Watching, loving, playing cricket as a woman
It's already difficult to live as a woman in a patriarchal society, but it gets around 10 times harder if you, by any chance, against all "manly" odds, love sports—and another tenfold if you understand it.
"What do you know? You're a girl."
"What does offside mean?"
"Explain what a cover drive is."
"Backhand? You must think that's a make-up term."
As a matter of fact, during the recent men's world cup final, when the camera zoomed in on the wives of Indian cricketers Virat Kohli and KL Rahul, Anushka Sharma and Athiya Shetty, former Indian pacer Harbhajan Singh went on to say, "I was wondering whether they were talking about cricket or films. I don't know how much they understand cricket."
Cricket being my favourite sport—with all its tactics, strategy and maths—I've been watching it since I was just five or six years old. My fondest memories come from when I'd sit on my father's knee and we would, together, praise Sachin Tendulkar and speak ill of Shane Warne or Shoaib Akhter, both of whom had sensational rivalries against the Little Master.
That was me, exposed to a male-dominated sport at a male-dominated time. I've since grown up and become more aware, fighting for women. How can you not when growing up in this society? Women's sports has grown with me too. I've witnessed how it rose to a point where the women were the ones silently bringing in the trophies and accolades amidst cheers for their male counterparts. The day we saw the greatest ODI innings ever played by Glenn Maxwell picking up the Australian team against a fearless Afghanistan squad, was the same day we saw Bangladesh win the second match of the ODI series against Pakistan—but that thrilling win was by the women.
Even when it's our own country, our women are less talked about than men, even if those men are foreign. While a lot of us chose to watch Nigar Sultana Joty, captain of the women's cricket team, go hug her mother after scoring the winning four runs in the super over, Maxwell grabbed all the headlines. Not to take anything away from Maxwell's unbelievable innings, but my question is, if it were Shakib Al Hasan scoring those winning four runs against Pakistan on that same day, would the achievement be that ignored? Would the entire internet not be full of intense praises and words of literal worship for Shakib and the "mighty Tigers"? This is the general sentiment of the country when it comes to our sportswomen.
Things get more harrowing when you know about the cricket board's history of mishandling women's cricket. This is the same board that the men's team operates under: the infamous Bangladesh Cricket Board. While for men's cricket, the board's role is ensuing chaos, politics, nepotism and all that, for the women, its dysfunction is even worse. I mean, at least the men get paid.
Meanwhile, although Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishtan is available for both men and women athletes, there is little done to find and groom up-and-coming women players. Before the men join the Bangladesh national cricket team, they have opportunities to play in junior-level teams and take part in tournaments and series set up for them through the board. There is also a Bangladesh (men's) A team. Through these teams and games, the players not only get to learn the ins and outs of world cricket and rival teams, they get further grooming and exposure to foreign grounds.
As for our Tigresses, there are no such alternative teams or adequate opportunities to hone their skills. Due to such a lack of resources, there is no way for us to find new gems. It's worth wondering, how long must Salma, Joty and Fargana bear the torch?
During the devastating world cup campaign of the men's team this year, the only silver lining bestowed by the country's cricketers was by the women's team, as they won back-to-back series—T20i and ODI—against Nida Dar's Pakistan. Soon after the consecutive achievements, the nation learned that these girls have not been paid their salaries for five whole months.
According to BCB Women's Wing Chairman Shafiul Alam Chowdhury Nadel, 26 contracted players of the national team pool haven't received their salaries due to "technical reasons." He pointed out that the board had not signed on the agreed contract list of players, which needed to be sent to the accounts section for approval of the players' wages.
"It's because of a technical reason. We delivered the contract list [of players] to the board long before. Now, if the accounts department does not receive it from the board, then it cannot approve the salaries," he said, mentioning that none of the players created a ruckus despite not being paid for five whole months.
And when it comes to the salary amounts, there is unbound discrimination. Even just in 2018, women cricketers were paid just Tk 600 per domestic match, while their male counterparts bagged around Tk 50,000. As per the BCB contract that year, the highest monthly salary earned by a male cricketer was Tk 4 lakh a month, while the highest for a woman was Tk 30,000. After much deliberation, talks and criticism, now in 2023, the highest salary for a woman cricketer has risen to Tk 1 lakh. However, even that falls short when compared to the men's Tk 8 lakh.
Why did the board not approve the list or send it to the accounts—for five months? How come such "technical difficulties" never arise when it comes to paying the men for their poor performances? And, more importantly, how much longer will we as a country keep tolerating this discrimination, financial or otherwise, against our women athletes?
While as female fans, we face the storm from the male public, the sportswomen end up taking the same heat directly from those governing them—our all-male board. Yet, these Tigresses continue bringing us pride with utmost grace and professionalism, both on and off the field. Even as a nation, we are just starting to learn their names. Let's not do them, their talent and the achievements they bring for us, as illustrated below, any further disservice.
And with this, I rest my case.
Naziba Basher is a sub-editor at The Daily Star.
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