By Niharika Raina
New Delhi, July 24 : A medal in a multi-nation event (CWG, Asian Games, Olympics) is always a coveted achievement for any country in a particular sport. Similarly, women’s cricket is definitely poised to get the rub of the green among other sports when it makes its debut at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, and thus can prove to be a game-changer.
Seen as an optional sport in the Commonwealth Games, cricket first featured at the 1998 edition of the multi-nation event in Kuala Lumpur in the form of men’s event, where 16 nations participated. The matches were of 50 overs and had List A status rather than being granted One-day International status. South Africa had won the gold, defeating Australia in the final while New Zealand won the bronze.
Ace all-rounder Shaun Pollock, who had captained a strong South Africa side to the gold medal, recalled to the ICC about the feeling of gold medal in the neck and singing the national anthem with his teammates.
“Standing up on the podium, receiving the medal and singing our national anthem is an experience I will never forget and will always treasure.”
Though the men’s cricket event running for two weeks was hugely successful, it remained the sport’s only appearance in the Commonwealth Games till date.
But that is now all set to change when Australia and India take the field at Edgbaston on July 29. As Meg Lanning and Harmanpreet Kaur lead their teams on the field, it will be the first time that both the T20 format and women’s cricket will feature in the Commonwealth Games.
Apart from Australia and India, hosts England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Barbados (no unified West Indies) will take part in the event spread across 16 matches at Edgbaston, with the gold medal and bronze medal matches scheduled on August 7. The eight teams are split across two groups of four teams each.
Group A will have Australia, Barbados, India and Pakistan, while Group B features England, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka. England qualified automatically by virtue of being the hosts, while Australia, India, New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan qualified via their rankings as of April 1, 2021.
The Covid-19 pandemic prevented the West Indies from organising a qualifier tournament, which meant Barbados were selected by virtue of winning the most recent Twenty20 Blaze in 2019.
In January 2022, Sri Lanka became the last team to join for the Commonwealth Games after defeating Bangladesh in the final of the qualifying tournament.
Women’s cricket has been on an upswing since the 2017 ODI World Cup in England, which the hosts won, edging out India by nine runs in the title clash at Lord’s. Though it was there in the Asian Games editions of 2010 and 2014, its entry into the Commonwealth Games arena promises to take the sport to an audience which craves for more women’s sports action.
Australia, the reigning champions of the 20-over and 50-over World Cups, are undoubtedly the favourites to grab the gold medal and continue their dominating juggernaut in women’s cricket.
England, led by their 2017 ODI World Cup-winning skipper Heather Knight, will be boosted by the knowledge of home conditions and will be hoping to have a flawless run to the gold medal.
India have a good mix of youth and experience in their team and would be hoping to click in unison when it matters the most.
New Zealand are a dangerous team who can cause an upset on their day, while South Africa, weakened by retirement of Lizelle Lee and all-rounder Marizanne Kapp returning home for personal reasons, need to find their mojo quickly.
Barbados have international stars in Aaliyah Alleyne, Shamilia Connell, Deandra Dottin, Hayley Matthews, Kycia Knight and Shakera Selman while Pakistan and Sri Lanka can give other teams a huge scare if they punch above their weight.
But it is the experience of being in a multi-nation event and aiming to clinch the gold medal instead of a trophy which will inspire the cricketers to give their best for their respective teams.
In the words of India vice-captain Smriti Mandhana: “We haven’t had an experience of playing in a Commonwealth Games, where we’ll strive to get the gold medal because we’ve always imagined us lifting the trophy and trying to put us on a podium where we lift a trophy.
“But now that we have to imagine us going on the podium and getting a medal, I think it is something new and we all are really excited. It’ll be a good experience and a really new experience for all of us, and I am sure that we’re all really going to enjoy and give our best.”
The success of women’s cricket in the Commonwealth Games may be the perfect stepping stone for the entry of the sport into Olympics in future, something which has been in the making for a long time now. For that to happen, the eyes and ears of the cricketing world will be on what happens at Edgbaston from July 29 to August 7.