Women's World Cup 2017

Lights, camera, attention: How the Women’s World Cup has kick-started a perception change

The media and fans frenzied reactions to Mithali Raj and Co after their arrival shows how things have changed.

India are playing a Test match after three months, the first series after Ravi Shastri’s eventful appointment as coach. Shikhar Dhawan scored a century, blasting 190 off only 168 balls. Cheteshwar Pujara made yet another Test ton.

But for a large chunk of sport journalists in Mumbai, the cameras and microphones were trained on the Indian women’s cricket team, returning from their impressive campaign at the World Cup. Who would have thought, right?

It started even earlier. Roughly around 0330 hours on Wednesday morning, the team walked out to a rapturous response at the Mumbai airport – garlands, applause, banners, people shouting their name. The crowds jostled each other to see them, the television cameras shoving for space. Hard to imagine, right?

When captain Mithali Raj and coach Tushar Arothe arrived for press conference before leaving for England for the World Cup on June 10 at the Sharad Pawar Indoor Cricket Academy in Bandra, there were only a handful of reporters in the room. When the team came back around 45 days later, they were in a five-star hotel ballroom full of journalists in front of a large backdrop that read “We are Proud of You #WomeninBlue.” Quite the difference, right?

The team entered into the melee-like situation to flashing camera lights and frenetic clicking sounds as scores of cameras were thrust onto their path. They posed and smiled in front of the banner. There were three different press interactions – Raj and Arothe first, followed by Jhulan Goswami and Harmanpreet Kaur and then finally, Deepti Shama, Smriti Mandhana and Punam Raut. A sea change from the barely 15-minute pre-departure conference.

Even Raj, who previously led the team to its first World Cup final in 2005, admitted the reaction was unanticipated. “It’s overwhelming to see such kind of reception, it’s first of a kind for all of us… Today I can actually feel it is such a huge thing back home. I am sure the girls would have enjoyed being received like that. This is just the beginning of good times for Indian women’s cricket,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

You could make out that both the public reception and media response made a difference to some of the players in the team. There were huge grins, some guffaws at particularly odd questions (more on that later) but the overwhelmingly positive reception was, although perhaps unexpected for them, well deserved. The team may have finished as runners-up by nine runs, but the vast coverage and live telecast of the matches at prime time, have opened a window for the growth of women’s cricket in India.

Raut, who top-scored with 86 in the final, actually thanked the people for it. “Really liked it though we didn’t expect, deserve kari hain humari ladkiyan [the girls deserve it] so thank you so much,” she said.

Talking to The Field, Smriti Mandhana said the team wasn’t even aware of how their performances were being received back home in the last month. “It was insane, I was almost pushed and I thought I will get one more knee injury,” she said describing the scene at the airport in the early hours of the morning.

“We saw such a reception for the first time as a woman cricketer and I hope we continue the same performance and we get the same reception always,” Madhana told The Field.

But despite the largely positive response, the press conference wasn’t without its share of gaffes from the media. The players took it sportingly, but it was evident that was a side effect of not having enough exposure to women’s cricket.

Sample these:

Question: “Are you happy with the 50 lakh prize money from BCCI? If not, what would you want from the BCCI?”

Raj: (Laughs) Ask them [the younger girls] the question, I have been playing from 1999 when there were no monetary benefits.

Question: How was the experience playing at Lord’s?

Goswami: It’s every cricketer’s dream to play a final at Lord’s... I have been there as a visitor and player before... India have always enjoyed a good run at Lord’s.

Note: Before the final at Lord’s, she has played two other ODIs there against England, even though they weren’t very successful outings.

Do you always bat like that [referring to Harmanpreet’s unbeaten 171] ?

Harmanpreet: I like batting like that, I have been playing like that since I was a child...

Note: She scored a penultimate ball six in the World Cup Qualifiers final to win it by one wicket, just a glimpse of her overall attacking game.

While none of these questions were as bad as the now-infamous “who is your favourite male player?”, it clearly showed that there is a lot more to learn and assimilate when it comes to women’s cricket, even by the media. And India’s remarkable performance in the World Cup should spur improved media coverage as well, both broadcast and reporting.

It wasn’t immediate though. India’s unexpected win against eventual champions England in the very first match did get people talking, especially about Mandhana’s match-winning 90. But the buzz was still measured.

But all of this changed when India notched a convincing win in the do-or-die against New Zealand. This must-win clash wasn’t going to be telecast at first, but the decision was reversed at the last minute. This gripped the nation’s imagination.

Then came Harmanpreet’s blistering 171 not out, which powered India to a win against World No 1 Australia in the semifinal – shown on prime time television across the country. It convinced whoever needed convincing, that women’s cricket was not only immensely watchable, but also had an audience. In other words, women’s cricket is, for now, is marketable.

Live coverage and fan following is the start, endorsements and sponsorship will be next step and soon we could see these players in advertisements. That’s the potential impact of their performance.

