In a country where cricket is a religion and cricketers are Gods, ever wondered, about the Goddesses, who also play the sport. In this article, we will take you down the memory lane and unravel the humble beginnings of Indian women’s cricket.
Cricket is a game that is played widely across the country and there is no doubt that though the sport is mainly played by men, over the years, the women have pulled up their socks and made the nation proud with their stellar performances.
So, how did all start for the women?
It all began in the early 1970s when a few enthusiastic women took up cricket. Though the sport was not officially organized then, an enterprising gentleman by the name of Mr. Mahendra Kumar Sharma, the founder secretary, registered the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) under the Societies Act at Lucknow in 1973 under the Presidentship of Begum Hamida Habibullah. This came as a boon to the many budding women cricketers. That very year the WCAI received the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) membership as well.
Between 1970 and 1973, there was a lot of cricketing activity as the women players were busy nine out of 12 months a year playing the game. In April 1973, the first Women’s inter-state Nationals was held in Pune with three teams participating, namely, Bombay, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh. Towards the end of that year, the second edition was held in Varanasi, and this time the number of teams increased from three to eight.
After the second National at Varanasi, the executive committee was reorganized and Mrs. Chandra Tripathi and Mrs. Pramilabai Chavan took over as chairperson and president respectively. These two ladies, along with the founder secretary Mr. MK Sharma, played a major role in the initial development of women’s cricket. By the time the third championship was held in Calcutta, the number of teams had risen to 14. Thereafter all states took part. Later, Railways and Air India employed women cricketers and they took part as separate teams.
Soon other tournaments were also introduced. The inter-zonal limited-overs tournament by the name of Rani Jhansi Trophy was held at Kanpur in 1974. The inter-university tournament was also held at Rajkot the same year. The sub-junior (U-15) and junior (U-19) tournaments were also conducted. The winners of each zone played the Indira Priyadarshini Trophy and the winners of the Nationals played against the Rest of India team for the Rau’s Cup.
After a successful stint of five years at the domestic level, the first-ever bilateral women’s cricket series was played in India in 1975 when the Australia U-25 team toured India to play a three-match Test series. Pune, Delhi, and Calcutta were the three venues where the teams played. Interestingly, there were three captains for the three Tests – Ujwala Nikam, Sudha Shah, and Sreerupa Bose. After the Australia series, India played New Zealand, England, and West Indies, at home as well as away. The New Zealand, Australian, and England players played in skirts while the Indian and West Indians played in trousers.
Moving on, the senior Indian women’s team played their first-ever international match against West Indies on October 31, 1976 in Bangalore. The Test match played between the two sides ended in a draw. It was a six-match Test series, and the series ended in a draw with both the sides winning one game each. Back those days, women’s Test match was a three-day affair.
Two years later, the Women in Blue, as they are popularly called, made their ODI debut during the 1978 World Cup. A total of four teams participated in the mega event hosted by India. Australia, New Zealand, and England were the other three teams. Unfortunately, India had a disappointing outing as they lost all three matches. The team led by Diana Edulji played its first ODI against England on January 1, 1978, at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta. In the same year, the WCAI received the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) Government recognition in 1978.
After a lot of struggle and hard work, India won their first-ever ODI series in the Centenary Celebration of New Zealand Cricket in 1995 and this was a big morale booster for women’s cricket in the country. It took 17 long years for the team to make its mark in the ODI cricket.
Some players like Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Edulji, Sudha Shah, and Sandhya Agarwal made a major contribution and influenced the game. The Indian government recognized the contributions of women cricketers by awarding the prestigious Arjuna award to all four of them.
Shanta was the first Indian woman cricketer to score a century in international cricket while Sandhya Agarwal made a world record by scoring 190 runs in an innings in a Test match in England in 1986. Apart from these, Neetu David’s 8-53 against England in 1995-96 was the record bowling effort in a Test match innings. Since we are talking about the history of Indian women’s cricket, we have just highlighted the pioneers of the game here.
From not winning a single match in the 1978 World Cup to reaching the finals in 2005 and 2017, from attracting a minuscule crowd in the 1970s to garnering an audience of more than 85,000, the Indian women’s cricket has unequivocally come a long way.
I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.