Women’s Cricket: Does Equal Pay Mean Equal Popularity? Former India Stars Have Their Say

Women’s Cricket: Does Equal Pay Mean Equal Popularity? Former India Stars Have Their Say

With same pay structure for both genders, a look at if women’s cricket can match the popularity of men’s cricket

Priyanka ChandaniUpdated: Tuesday, July 25, 2023, 04:06 PM IST
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Last week, in a groundbreaking announcement, the International Cricket Council announced equal prize money for women and men cricketers. It is an important moment in the history of the game that male and female cricketers competing in ICC’s global competitions will now be rewarded equally. Last year in October, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced a new pay equality policy for its contract women cricketers, effectively paying both the genders the same match fees — Test matches Rs 15 lakh, ODI matches at Rs 6 lakhs and T20I at Rs 3 lakhs.

Before the announcement, the payment for women players was Rs 1 lakh for a white-ball match and Rs 4 lakh for a Test. And the annual retainers for women cricketers remain the same — Rs 50 lakh for grade A, Rs 30 lakh for grade B, and Rs 10 lakh for grade C. On the contrary, the men, who play more games, are paid Rs 1-7 crore, depending on their grades.

Still, India has become the second country in international cricket to implement equal pay after New Zealand. Additionally, countries like India, South Africa, England, Australia, and New Zealand have strong women’s cricket teams. This not only points out how women are so much into the game now but also shows the enormous potential that female cricket promises. 

A welcome move

The last few months have been interesting for women’s cricket. For the first time, there was an IPL for the women’s team. There’s the movie Shabaash Mithu on former skipper Mithali Raj starring Taapsee Pannu, and Chakda Xpress on women’s cricket fast bowler Jhulan Goswami starring Anushka Sharma.

Then, there is an endearing advertisement from the ’90s which was recreated with roles reversed on the cricket field. Internationally, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the guardians of cricket, decided to abolish the term ‘batsman’ and replaced it with ‘batter’ in an attempt to bring gender neutrality to the game. 

This not only points out how women are so much into the game now but also shows the enormous potential that female cricket promises. However, despite the efforts, female cricket seems different from that of men. To date, a layman discusses a male cricket team and have favourites from the men’s team, but there haven’t been group talks about which woman cricketer plays well on the field except for some momentary cheers on the internet. Therefore, one wonders if female cricket can match up with a male cricketer’s popularity. 

“There’s huge following and more popularity these days than before, so, of course there’s viewership. Things have become better ever since the women’s cricket team merged with BCCI and ICC. From women cricketers paying from their own pockets to getting equal pay, shows things have come a long way. This decision is a testimony to the growing popularity of the sport,” says Anjum Chopra, former captain of the women’s cricket team. 

Bowling over popularity 

While the monetary benefits in sports are based on several considerations including endorsements, sports, merchandising and ticket sales, among others, it is highly based on viewership and fanbase.

Anant Vyas, Senior Cricket Administrator points out that the popularity and audience base depends on the performance more than anything else. “The popularity of women’s cricket teams has increased in the last two years, but there’s still a long way to go. Paying equal will not bring popularity but performance will,” says the cricket expert. “The performance of the men’s team has been great. They have been winning ICC tournaments for years. The women’s cricket team is yet to achieve that success. The audience on the ground has increased to watch the women’s match but the excitement that people have for the men’s matches is not the same.” 

Anant has a point. It is more about the performance than anything else. However, in the last two years, women players have surely made their remarkable mark in the field. Players who have given outstanding performances like Mithali Raj, Smriti mandhana, and Harmanpreet Kaur for instance, are known by people.

The growing supply of cricket content on sports channels and others as well as the increasing audiences are testimony to the fact that women’s cricket will continue to reign in India. 

According to ICC data, there’s a 44% increase in viewing, making it 192 million global viewing hours this year from previous Women’s T20WC. The success of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2023 has highlighted the continued upward trajectory of the women’s game across the world, with outstanding engagement numbers across broadcast and digital platforms. The ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2023 was the most watched ICC women’s event to date with global viewing hours for the event reaching 192 million, a 44% increase from the 2020 World Cup in Australia.

Why not the World Cup

Former women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj says the more a sport gets televised, the more it amasses attention. “Women’s cricket in India has grown significantly since we joined the BCCI. Since the time we have been coming on-screen, the outlook towards women has changed by a huge margin and going forward, I feel that leagues like IPL can allow many existing and new women cricketers to showcase their cricketing skills and talent,” says Mithali.

Anjum agrees that despite being the first one to play the game historically, the women’s cricket team still has a long way to go but there’s more popularity than there was a decade ago. “Things have changed in cricket. Women players have more exposure than we had. There’s social media for an additional boost to their popularity. The team needs to work hard to get to the level where women players don’t lose at the finals and win bigger format matches,” she signs off.

A Brief Trace of Women’s Cricket in India 

Cricket for females started way back in 1745. But the sport was not organised. Officially women’s cricket in India started with the Women’s Cricket Association of India in 1973. 

The first Women’s Inter-State Nationals was held in Pune in April 1973 with three teams participating — Mumbai, Maharashtra and UP.

The WCAI received the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) membership in 1973 and Government recognition in 1978.

Rani Jhansi Trophy was held at Kanpur in 1974.

International women’s cricket was played in India in 1975 when the Australian under-25 team toured India to play a three ‘Test’ series. 

The first Test match won by India was in the presence of 25,000 spectators beating the West Indies in Patna in 1976.

India won a Day series for the first time at the Centenary Celebration of New Zealand Cricket in 1995.

The Indian team toured England for the first time in 1999 and performed exceedingly well. This was after the WCA merged with the English Cricket Board.

The Women’s Cricket Association of India was merged with the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) in India in 2006/07.

In 2005, the IWCC was merged with the ICC to form one unified body to help manage and develop cricket.

In 2023, the first season of the Women Indian Premier League took place

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