Women’s cricket primed for successful CWG debut but will it help ICC’s Olympic pitch?
New Delhi, July 22: Women cricketers will get to experience the vibe of a multi-sporting event for the very first time as the sport hopes to generate global eyeballs when it returns to the Commonwealth Games after 24 long years.
With all top cricketing nations part of the Commonwealth, cricket’s inclusion in the Birmingham Games appears natural but it still took more than two decades for the sport to make a comeback.
The only other time cricket featured in the Commonwealth Games was in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 when the men’s competition was staged.
The International Cricket Council (ICC), which is pushing for the game’s inclusion in the 2028 Olympics, will be hoping that the women’s cricket event is a roaring success in Birmingham so that it has a stronger pitch to make for the Summer Games in Los Angeles.
With the Indian and Pakistan diaspora forming a large part of Birmingham’s population, one can expect a sell out crowd at the Edgbaston for the marquee clashes, including the Indo-Pak contest on July 31.
“The India-Pakistan game will be one of the highlights of the Commonwealth Games,” reckons Birmingham Games CEO Ian Reid.
Though England and Australia are not in the same group, the fans are expecting them to meet in the knock-out stages with the tickets already sold out for the semifinals and final.
The players, including the Indians, who are usually confined to their hotels during their bilateral contests, are looking forward to interacting with athletes of other sports.
The cricketers will not be housed in the Games Village along with the rest of the international athletes during their stay due to logistical reasons, but they will certainly be part of the opening ceremony and watch a sport of their choice in their downtime.
“I am really excited about the Commonwealth Games. For me it is like competing in a World Cup. I have been preparing it for a long time now,” top India all-rounder Deepti Sharma told PTI in a recent chat.
The eight participating teams are divided into groups of four. Group A includes India, Pakistan, Australia and Barbados while Group B comprises England, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
The competition will also give a strong indication on where all teams stand ahead of the T20 World Cup next year.
As the reigning world champions in T20 and ODI cricket, Australia have been the benchmark for a while now. England are a tad behind their arch-rivals while the likes of India, New Zealand and South Africa are very much a work in progress.
Over the last couple of years, India lost four series in a row before winning one against an under-prepared Sri Lanka last month.
Under the leadership of the new all-format captain Harmanpreet Kaur, India were expected to run through an opponent that had hardly played in the last two years, but Sri Lanka still managed to win a game in the series.
Like the men’s game, women’s cricket too is evolving at a rapid pace and India clearly need to catch up.
“India need to look at CWG as another tournament. The vibe will be different as it is not an ICC event. The players will be part of the entire Indian contingent. They would surely want to win a medal for the country but you have to be realistic as well,” former India captain Anjum Chopra said.
“There are better teams which are part of the competition. Also, India have not had a great run of late in playing away T20 games. It is a progressive team, it is still trying to find its best combination.
“They have to find their style of play and they are far from it at the moment. You don’t have the same depth that you have in the men’s team. The set up we have at the moment — somebody is running, somebody is walking and somebody is leaping, you can’t have a mixed bag like that,” she said.
The event begins with the India-Australia clash on July 29 while later in the day Pakistan open their campaign against Barbados.
All games including the final on August 7 will be played at Edgbaston. (PTI)