Plus, the brief primer on cricket that you never knew you needed.
The fight for gender parity in sports isn’t only experiencing success in the United States. After a few months of waiting and speculation, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) head Jay Shah revealed to Bloomberg that the Indian Premier League would launch a six-team women’s competition in 2023.
Prior to this announcement, the IPL had controversially limited itself to just one domestic event for female athletes––the annual Women’s T20 Challenge. “Any such plans [for a women’s league in the past] were balanced against questions about how difficult it might be to ‘find a window’ to hold the tournament, and that it may not be possible to do so at the same time as the men’s IPL,” wrote Daniel Brettig for the Sydney Morning Herald. “These sentiments were consistent with the views of a board that has shown scant interest in genuinely investing in the women’s game, despite a surfeit of cash with which to do so.” Now, it seems that the IPL is literally putting its money where its mouth is. All we can say is: about darned time.
Interlude: A Brief Introduction to Cricket
Conversely, plenty of American readers learning of the IPL’s announcement may be saying: yeah, yeah, a women’s league is cool and all…but how does cricket even work? This isn’t some ignorant generalization we’re making. Despite occasional strides forward for the sport’s American presence, only 200,000 people in the country were recorded as cricket players by the Washington Post in 2014––less than .001% of the population at that time. Part of the reason for this is the popularity of its sister sport, baseball. But maybe there’s room for two bat-and-ball sports in the hearts of Americans now that gender parity in the IPL is on the way. So in the spirit of trying new things, here’s a primer on cricket for those unfamiliar with the sport.
The conceit of cricket is…er…simple. A cricket field is oval-shaped, with a small rectangle at the center of it serving as the pitch for batting and bowling (We’ll cover what those terms mean in a bit). At the shorter ends of the rectangle stand the wickets, two vaguely fence-resembling things which have a pretty big impact on the scoring. There are three types of players in cricket:
- The batsman (referred to as the “batter” in this primer), who hits the ball to try and score points for her team. There are always two batters on the field, and they both stand in front of their respective wickets.
- The bowler, who throws the ball for one of the batters to hit. The lone bowler plays for the opposing team, and is looking to eliminate the hitting batter from the game.
- The fielders, who stand outside the rectangle and attempt to catch and return the ball after the batter hits it. They play on the same team as the bowler. Fun fact: fielders catch balls with their bare hands. Truly God’s bravest soldiers.
The bowler launches the ball at one of the batters, who in turn hits it as far and hard as she can. Once the batter makes her hit, she and her batting partner have to run to each other’s ends of the rectangle. And back. And then run again. And back again (unless they choose to stop, of course). The runs they make serve as points for the batters’ team. The hitting batter can also earn some “runs” if she sends the ball far enough (i.e. beyond the field boundary on a bounce or fly).
Here’s the catch: each wicket on the field has two tiny sticks on them called bails. If the bails on the wicket behind the hitting batter’s original position get knocked over in any way while play is in session, the batter is out, donezo, kaput. And keeping those bails untouched sounds easier in theory than in practice––opposing fielders can catch the ball and attempt to throw it at the wicket while the batter is running, bowlers will aim for the bails when serving the batter, and the batter herself could knock them over accidentally while running to and fro.
The team with the most runs after every batter on the two squads gets at least one turn wins the match. It can take anywhere from hours to days to crown a victor, depending on the format of the game. There are more nuances to the ins and outs of cricket––hello, overs and innings––that are too complicated to explain here. But the more you watch cricket, the more you start to get it. So get watching, folks.
Why It’s A Big Deal™
The reasons why the IPL’s establishment of a women’s division is huge are too many to name. Despite a minor dip in views earlier this year, the IPL still ranks as one of the most-watched leagues in the world; therefore, it would stand to reason that women’s cricket would get a fair bit of exposure after the competition is established. This becomes even more likely when looking at Shah’s commitment to heartily promote the broadcast rights for the upcoming women’s league.
The IPL’s decision becomes even more important when you consider the women and girls who could directly benefit from it. Prior to the announcement, women’s cricket in India had been overlooked domestically––so overlooked, in fact, that even playing in front of a camera was considered a luxury for the athletes.
“Even as the popularity of women’s cricket has continued to grow within the country, […] the efforts put in to make the domestic game more visible have been minimal,” writes Scroll.in journalist Ananya Upendran. “Talk to any young female cricketer in India and they will tell you they were unaware of the existence of a women’s cricket team until recently.” But so long as the IPL stays true to their word, that awareness will skyrocket. Women inside and outside of India will no longer have to think it a privilege to have their talents broadcasted far and wide. Who knows––maybe appearances Disney+ or Amazon might become commonplace.