By Smita Mehta
Suprita Das, sports journalist and author, tells Fisto Sports about women, sports and media in the backdrop of her recently released book Free Hit – Story of Women’s Cricket in India.
Suprita’s first book Shadow Fighter, Sarita Devi and Her Extraordinary Journey was story of Manipur’s acclaimed boxer Laishram Sarita Devi was published in 2016.
About you: Background and how you became a sports journalist?
I’d say I drifted into becoming one! I was interning at NDTV after my journalism course got over, and was spending 2-3 days at every desk/department, which frankly wasn’t helping me learn much. On my request, my trainer allowed me to complete the rest of my internship with the channel’s sports desk which was headed by Sonali Chander at the time. The internship got extended, and then got converted to a job. One that I did for 11 years!
What motivated you to write the story of women’s cricket in India, titled Free Hit?
The idea really struck me during the World Cup last year, in the game against Australia when Mithali Raj went past Charlotte Edwards’ record for most runs in ODIs. India lost that match, but when it struck me that between Mithali and Jhulan India has produced the world’s highest run getter and the world’s highest wicket taker, I wondered why their achievements weren’t celebrated as much as they should be. That was the skeletal idea which we fleshed out then and decided to make this book about the story of women’s cricket in India.
Let’s start with the positives. Right now, women’s cricket finds itself in the best possible situation. There were salary hikes this year, players travel business class and stay at five stars, have a full-fledged support staff, get endorsements, and even foreign leagues to play in. That’s a far cry from the time till 2006 when women had to almost always pay to play. They travelled unreserved, play with borrowed kits, and do pretty much everything on their own. Had it not been for the undying passion of the founding mothers of the game in India like Shantha Rangaswamy, Diana Edulji and Shubhangi Kulkarni, there would’ve been no women’s cricket in India. It’s still a new entity in some sense. The names and faces of the girls who play for India maybe recognizable now, but it’s the domestic cricket scene that needs serious looking into. They need to have a much more regularised calendar. At the moment, there’s training and camps and academies across India, which is great, but all of this unorganised.
What has broadcast media’s role been in encouraging, airing diverse sports tournaments and female and male players – other than cricket and cricketers?
I think Kabaddi is a classic example of how television and telecast can really change the way a sport is consumed if packaged, presented and marketed well. This is what women’s cricket needs too to build its fan base, its audience. We’ve got a plethora of sports channels today, but not one will show you anything on women’s cricket apart from live telecast of a major tournament. Think about this, minutes after Harmanpreet Kaur has smashed a sensational World Cup hundred, Star Sports cuts to highlights of an India men’s match. How does that make sense? It’s not that tough to have some dedicated and devoted programming on women’s cricket in my opinion.
In the internet age, we see many sports media ventures encouraging varied sports and young talents. What is your opinion?
The more, the merrier! With the internet, the space available to highlight multiple sports and talent is unlimited. And you can see so many web portals and start-ups devoted to covering Indian sport now, willing to go beyond cricket. That’s very heartening.
Free Hit chronicles challenges and rise of women’s cricket in India. As an experienced sports journalist and published author what is your view on the rift between the players, coach and administrators (Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, Ramesh Powar and Diana Edulji) and its impact on women’s cricket.
Well, the entire episode has not shown anyone in good light – Mithali, Harman, Powar, Diana or the board. I think everybody’s reputation has taken a beating in some sense, and the administration’s inability to manage such situations has been highlighted. And sadly, this one incident has managed to hijack every other news or achievement. Hopefully better sense prevails, and all concerned parties manage to communicate better.
While researching for your book, which generation and woman cricketer’s story inspired you the most, personally?
Well, it’s been a story of breaking barriers and crossing hurdles up until very recently. As a generation, I found the very first batch of Indian cricketers very inspiring. It wouldn’t have been easy in the 1970s to pick cricket over other available choices, yet they achieved as much as they did. And the excitement and passion is very much alive in their voices even today when they talk about it.
You can order Free Hit – Story of Women’s Cricket from amazon: https://t.co/RqOE5C9i6O
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