Cricket, it’s more than just a sport for the nation; it’s the very lifeblood that runs in our veins. However, one facet of this sport is often overlooked. When it comes to cricket, it is always the men’s team that is spoken about with the women’s team barely gaining any recognition. But, the times have changed now and how!
The recent book ‘The Fire Burns Blue: A History of Women’s Cricket in India’ by sports journalist Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik sheds light on the deeply rooted history of women players of this fantastic sport. In a time when women’s cricket is on the rise, the book sheds light not only on those names like Diana Edulji, Anjum Chopra and Mithali Raj, Smriti Mandhana et al, but also lends focus to those who contributed significantly to the game but whose names were lost to the annals of history.
“…Like Shireen, there are numerous others ,who have faded away because the system fails them after a point,” the writers point. The book chronicles several firsts of women’s cricket. It acts as a tribute to the achievements and trials of those like Shanta Rangaswamy, Shubhangi Kulkarni, and many others who firmly made their stance in what is popularly called as a ‘gentleman’s game’. The situation of women’s cricket has been woeful in our country with neither the corporation in charge nor the media lending much focus to the female cricket team.
However, as the sound of a gong wakes a sleeping temple, the knock of Harmanpreet Kaur’s six against Australia in the 2017 Semi-Finals of the World Cup awoke our nation to the wondrous talent of our female cricket players. Lending insights beyond the pitch, the book also focuses on the locker room and pavilion talk of the female players. The tense moments, the words of motivation and courage, the entire setting is captured perfectly.
The book also speaks about the Telugu biddaMithali Raj, who was recently in the news for her controversial exclusion in the knock out (semi-finals) stages of the recently concluded World Cup. From a bright-eyed young girl, whose mantra was to score runs for the team to become ‘Captain Courageous’, Mithali has since trodden a long and tedious path.
“Mithali scored 1585 runs in fifteen innings across the 50-over and two-day formats at an average of 396.25 for Railways and Central Zone. She made nine hundreds and four fifties, including an unbeaten 201 against Karnataka in the two-day semi-final in Anantpur. Not far behind her was Jaya with 1025 runs at 113.88. Their best partnership of the season was against Punjab in the two-day quarter-final. They put on 286 runs for the 2nd wicket before a young Harmanpreet, yet to play for India, dismissed Jaya for 151. Mithali remained unbeaten on 158,” the authors write about the 2007-08 season in the chapter ‘A Rivalry Takes Flight’, which records the rivalry between two domestic giants Railways and Air India.
The book has several anecdotes and the timeline of Indian women’s cricket. Quotes from many former and current national and international players give a ringside view of the sport.