In 2018, in a first of sorts, a current Indian woman cricketer found herself in a TV studio amidst male stalwarts of the game while a Test match being played by men’s teams was underway. Smriti Mandhana, who had had the loveliest of English summers, had been invited as a guest for the lunchtime show on Day 5 of the second Test between India and England at Lord’s. In her maiden Kia Super League (KSL) appearance, the Indian T20 vice-captain had smashed 421 runs from 9 innings, the most runs by any player in a women’s T20 league, which included a 61-ball 102 in a chase for Western Storm against Lancashire Thunder.
As Smriti shared the studio with host Harsha Bhogle and former cricketers Sourav Ganguly and Graeme Swann, all part of the India–England series broadcast team, her experience of playing in a T20 league run by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), one sensed change at two levels.
The more obvious one was in Smriti the cricketer. Exactly a year earlier, she’d had a disastrous World Cup in the same country. After her superlative knocks of 90 and 106* in the first two games, the elegant left-hander made just 36 runs in the next seven innings – the dip in form was stunning. But together, with Anant Tambvekar, her personal coach, Smriti had worked on a new stance, a slightly more open one, a changed grip and plenty of training on playing lofted shots, something she rarely played a year earlier. The result: she was the highest scorer in the KSL, with a massive strike rate of almost 175, and she also won the Player of the Tournament award.
Smriti had earned the right to that seat in the TV studio among men, to talk cricket during a key Test series, also between men. Her appearance was unprecedented and refreshing to watch and hear, given that pre-, mid- and post-innings shows during cricket telecasts in today’s day and age usually featured guests who were present for either the promotion of a film, an album, a concert, even a product or service; the connection to cricket was just roped in. But here was a woman, the most in-form batsman from the Indian women’s team, who was part of the telecast of a men’s cricket match for the right reason.
It was an indicator of the slowly but surely increasing gender inclusivity in the game and the very evident appetite and continued interest of global audiences in women’s cricket.
On commentary duty for the same series, for Sky Sports, were former England international players Isa Guha and Ebony Rainford-Brent, both part of an impressive line-up featuring the likes of David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, Nasser Hussain, Mike Atherton, David Gower, Sir Ian Botham, Michael Holding, Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara and Harbhajan Singh.
Guha, who is impeccable with ball-by-ball commentary, is a veteran behind the microphone now. Whether it’s her snazzy and energetic tone when commentating for a T20 game, or the more business-like and to-the-point observations in an ODI or a Test match – she strikes a beautiful balance between being informative and expressive in her opinions at the same time. She lends a fresh, new-age approach to the broadcast that’s often missing from the bastion of male commentators.