2021 – Taking lessons and hope from 2020

Marching into 2021 with high hopes & sparkle. © Getty Images

Forget about the one who caused you pain
I swear I’ll love you in a different way

2020. The number, the year is different for different people. The past twelve months were filled with stories of another kind; ascendency, peak, trough and then recovery. Let’s look at the year gone by from the vision of women’s cricket, that will perhaps make us hum the DJ Snake-Lauv collaborated song.

Can women’s cricket survive on its own? Does it have the ability to be as marketable as, if not more than, men’s cricket? Can it survive without the shadow of the men’s version perennially hovering it?

These are some of the questions always asked, thought about whenever women’s cricket is in conversation. As a result, irrespective of the quality of players featuring and their achievements in the sport, there’s always a tone of the women having a point to prove every single time they step on the field. Coverage of the sport almost always has a tone of activism to it – intentionally or otherwise – when all it needs is enough light, not even spotlight.

Take for instance the Velocity-Trailblazers clash in the Women’s T20 Challenge 2020 – we’ll come to the hullabaloo in the lead-up a bit later – which saw the Mithali Raj-led Velocity crumble to 47 all out. Any competition has some games which are extremely lopsided, yet the criticism and the noise after that match was directed not just at that clash but at the women’s cricket and it’s quality. And most of the naysayers wouldn’t even have followed enough of the sport before jumping on the bandwagon.

This is not to say that whatever happens in the women’s cricket world needs to be lauded and there’s no space for critical analysis, on the lines of cheering everything an infant does; but not everything unanticipated or undesirable that happens on the field should be viewed from the prism of the sport itself. The sport is more than just a sum of its parts.

ALSO READ: Picture Perfect: My memories of Mithali

The Women’s T20 World Cup that was held in Australia earlier this year was, kind of, a culmination of all efforts and investment put into the sport in order to help it emerge out of the shadow of its richer, talked-about and loved cousin. The first standalone T20 World Cup in 2018 and the first separate Women’s Big Bash League in 2019 had met with enough success for the hosts to plan a grand tournament with a target of having over 90,000 people at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the title-clash. Moreover, the final of the Women’s World Cup in 2017 at Lord’s acted as a good precursor.

That the final number – 86,174 – became one of the numbers of the sport, leave alone 2020, validated the vision and efforts of the stakeholders, thereby giving women’s cricket a ‘new voice’ – one that the sport expected to build on in the year, which was headed towards another multi-nation event in the Women’s World Cup in 2021.

© Getty Images

A record crowd was in attendance at the MCG for the T20 World Cup 2020 final. © Getty Images

However, the coronavirus pandemic brought an abrupt halt to, not just Australia’s celebrations after their fifth T20 World Cup title win, but to the world itself. Countries closed their borders. Tours were cancelled or postponed. The world was curling itself in like the mimosa pudica. And it was feared that women’s cricket will bear the cascading effect of it all.

While there’s a richness of archived content when it comes to men’s cricket, the same cannot be said about the women’s sport. As a result, we at Women’s CricZone had to get our creative juices flowing in order to churn out content through the lockdown. The result was engaging video content in Fundred, Life in Lockdown apart from Beyond The Boundary and Fiery Volleys – the seeds of which were sown then – and some Rewind stories, where we spoke to players about the memorable games they were a part of and Lists as some of the written stories. This was apart from the launch of the third issue of our digital magazine.

Men’s cricket took steps of getting back to track as early as in July whereas it was only in late September that the mainstream women’s side got back in action – West Indies turned England’s saviour again while Australia got New Zealand to come over. The trans-Tasman series saw former New Zealand captain, Amy Satterthwaite, make a successful return to the international stage after a maternity break, overcoming fears of forgetting “how to hit the ball”.

Austria and Germany were the teams to ‘resume’ women’s cricket – a term that has been used multiple times since – in 2020 with a five-game series that was streamed live over YouTube. Unfortunately, that was all the international action there was to witness in the year.

ALSO READ: The year that was – 20 interesting numbers from 2020

These series were then followed by a well-planned Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL), the schedule of which was announced well in advance, and a hastily/haphazardly arranged Women’s T20 Challenge in the UAE. The period leading to both these competitions was one filled with confusion, uncertainty and a bit of drama, with the likes of Alyssa Healy, Charlotte Edwards et al making their displeasure at the clash evident. Maybe there wasn’t enough window available to organise the two competitions in different time-frames due to the bio-secure arrangements that have to be made in the times that we live in. But perhaps better communication on the part of the administrators would have left even the players better-served.

Although you can’t really point fingers at the BCCI for their arrangements and the conduct of the competition itself, better (read early) planning could have seen some of the Australian players also take part in those games, with perhaps a scope for some Indian players to participate in the WBBL.

In the interim, the England and Wales Cricket Board, which had to postpone the launch of the much-maligned The Hundred, held a 50-over domestic competition, the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, and then also announced retainer contracts for 41 players apart from the centrally contracted ones.

The year also presented the bitter truth – that women’s cricket still continues to be more of an afterthought and not the pie in most nations, including India. The team that made the finals of the previous Women’s World Cup didn’t play a single ODI in the year. In fact, the national side is yet to return to action ever since the runners-up finish on March 8.

Legends Raj and Jhulan Goswami, who are in the last leg of their international career, have still done well to stay motivated and be in the game as they chase the elusive World Cup Trophy, the absence of which would take nothing away from their stellar careers. In what would come as welcome bits of news, though, there are plans to conduct domestic tournaments in the country from February 2021 by forming different bio-secure bubbles in various parts of the country.

As the pages of yet another year are turned, here’s looking towards a brighter 2021 with a great deal of hope with these Avicii lines…

Magic gone from a pretty thing
Maybe it might be time
For a better day

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