Shantha Rangaswamy is a pioneer in more ways than one. She is the first captain of the Indian women’s Test team, the first Indian woman to score an international century, the first woman captain to win a Test, the first woman recipient of the Arjuna Award and even the first Indian woman to hit a six in international cricket. She is also not one to mince words, as we found out during a freewheeling interaction after she agreed to be TOI’s Guest Editor for the day.
How pleasing was the Indian women’s team’s win over Pakistan the other day?
The win was on expected lines. But then any game against Pakistan, in any sport, can be very tense. I’m glad they held their nerve and carved out a very impressive win, thanks mainly to the partnership between Sneh Rana and Pooja Vastrakar. We mustn’t ignore the efforts of the bowlers, Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Rana. Jhulan, of course, we expect to do well. There were many pluses. There could not have been a better start.
You are looked at as the ‘founding mother’ of Indian women’s cricket…
Yes, but I never earned a single penny throughout my playing days, in a playing career spanning 22 years. But money isn’t everything. The passion for the game was what was driving us. The first two-wheeler that I owned was thanks to a prize I got in the Pune Test against New Zealand, when I got a century in 1976. I did not even own a bicycle before that.
There have been other struggles…
We used to travel unreserved in trains. The national championships were played over a knockout format in those days. If someone lost, they had to leave, so booking tickets in advance was out of the question. We used to be seated near the toilets and some anti-social elements used to try and crash their way in. We dealt with them by pulling the chain and throwing them out. We stayed in dormitories and school rooms. We roughed it out, but it was fun, because for us playing was more important. Everything, my first century, me being the first captain to win a Test, everything gets relegated to the background when I think of the fact that we laid the foundation for the current lot of cricketers.
You mention the hundred in Pune vs New Zealand. But it wasn’t recognized…
We only learnt later that the New Zealand team that played in 1976 in India was not the official team. The team that played here and the team that we faced in Dunedin a bit later had just two different players, but the games here were not official while the games there were. My 527 runs in the series went down the drain. Diana Edulji also took a lot of wickets. BCCI and ICC must look into it and give that benefit to us because those were hard-earned runs and wickets.
When did the upward curve start for women’s cricket in India?
From 1991 onwards. From 1991 to 2002, Anuradha Dutt ran the show and after Shubhangi Kulkarni took over, the game went up a few notches. Most of you may not be aware that in 2005, when we participated in the World Cup con- ducted by the ICC, we did so under the umbrella of Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI). We were runners-up then.
Almost 12 years, later, we were runners-up again, under the wing of the BCCI this time. People like MK Sharma and Chandra Tripathi did a lot for women’s cricket in the initial stages. It was because of the efforts of Shubhangi that the then-BCCI president Sharad Pawar took women’s cricket under the board’s wing. That really helped, as the infrastructure, funding and stuff started to get taken care of. And many girls started taking to the game.
I still feel the pinnacle of women’s cricket in India was not the Test match that we won but the 2017 runners-up finish in England, as that created awareness. The number of women cricketers increased three folds after that tournament. The electronic media also played its part.
How far away are we from the women’s IPL? You are in the BCCI too…
I got into the BCCI at a very wrong time, because along with me came Covid. In the last two years, everyone’s hand was tied and at one stage it seemed the board would go out of pocket too, but then, the IPL, the ‘Kamdhenu’ of Indian cricket took place and things settled down.
They have issued a statement saying it will be held from next year. If it starts, things will be fine. Don’t worry about the standards. They won’t be any less than the WBBL or the Hundred.
As the game gets popular, there will be more attention. Are the players ready for intense scrutiny?
Let there be scrutiny. If it helps the game to evolve and there is no adverse publicity, things will be okay. If scrutiny enhances the value of the player and the game, it should be welcome.
Do you think women cricketers deserve to get paid on par with the men?
When we pose this question, there is a counter-question. Do the women bring in as much money to the coffers of the BCCI as much as the men do? Right now, no. But efforts are there. During last year’s IPL, which was in Dubai, the Women’s Challenge matches made a profit. It’s a good beginning.
Sooner than later, if not equal pay, at least the gap will be bridged. From Rs 7 crore (top contract for a men’s player) to Rs 50 lakh (top contract for a woman cricketer) it looks too big a gap. But slowly, it will start narrowing within the next 10 years.
How do you feel about women administrators in cricket?
I don’t see that happening soon. They need to get into state associations first. I don’t see many women there. Just before I got elected to the BCCI apex council, I contested the KSCA polls and got elected to the managing council. I resigned later to meet the requirement of the conflict-of-interest clause. I saw TNCA had a lady president, but she has quit. So, it’s not easy, despite India having a woman Prime Minister way back in 1966. Women do not get as many opportunities as their male counterparts, worldwide. People do take women with a pinch of salt. They are not accorded equal status except at home where they are bosses. It will take time, but I am positive that it will happen in the next 20-25 years.
So you expect to see a woman as president of BCCI in future?
Undoubtedly. But nothing can happen overnight, unless there is more acceptance of women’s position in society. History has many women as heads of states like Indira Gandhi, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Margaret Thatcher. I feel once many more women get into this, we will see them more in higher positions.
Is the BCCI doing enough to spread and popularize the women’s game?
I remember how competitive the inter-state boy’s school cricket used to be and many went on to represent their states and country from there. It’s true such a structure doesn’t exist in the women’s game. But the BCCI alone cannot look into everything. The state units should also take the responsibility. I would only request BCCI to start inter-state school cricket for girls as that is the place to identify raw talent.
Shantha Rangaswamy. (TOI Photo)
Do you see a healthy supply line to the women’s game today?
It’s much better than what it was 20-25 years back. We need an organized cricket structure for women to encourage them to take up the sport.
The visuals of Indian players interacting with Pakistan skipper Bismah Maroof and her six month-old daughter have gone viral. That must have been very heartening to see…
A lot of hue and cry is made about the bitterness between India and Pakistan, but it is actually the respective governments that have issues. We could see warmth in the relationship between the players even in the men’s T20 World Cup, when the players from both sides took pictures with each other. There is bonhomie between the two teams which only got amplified after the images from the women’s game went around the other day.
Women’s Test matches were not telecast live till 1984…
In 1984, we were playing the fourth Test in New Delhi, where we met Mrs Indira Gandhi. We told her that despite having a lady PM, our matches were not telecast live. She just said, “It must be a matter of just equipment” and turned to one staff member, saying, ” Suniye (listen). . . “. The next match in Bombay was shown live on TV! It was the first time that a women’s Test was telecast live in India. We have a come a long way since then.
Can this team do one better than what it did in England in 2017?
One good thing that the BCCI did was send this team to New Zealand early, almost a month before, to play the ODI series. Though they lost 1-4, they won the last game and won the warm-up games against West Indies and South Africa before beating Pakistan. The curve is going up. No person in his or her right senses would write this bunch off. If they win, it will do women’s cricket in this country a lot of good and make the Indian cricket board stage more tournaments for women.