As Raj said, this is probably one of those rare times when a team sport has garnered so much attention, other than men’s cricket. “I am happy that we have defined a woman’s sport in India, especially a team sport. I would love to see many more women’s sport, team sport coming into limelight. This is probably the beginning.”

This beginning is evident from the produced package during the final, the front page headlines and even the reception at the airport. Even if they fell nine runs short of the trophy, the women’s team won a lot – a bigger audience in the cricket-crazy India.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The perpetual millennial quest for self-expression just got another boost

Making adulting in the new millennium easier, one step at a time.

Having come of age in the Age of the Internet, millennials had a rocky start to self-expression. Indeed, the internet allowed us to personalise things in unprecedented fashion and we really rose to the occasion. The learning curve to a straightforward firstname.surname@___mail.com email address was a long one, routed through cringeworthy e-mail ids like coolgal1234@hotmail.com. You know you had one - making a personalised e-mail id was a rite of passage for millennials after all.

Declaring yourself to be cool, a star, a princess or a hunk boy was a given (for how else would the world know?!). Those with eclectic tastes (read: juvenile groupies) would flaunt their artistic preferences with an elitist flair. You could take for granted that bitbybeatlemania@hotmail.com and hpfan@yahoo.com would listen to Bollywood music or read Archie comics only in private. The emo kids, meanwhile, had to learn the hard way that employers probably don’t trust candidates with e-mail ids such as depressingdystopian@gmail.com.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

And with chat rooms, early millennials had found a way to communicate, with...interesting results. The oldest crop of millennials (30+ year olds) learnt to deal with the realities of adolescent life hunched behind anonymous accounts, spewing their teenage hormone-laden angst, passion and idealism to other anonymous accounts. Skater_chick could hide her ineptitude for skating behind a convincing username and a skateboard-peddling red-haired avatar, and you could declare your fantasies of world domination, armed with the assurance that no one would take you seriously.

With the rise of blogging, millennial individualism found a way to express itself to millions of people across the world. The verbosity of ‘intellectual’ millennials even shone through in their blog URLs and names. GirlWhoTravels could now opine on her adventures on the road to those who actually cared about such things. The blogger behind scentofpetunia.blogspot.com could choose to totally ignore petunias and no one would question why. It’s a tradition still being staunchly upheld on Tumblr. You’re not really a Tumblr(er?) if you haven’t been inspired to test your creative limits while crafting your blog URL. Fantasy literature and anime fandoms to pop-culture fanatics and pizza lovers- it’s where people of all leanings go to let their alter ego thrive.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Then of course social media became the new front of self-expression on the Internet. Back when social media was too much of a millennial thing for anyone to meddle with, avatars and usernames were a window into your personality and fantasies. Suddenly, it was cool to post emo quotes of Meredith Grey on Facebook and update the world on the picturesque breakfast you had (or not). Twitter upped the pressure by limiting expression to 140 characters (now 280-have you heard?) and the brevity translated to the Twitter handles as well. The trend of sarcasm-and-wit-laden handles is still alive well and has only gotten more sophisticated with time. The blogging platform Medium makes the best of Twitter intellect in longform. It’s here that even businesses have cool account names!

Self-expression on the Internet and the millennials’ love for the personalised and customised has indeed seen an interesting trajectory. Most millennial adolescents of yore though are now grownups, navigating an adulting crisis of mammoth proportions. How to wake up in time for classes, how to keep the boss happy, how to keep from going broke every month, how to deal with the new F-word – Finances! Don’t judge, finances can be stressful at the beginning of a career. Forget investments, loans and debts, even matters of simple money transactions are riddled with scary terms like beneficiaries, NEFT, IMPS, RTGS and more. Then there’s the quadruple checking to make sure you input the correct card, IFSC or account number. If this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s the long wait while the cheque is cleared or the fund transfer is credited. Doesn’t it make you wish there was a simpler way to deal with it all? If life could just be like…

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Lo and behold, millennial prayers have been heard! Airtel Payments Bank, India’s first, has now integrated UPI on its digital platform, making banking over the phone easier than ever. Airtel Payments Bank UPI, or Unified Payment Interface, allows you to transfer funds and shop and pay bills instantly to anyone any time without the hassles of inputting any bank details – all through a unique Virtual Payment Address. In true millennial fashion, you can even create your own personalised UPI ID or Virtual Payment Address (VPA) with your name or number- like rhea@airtel or 9990011122@airtel. It’s the smartest, easiest and coolest way to pay, frankly, because you’re going to be the first person to actually make instant, costless payments, rather than claiming to do that and making people wait for hours.

To make life even simpler, with the My Airtel app, you can make digital payments both online and offline (using the Scan and Pay feature that uses a UPI QR code). Imagine, no more running to the ATM at the last minute when you accidentally opt for COD or don’t have exact change to pay for a cab or coffee! Opening an account takes less than three minutes and remembering your VPA requires you to literally remember your own name. Get started with a more customised banking experience here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel Payments Bank and not by the Scroll editorial team.