Today, cricket isn’t just a sport in the country but rather an emotion. It is not played by men or women but by players who give their everything out on the fields finishing off in style. But today, when cricket is a big-time women’s gig, in the early 1970s it was a still male-dominated sport in the country. While women were already making their names in cricket in Australia, New Zealand, and England, in India things were patriarchally unvaried. Until one evening, Mahendra Kumar Sharma announced on a microphone- ‘Kanyaon ki cricket hogi, zaroor aayiye’.
Thanks to Mahendra Kumar Sharma, women’s cricket is a thing in India.
Mahendra Kumar Sharma was ahead of his time when it comes to the orthodox patriarchal society of India. Himself a sportsman, he used to organize softball and handball tournaments for girls in schools and colleges. On one occasion, when he was at a tournament in Hyderabad in 1973, students started playing cricket using a softball. It is believed that it was this incident that inspired Sharma to create an all-women cricket team.
It was a bold decision considering the underdeveloped state of India; however, he piqued the idea of having a cricket association for women. At that time there was just one women’s cricket club in Bombay, called the ‘Albees Cricket club’, started by Aloo Bamjee and her husband. Sharma then went out on the streets of Lucknow announcing on the microphone- ‘there will be a cricket match by girls, do come. This publicity campaign was a semi-hit and around 200 people came to the small ground of Queen’s Anglo Sanskrit College. But these people weren’t a fan of the sport instead all they were interested in was seeing girls playing cricket in short skirts. But among this conservative-cum-pervert crowd came Shubhankar Mukherjee, a college cricket player. Sharma made him the scorer of the match.
Regardless of their intentions, witnessing such a huge crowd on the ground inspired Sharma to form the first association for Women’s cricket in India. It was named the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) and was registered under the Societies Act of Lucknow in 1973 under the Presidentship of Begum Hamida Habibullah. The same year he wrote to the English Women’s Cricket Association and the organization received the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) membership.
In 1973, Mahendra Kumar Sharma organized the first women’s interstate, national-level tournament in Pune. Teams from Bombay and Uttar Pradesh participated, and Diana Edulji was one such name that came out quite impressive. The second tournament was held in Varanasi and around eight teams participated which rose to 12 by the third tournament which was held in Calcutta. Shanta Rangaswamy and Sudha Shah were two more players that made their names known to the mass.
Through these matches, Sharma even used to raise funds to organize more matches for the women’s cricket team. In a tournament held in Pune back in 1975, Bollywood superstar Vinod Khanna showered his support and even took the team on their first plane ride to meet the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. When the first international test matches started, Lala Amarnath became independent India’s first test captain for women.
But despite their performance in international matches, it took two additional years for the government to recognize WCAI. In 1978, the Indian women’s cricket team played their first world cup and since then there has been no stopping for Women in Blue. Though women’s cricket in India remains overshadowed by our brilliant men’s cricket team- we have come a long way ever since.
Mahendra Kumar Sharma, today, has almost forgotten for his contribution to making India’s first women’s cricket association. He is not even acknowledged for the pioneering work he did to make Women in Blue a thing in the country. This needs to change and people should appreciate him for thinking ahead of his time and forming India’s first WCAI.