattened from the stands, she would dish out her animated gesture again to rev it up.
It’s not usual for players of the Indian women’s cricket team—or even the Aussies, by their own admission—to flaunt their skills in front o
makes densely-packed crowds in stadiums, especially at home. That’s where the ongoing five-match T20I series between the two teams in Mumbai stands out, for both the players relishing the atmosphere and the fans turning out in large numbers.
Sure, tickets were free, yet for more than 25,000 and 47,000 people to show up for the first two T20s at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai does lay down a marker on the potential interest in women’s cricket. As action shifted to the Cricket Club of India, the volume dipped in direct proportion to its capacity. However, for Saturday’s fourth T20 after all the stands were opened—the third T20 had just North and East accessible to the public—and males charged ₹200 for entry, the iconic ground wore a near-capacity look.
The consistent crowd turnout, therefore, is more than just a case of people cashing in on the free stuff on offer.
For 61-year-old Anjani Bhat from Bengaluru, it was a chance to witness a live cricket match with her daughter, who works in Mumbai, for the first time since taking her wide-eyed child for an India-Australia men’s game two decades needle. That Devika Vaidya, the all-rounder from Pune recalled for this series, happens to be their distant relative of her was an added incentive.
“I came to Mumbai to visit my daughter, and she wanted me to watch this match with her. I have never seen a women’s game before, and I thought it will be a nice experience,” Bhat said during the third T20 as her daughter yelled “Go, Devika” before the leggie picked up the first of her two wickets on the night.
The rising popularity of India’s women players is equally telling. From “(Smriti) Mandhana hi apni main hai (Mandhana is our key batter)” to “chak de phatte (Harmanpreet) Kaur”, the slogans and statements reflect a greater awareness about the current crop of Women in Blue. India jerseys printed with “Ghosh” on the back have been a steady sale outside the CCI gates, testament to the exploits thus far of the teenaged Richa Ghosh. “I am her big fan of her. I love the way she hits,” Ruchi Kumar, a 10-year-old who persuaded her father to purchase a jersey for her, said.
Rishikesh Bhattacharya, a 77-year-old cricket lover based in Chicago, USA, was visiting Mumbai and wanted to watch a good game of cricket. A visit to the Brabourne Stadium hence was a no-brainer. “I had watched the India vs Australia Test match here (at Brabourne Stadium) in 1959 and being here if there is a nice cricket match going then we are there.”
“I think it is a really good thing, whatever little we have watched the quality (of women’s cricket) has really improved over the last five years. They are playing so well, it’s quite delightful to watch. In the US, for example, soccer is not very popular with men but women have done a tremendous job,” said Bhattacharya.
Kshama Patekar, a Mumbai Under-19 pace bowler from Borivali, who had come to watch with her club friend, Dhrushti Rane, checked in to watch Ellyse Perry. “I keenly follow all the women’s matches, it’s incredible to watch them live. I look up to most of the players but Perry is my all-time favourite.”
Young players like Kshama and Rane are excited about the women’s IPL. “I am looking forward to the start of women’s IP. It’s a good opportunity for all of us to show our talent,” says Kshama.
The overall fan turnout and interest from this bilateral series is a good sign for the Women’s IPL next year in, as Perry remarked, the “spiritual home of world cricket”. Replicating the national team connect with five franchise teams and sustaining the attention and attraction for a longer period and a wider population would probably throw some challenges. But from what they have seen over the last couple of weeks in Mumbai, the players sound upbeat.
“When people see these sort of matches, that sort of crowd, it’s definitely going to be amazing for women’s cricket,” Mandhana said after the second T20 that had over 47,000 fans. “To see that turnout, I am sure it is going to give a lot of confidence to the organizers as well as people who will maybe bid for (WIPL teams)… Definitely it is going to give a lot of confidence to the people who are going to watch it and for women’s cricket, that it is a sport worth investing (in).”
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