Women in Blue look to start Asiad innings with a bang
In their first Asian Games appearance, the cricketers would want to go all the way and finish at the top of the podium.
CHENNAI: When the India women's cricket team stood on the podium, receiving their silver medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, it was a one-of-a-kind experience for the players. They had never been a part of anything like this before. Throughout the event, the conversations were around engaging and spending time with athletes from other disciplines, getting to know them and cheering for them. This time, the Asian Games in Hangzhou is different. They already know what to expect and how the Games village is and so on. Some of the players were even seen cheering for the Indian football team during their opening match against China.
Now, unlike other disciplines, cricket, especially Indian cricket, has often steered clear of multi-sport events over the past two decades. The tide, however, is changing. After making their debut in the CWG, the women's team will be taking part for the first time in the Asian event when they take the field against Malaysia in the quarterfinal on Thursday. Their second-string men's team will do the same in October. With the ongoing talks to include cricket in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, understandably, the team with the biggest diaspora and fan base around the globe, India, are now the centre of attraction in other multi-sport events.
From the players' and former players' point of view, there is more to it. Not long ago, the women's team were not getting their due attention and opportunities — there is still a long road to travel ahead to attain an egalitarian ecosystem — but things have changed for the better. The number of matches, the match fee for international players and the Women's Premier League are proof that women's cricket is the most promising commodity in the market and is only going to get bigger in the coming years.
Former cricketer and coach feels the impact of playing in the Asian Games is massive. "You look at the opportunities that have happened in the last two years for Indian cricket, overall, if you see. There is nothing like winning a medal. We have always seen it in different fields, whether its athletics or weightlifting, or javelin throw because of Neeraj Chopra. Now, we see the women's and men's cricket teams being a part of this, it is always a pride. We have been talking over a period of time that we need more tournaments, and exposure and now we are getting it. And it is happening at the right time, everything is falling into place. WPL, Asian Games, so much to look forward to, especially for young cricketers to take up this game professionally," said Nooshin.
India is probably the strongest team heading into the Games but there are challenges. Their captain Harmanpreet Kaur is suspended by ICC for two games and Smriti Mandhana will lead in her absence. The other teams, Pakistan are coming off an ODI series win against South Africa and Sri Lanka beat New Zealand in the same format.
On a given day, both could outplay India in the shortest format. And the teams will be playing three knockout games on the trot if they go all the way. "The positive side about it is that we are aware of it," says Nooshin. "We played in Bangladesh and at the same time, other Asian countries have also played some handy cricket. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are playing good cricket. Just as a unit, we have a balanced unit to take it forward. It is going to be a tough competition. Given the number of T20 leagues happening, there has been a lot of development in cricket. For me as a viewer, it is going to be quite exciting and it is not going to be one-sided contests."
While one can say with certain confidence that India will probably come back with a medal, they will be really disappointed if they do not finish at the top of the podium.