The India women’s cricket team saw huge support in Surat crowd last evening as Surat saw its first international cricket match. Shimmering under the rose glow of the setting sun, Surat’s Lalabhai Contractor stadium saw people filling the stands in huge numbers, waiting to watch the first-ever international match of the sport to be held in the soil of the city. People were lining up, much before the play had actually started, grabbing the best seats and waiting to see their favorite players play in front of them.
The play started. The enthusiasm of thousands of supporters made the atmosphere electric. Cheers were being shouted, flags were being waved. One glance over the stands jam-packed with people was enough to foresee the amount of support that Team India was about to get that evening.
As the match started you could almost figure out the magnitude of the crowd. Not a moment seemed to pass in silence. They were cheering for every run; every time a batter moved her bat to hit the ball, there were shouts of encouragement. The people were cheering for India. They were cheering for cricket.
The first innings witnessed not as a brilliant performance from the Indian batters as one would have expected. The South Africa bowlers did a good job of taking frequent wickets and restricting India to 130. As Harmanpreet Kaur, the captain walked out after a well made 43, the crowd gave her a standing ovation, the stadium full of applause.
The second innings would mark the composure of our bowlers. It was a test of their ability to defend this below-par total before an expectant crowd. South Africa smashed 18 runs in the first over itself, and for a moment it seemed that they would cruise to victory. But then it was Shikha Pandey and Deepti Sharma who took over the reigns.
Poonam helped India change the course of the game by taking 2 wickets in 2 balls. The next ball was awaited. It seemed the whole stadium was on its feet for the hat-trick ball. Poonam takes her run-up. The crowd is roaring. The hat trick doesn’t happen and the ‘Ooohhs’ follow.
Shikha got some problems with her calf. The next ball on her run-up, you could hear people cheering for her as if encouraging her to bowl a ripper delivery. Next ball, Shikha bowls, to the wickets this time, and the ball goes straight to the stumps. The crowd is ecstatic. 26 runs required from 12 balls.
The situation seems tense. You can hear the fans roaring, shouting and adding to the commotion which made the Lalabhai Contractor crowd.
The next over was Deepti’s. This wonderful spinner had already 3 over maidens plus 3 crucial wickets. She bowls and the ball soars towards the boundary. Smriti is stationed there and dedicates herself in stopping the ball from reaching the ropes. 2 runs given. Du Preez completes her 50.
21 of 8 required now.
The situation is indeed tensed. A couple of good shots and the game can go in any direction now. What a spectacle in Surat here. The crowd wanted a good contest and sure they are having it.
South Africa needs boundaries now. India can be satisfied with singles.
Wide. Deepti bowls one.
Last over. 18 runs needed. The crowd echoes. Surely the people assembled here don’t what to go home disappointed.
Harman hands the ball to the trusted Radha Yadav. Now it’s the 7th ranked T20I bowler vs the experienced legend Mignon du Preez.
12 from 5.
A stumping chance. Mignon puts her bat just in time to save herself and the team.
12 of 4.
Stumped. Finally. And the crowd erupts again. They absolutely cannot wait to see India winning this game.
Radha on her run-up. A mixed expression of sincerity and confidence rising on her face.
And yes, Mlaba is just short and Taniya makes no mistake behind the stumps. South Africa have been bowled out. India has won the game by 11 runs.
Flags hoisted. Slogans up. Whistles in the air. It was well par 10 o’clock yet the stadium remained unmoved.
While more than 20,000 people witnessed history being made in the Lalabhai Contractor Stadium, another 350K plus audience was watching the game on Hotstar. Many more were watching the game live on television.
The camera spans to one of the stands and you can see a father lifting his little daughter up, her cheeks painted in the colors of orange and green. Fists rising in the air, smiles on every face. It was indeed a wonderful spectacle.
The first international cricket match to be held in Surat was a women’s game. People had come in huge numbers to watch India play. The belief that women’s cricket in India will have stadiums attain houseful capacity was held on to. The hope that we will back our girls as much as we back our boys hasn’t faltered. Somewhere in a little girl’s heart, the hope that one day she can be a successful cricketer and represent her country has sprouted. And this is why I think the first T20 international between India Women and South Africa Women was a success in Surat. Maybe this is why these girls in blue had once dreamt to play the sport. To play for the country in front of a cheering crowd. Yes, gender-neutral cricket has finally arrived in India.