Mahendra Kumar Sharma, Founding Secretary of WCAI passed away at 75

The man behind establishing and encouraging women’s cricket in India, Mr. Mahendra Kumar Sharma has passed away aged 75 years following a prolonged illness and leaves behind his wife, Vijaya, and daughters, Jyotsna and Taruna.

Mahendra Sharma with what is possibly the World Cup trophy from 1978, surrounded by some of the players. Courtesy Rajeshwari Dholakia Antani
Mahendra Sharma with what is possibly the World Cup trophy from 1978, surrounded by some of the players. Picture Courtesy Rajeshwari Dholakia Antani

 

It was 1971 when Mahendra Kumar Sharma organized softball and handball games for school and college girls in Lucknow. A couple of years later in 1973, during a national tournament in Hyderabad when some girls showed interest in playing cricket and on feeling the interest, he was keen on creating a cricket association for Indian women.

In the same year, 1973, for girls to play cricket, it was a fight with a mindset above all as people then considered the game for girls as a western mindset. The lone keen man, Mahendra Kumar Sharma got on a rickshaw and on the microphone announced, “Kanyaon ki cricket hogi, zaroor aaiye” (There will be women’s cricket, do come).

He organised a trail game and soon established the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) in the same year and registered the board under the Societies Act in Lucknow. The first-ever conducted Senior National Women’s Championship in Pune and there only were three teams contesting in the tournament, namely; Bombay, Maharashtra and Pune.

The WCAI hosted two Women’s World Cups, including a successful one in 1997 which saw England play Australia in the Final in front of nearly 80,000 fans at Eden Gardens, India. The money in the system and lack of players were always smaller problems as there constantly were bigger problems to hunt down in earning the board and players recognition which was very against India’s mindset back then.

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Test match cricket, the pinnacle of the game too saw the Indian Women’s team debut under his reign in 1976 in Bangalore. Former Indian cricketer and captain of the team Shubhangi Kulkarni, in conversation with Shashank Kishore for ESPN Cricinfo, said, “Mr Sharma set the foundation stone for women’s cricket in the country.

“His efforts in setting up the WCAI and getting recognition from the world body – International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) – as well as the Indian government was huge at the time. He ensured players got the publicity they needed at the time. His passion and vision for women’s cricket at a time when there was no money was unmatched. It started with him organising the first-ever women’s nationals in India in 1973 as a three-team event. Then it grew to six, eight and 14 teams. To start from there and then play a key role in bringing the World Cup was quite an achievement.”

Shubhangi Kulkarni, who’s now a part of the Apex Council in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as representative of the Indian Cricketers’ Association (ICA) and when, back in the day, post-retirement took up administration, served as the secretary of WCAI and it was under her reign the highly awaited merge of the WCAI into BCCI took place that’s slowly but finally has started to see women cricketers earn equal rewards as their male counterparts.

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