Captains hope for strong crowds
MUMBAI, INDIA - Jhulan Goswami, along with a couple of her India Women team-mates, sauntered through the lobby of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai.
Not one of the few people present turned her way to acknowledge they were watching the second-most successful bowler in women's cricket.
Outside the hotel, the Sunday crowd continued to throng the seafront alongside the Gateway of India. A few stopped to take photographs. Not of Goswami, but of the landmark hotel, completely unaware that seven international teams were staying there.
There is a World Cup in town, a cricket World Cup at that. It has been in the news because some people didn't want a particular team coming over while other people wanted a particular stadium for their own use, to the exclusion of the women. Over the next three weeks, the tenth Women's World Cup, to be held in Mumbai and Cuttack, will strive to make headlines for the cricket played by the eight participating teams.
The captains of four of them, hosts India, England, Sri Lanka and West Indies, were present at the tournament's first press event, attended by a generous gathering of journalists and cameramen.
The general public may remain largely ignorant, or indifferent, but the players know how much progress has been made on the ground. Charlotte Edwards, captain of defending champions England and one of the game's greats, spoke of how far women's cricket had come from the time she scored 173* in Pune a day before her 18th birthday, in the 1997 World Cup.
"My first time was when I was 17, a quite memorable one, first time I think I had been out of England," Edwards said. "Now with the ICC and the professionalisation that has come in, is fantastic. I think it is safe to say that the game today is unrecognisable from when I played back in 1997. The games are televised now, which they weren't back in 1997. Very proud of where the game is at the moment.
"Recent ICC events have shown that the game is becoming popular. I have heard we are attracting loads of young girls who want to play the game. That is the most important thing for us as players. I think we have changed people's perceptions about women's cricket a lot. Hopefully this tournament will be another step in hammering that message home."
Mithali Raj, the India captain and another big name, was hopeful of substantial turnouts at the grounds. "It is a great moment," she said. "It is the first time after 1997 that we are hosting a World Cup, [and] under the BCCI. The kind of media attention and awareness is great. So I am hoping a lot of people will turn up for the matches."
Raj said the best way to popularise the women's game was to have matches on television. Not only World Cup or World Twenty20 matches, but also bilateral games. "Lot of people question me about the follow-up of women's cricket. It would be nice if more games are televised when we tour abroad," Raj said. "Most of them follow Star Cricket, ESPN, where, if women's cricket is televised, then gradually it will catch people's awareness. Some of the girls are definitely known faces. Not only the ICC tournaments, but also two-nation series like England v India or Australia v India should be televised on good cricketing channels for them to follow women's cricket."
This World Cup will be broadcast live on television alright. Now only if those grounds could be filled.