MUMBAI: The Indian women's cricket team let nerves get the better of them in a tense summit clash against England, leaving Mithali Raj's giant-slaying side to live with the runners-up tag for a second time in the ICC World Cup at Lord's in London on Sunday.
India lost their last seven wickets for 28 runs and surrendered the Women's World Cup to hosts England. Chasing 229, India were cruising at 191/3 in the 42nd over before Anya Shrubsole tore India's batting card to shreds with a six-wicket haul.
And while Team India ponder on what might have been, one truth has been established, the Indian public were heavily invested in their exploits through the tournament, a fallout of which is that the team's trajectory can only go up after this, both on the profile side as well as on the brand proposition side.
Shanta Rangaswamy, who was the first captain of India women’s team and also the first to lead them to a Test series victory, put it well when speaking to Hindustan Times ahead of the final: "A win for India will revolutionise the game but a loss won’t undermine their achievement which has been great. However, a lot more needs to be done. BCCI must promote inter-university games among women cricketers as most of the talent comes from there. They will have to change their vision to increase women’s representation. They have to sustain this success and ensure it is does not become a one-off instance."
Speaking after the heart-wrenching loss, skipper Mithali, while admitting that nerves and lack of big game experience did her young side in at the final hurdle, was quick to stress on the need to further strengthen women's cricket in India by "creating the base" for a female equivalent of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The 36-year-old also explained what a big part Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) played in Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur's performance in the World Cup, and how it helped the two immensely talented players perform with distinction on the big stage.
"The WBBL has given exposure to the two girls who have played (Mandhana and Kaur). If more girls participate in such leagues, it will give them experience and help them to improve their own game," she said.
"If you ask me they should have IPL because now is the right time to create that base. Women's cricket is everywhere and they have put up a much better standard than the last World Cup," she added.
Brand interest set to soar
Meanwhile, The Hindu reports many brands are lining up to sign deals with the Indian captain, thanks to her popularity touching new highs.
Mithali, who had four followers on her Twitter handle in July 2016, now has 130,000, with 110,000 joining after the World Cup started.
Vivek Ramnarayan of Medallin Sports, which handles Mithali’s Twitter and Facebook account (which has about 700,000 followers), revealed his team had not done anything really special to facilitate such an upsurge. “We all know how great a cricketer she is and has a huge fan following. But, thanks to these social networking sites, she has a direct connect with them,” he told The Hindu.
“The decisive moment was when we cashed in on her now famous retort when asked who her favourite male cricketer was, during a press conference at the World Cup.”
To rewind to the much referenced press conference, Mithali had this to say to a casually sexist journalist's inane question: “Do you ask that same question to a male cricketer?
“Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is?”
Referring to Mithali’s Twitter activity, Ramnarayan noted, “She is brilliant, articulate, knows what she is speaking and has a lot of clarity on many subjects.”
Medallin, which also handles her branding, is delighted that the response has been growing in terms of considering Mithali as a brand proposition. “It is not that she did not have any sponsors. The number will be much bigger and we will soon come out with full details,” said Ramnarayan. “We are happy at the way things are moving for her.”
Railways promises promotions, cash awards
Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu has announced out-of-turn promotions for the Team India cricketers who are employed with the Railways.
Out of a 15-member squad, 10 are from Railways in the Indian team, including captain Mithali and vice-captain Harmanpreet. Besides out-of-turn promotions, there will be cash awards for the girls also, Prabhu stated.
"Hon'ble Minister for Railways, Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu has conveyed his best wishes to the Indian team. He has announced out-of-turn promotions to women cricketers of Railways currently in the Indian World Cup squad in England," Rekha Yadav, ED/Sports & Secretary of the Railway Sports Promotion Board (RSPB), said.
"There will be cash award too as per our extant policy," she added. Apart from Mithali and Harmanpreet, others girls employed by the Railways are Ekta Bisht, Punam Raut, Veda Krishnamurthy, Poonam Yadav, Sushma Verma, Mona Mesharm, Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Nuzhat Parween.