A few days into Sri Lanka’s pre-series training camp at Galle, coach Harsha de Silva spotted a little girl crying. He went over to her, just outside of where the team was training and asked her father, who was standing next to her, “Why is she crying?”
It turns out the girl was crying because having seen the Sri Lanka women train in the nets, she wanted to play cricket herself. But her school didn’t have a team.
“The awareness is so important for the game to grow,” reflected de Silva. He would know. De Silva was coach of the women’s team in 2013 when the side was at their apogee. In the 2013 World Cup that India hosted, Sri Lanka, beat defending champions England and then knocked the hosts out, qualifying for the Super Sixes. To their fortune, both games were among the few televised games in that tournament. A 138-run victory over India proved to the Sri Lankan public that their win against England was no fluke and that they were a side with world-beating potential. “The 2013 World Cup was probably the first time that Sri Lankan women’s cricket was televised. When we came back there were hoardings with the girls’ faces put up everywhere. That kind of thing was unheard of before,” said de Silva.
A lot of the Lankan team may have declined since then, but little girls and boys around the country were reminded that their country has a women’s cricket team. The three ODI series against India are being broadcast on the Sri Lanka Cricket YouTube Channel, and will also be broadcast on the free-to-air Channel Eye (the sports channel of the national broadcaster Rupavahini) and the DTH service provider Dialog. All three ODIs will also be streamed on Dialog’s sports site The Papare.
“We will have a 10 camera set-up for the games and will also have the third umpire facility,” said Gehan Samaranayake, of Sine media who are producing the series for SLC. Commentary will alternate between English and Sinhala, with former international cricketers Sajeeva Weerakoon and Gamini Perera among the commentary team.
For Indian fans, it means a continued chance to watch the team play when on away tours, where the host nation controls the broadcast. In February this year, there was a media outcry when Cricket South Africa planned to televise only three the eight international games on that tour because those three were double-headers along with the men’s team. This meant that no one got to watch Smriti Mandhana’s century in the second ODI or Jhulan Goswami’s record-breaking 181st wicket. But pressure from the Indian media prompted CSA to live stream all the remaining games on YouTube. It underlined that the Indian team draws considerable fans, and this means it makes more financial sense to invest in a broadcast. In a first, Kia Super League team Western Storm also live-streamed a non-televised game between Western Storm and Lancashire Thunder, even if it was using only the video analyst’s cameras. No coincidence that the two teams featured Indian players Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur as overseas stars.
“The broadcast is to ensure that the public has an opportunity to watch women’s cricket. And recently we have seen the demand from within women’s cricket community is on the rise as well,” said an SLC official. “In Sri Lanka, we have been trying to provide maximum live coverage; even in the Pakistan women’s tour we broadcast some matches.”
India too needed this broadcast, if only to return attention to the cricket. After the premature resignation of Tushar Arothe, there was a criticism of the manner in which the players had dictated the position of the coach. With the opportunity to book valuable ICC Championship points, the focus will now shift back to the cricket. But the relief will be short-lived.
The five-T20I series that follows will not be broadcast or live streamed, SLC confirmed. “With the men’s Asia Cup starting, the focus will shift there. Then it will not be financially feasible to produce and broadcast the T20Is,” said an official from the media department. It is understood that SLC sometimes pays the broadcaster to feature games on television in order to popularise women’s cricket. Production costs alone can go up to LKR one million per match. The live stream of the previous women’s series in Sri Lanka against Pakistan was believed to be aborted mid-way because of financial realities.
It is a shame considering that the host nation is likely to be most competitive in the T20 format. Four players from these two teams have featured in overseas leagues, including one Sri Lankan, captain Chamari Athapaththu. De Silva too earmarked the T20s as a series in which they would identify combinations for the upcoming World T20. Hard hitting batter Yasoda Mendis too could make a comeback for the T20s after missing out on the one-dayers due to a failed fitness test. “In 2010 when I took over, we had only 50 odd girls to choose from. Now there are a couple of thousand girls playing cricket in Sri Lanka. That’s the kind of impact and legacy the 2013 tournament had for us,” said de Silva. These factors may yet convince the home board to set up at least a skeletal live stream on their own YouTube channel, but as things stand, followers will miss the T20Is. Some smiles, but also some tears for fans in Sri Lanka and India.