CHENNAI: When Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur was asked about taking part in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, staying along with a bigger contingent from the country across disciplines, she said that just thinking about it gave her gooseflesh.
And it’s not just Harmanpreet, this has been the general sentiment across the other teams as cricket would be making a comeback after 24 years (1998 games had men’s List-A matches) in the multi-sport event.
As for the women, it would be their first major tournament apart from the ICC ODI and T20 World Cups they get to play.
“If I speak about myself, we have grown watching these kinds of tournaments and we are glad that we are also getting an opportunity. We will be part of a big event,” Harmanpreet had said before leaving for England.
And it’s not just about getting to feature in a multisport event for the first time. There are quite a few cricketers, especially from Australia and New Zealand, who are in some way connected to other sports and athletes from other disciplines.
For example, New Zealand superstar Suzie Bates was a part of her country’s basketball team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This time, she will be with the New Zealand contingent — albeit as a cricketer — that would be fielding a team in the 3x3 basketball events.
“It was a great experience as a 19-year-old to be at the Olympics, experience the games and be around all the best athletes in the world. So, yeah, pretty lucky to be able to have got to the Olympic games and now we have an opportunity to go with cricket at the Commonwealth Games,” Bates told White Ferns.
Meanwhile, Australian vice-captain Rachael Haynes has reunited with her former work colleague Barrie Lester — a three-time CWG medallist and a champion international lawn and indoor bowler — who would be taking part in the Lawn bowls event.
Before Cricket Australia brought in the central contracts, Haynes used to work at Bowls Australia over a decade ago along with Lester.
“I was still in the national team playing for Australia at that time, and so was he. We used to share stories back in the office when we were working and we travelled around the country working on bowls tournaments as well. It was really nice to see him again,” Haynes said.
Pakistan will have their moment to savour as their captain Bismah Maroof, who made a comeback in the World Cup earlier this year after having a baby, is named as the flagbearer of their contingent along with wrestler Muhammed Inam for the opening ceremony Thursday. The other important thing is that there is no West Indies in the CWG.
Instead, Barbados, who won the 2019 regional domestic competition in the Caribbean, would be taking part in the event, with the newly appointed West Indies captain Hayley Matthews leading them in Birmingham.
Apart from this, the Birmingham games could be seen as a crucial moment as it would help women’s sport reach a much broader audience than ever; something all the eight captains have acknowledged.
“As a cricketer, we always want to play more cricket and this year we are getting to participate in a multi-sport event. So, when you go for a big-event it is important to perform well, the more we get such tournaments, it is good for women’s cricket,” Harmanpreet had said. And, the way the tournament goes could also prove vital as ICC pushes for the sport’s inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
While there is a lot of buzz and excitement around the event, not all is rosy for every team when it comes to the cricketing part. With less than 24 hours to go for the opening ceremony, India have only 13 players in Birmingham as Pooja Vastrakar and Sabbhineni Meghana are held back in Bengaluru having tested positive for covid.
According to the BCCI, they could join the team only after testing negative twice. Meanwhile, South Africa will not have the services of their captain Dane van Niekerk due to injury and their key all-rounder Marizanne Kapp, who’s in the form of her life, returned home for family reasons.
Although in the T20 format any team could beat anyone on a given day, once again, it seems like England and Australia are the favourites to finish at the top.
If some other country, especially India, manages to rise to the occasion and steal the goal despite the challenges, in many ways it could be a watershed moment for women’s sport, not just in the country, but across the globe.