Kanyaon ki cricket hogi, zaroor aayiye (There will be a cricket match by girls, do come).
Thus announced Mahendra Kumar Sharma on a microphone, as he moved around the streets of Lucknow in an autorickshaw one Saturday afternoon five decades ago. Those were the earliest days for women’s cricket in India.
There was no such announcement this past weekend, but an excellent crowd — notwithstanding the recent increase in COVID-19 cases — turned up at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Stadium on Sunday to watch India take on South Africa in the second T20I match. The women’s game has indeed a come long away.
It is a strange coincidence that big-time women’s cricket is back in the historic city fifty years after those matches were played at the rather small ground of the Queen’s Anglo Sanskrit College, which was established in 1888.
The tournament was conceived by Sharma, who wanted to form an organisation for women’s cricket in India. The weekend matches were the first trials for that.
After listening to Sharma’s publicity campaign on autorickshaw, some 200 curious people had come for the match — mainly to see if the girls played in skirts! Among those who had heard the announcement was Shubhankar Mukherjee, then a college student who used to play cricket.
He was made the scorer by Sharma. “I had to do the scoring because the scorer employed by Sharma didn’t turn up in time,” Mukherjee told The Hindu over phone. “Those days, for the people in Lucknow, the Indian Standard Time didn’t matter much. So when the scorer was asked to come at 10 o’clock, he came in at 11.”
Sharma, however, knew the importance of time and worked hard towards forming an association to promote women’s cricket. The Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) thus came into being in 1973.
“But for Sharma, women’s cricket would not have taken off the way it did in India,” said Shubhangi Kulkarni former India all-rounder who was the secretary of the WCAI when it merged with the BCCI in 2006.
“He organised cricket events and also made cricketers like Diana Eduljee, Shanta Rangaswamy and Sudha Shah known to the public.”
Sharma, who has been unwell for some time, is hardly remembered or acknowledged for the pioneering worked he did for women’s cricket.
“He even sold a property of his in Lucknow to promote the game,” said Mukherjee, a former Indian Railways officer who had been an assistant manager of the Indian women’s team.
Shubhangi feels Sharma deserves to be recognised properly for his contribution. “Not that he minds it,” she said. “He is just happy to find that women’s cricket has become so big.”