The women's T20 Cricket World Cup opened with a huge upset for India against defending champions Australia. But the excitement usually generated by the men's game in India was conspicuously absent.
The Indian cricket team completed a major upset on Friday when they beat favorites and hosts Australia in the first match of the ICC Women's T20 World Cup. India beat Australia by 17 runs, aided by a stellar performance from bowler Poonam Yadav, who took 4 wickets. India batted first, posting a score of 132 runs.
But despite the surprise victory, the excitement usually reserved for the men’s cricket team in India was absent for the women. Major media outlets in India barely mentioned the team's opening-day win against Australia, choosing to focus instead on an ongoing men's cricket match between India and New Zealand which could still be several days from completion.
Leading English-language paper The Times of India offered two separate links to this men's match on its front page early Friday, with the women's triumph buried in its specialist cricket section only. In a country where cricket is more a religion than a sport, even the biggest events in the women's game struggle to get a look-in.
Discrepancies in pay, equipment, exposure, sponsorship, and training
Women's cricket has long been a neglected sport in the South Asian subcontinent. In 2018, glaring differences between the pay scale of the women's cricket team and their male counterparts were revealed on social media after the Bangladesh women's team won the Asia Cup tournament.
In January, Indian cricketer Smriti Mandhana created a stir when she said that it was unfair for the Indian women's team to ask for equal pay compared to their male counterparts, as most of the revenue was garnered from men’s cricket.
Equal pay for female athletes has become a global concern in recent years. There is a similar dispute in women's soccer, which came into focus at last year's World Cup. In the US, the women's soccer team filed a lawsuit against the US soccer federation over gender discrimination in pay.
The difference in pay in cricket is stark. A top female cricketer in India typically earns around 5 million Indian rupees ($69,553) per year, while a top male cricketer could earn 70 million Indian rupees ($973,743).
The disparity doesn't end with pay. Earlier this month, the president of the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB), Nazmul Hasan, revealed that the BCB was unable to provide the same facilities for the women's cricket team as for its men. Despite such challenges, the Bangladeshi team clinched the Women's T20 quadrangular series and the Asia Cup.
Women's cricket also faces difficulty in getting sponsorship and is also advertised less, both by cricket councils and television channels.
Female cricketers even struggle to get into cricket academies, which are heavily geared to only train men. Shafali Verma, a 16-year old member of the Indian women's cricket team, famously cut her hair short to trick her local cricket academy to admit her, thinking she was a boy.
The difference between men and women’s cricket is made clear on the International Cricket Council (ICC) website, which only refers to male teams simply with a country name, always adding the qualifier "women" for other competitions.
Fans also tend to dismiss the women's game. If you ask the online question-and-answer forum Quora (Why is women's cricket not more popular?), responses include – "It is unequivocal that the average human male surpasses the average female in upper body strength as well as lower body strength which consequentially accounts for lower bat speeds and lower ball speeds in women's cricket."
This year's T20 World Cup in Australia has marked a shift, however. The women's game in Australia has seen significant growth in the past few years. In October last year, it was announced that the prize money at the T20 World Cup for the Australian women's cricket team would be on par with the men's team.
The Women's T20 World Cup will be played over a span of two weeks, culminating in the final in Melbourne on March 8. The T20 format is relatively new to cricket, focusing on faster games, higher-scoring rates and more action — alterations designed to drum up more TV interest.