Women’s cricket in India owes its birth to the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI), whose founder and secretary Mahendra Kumar Sharma registered it under the Lucknow Societies Act in 1973. The first President of WCAI was Premala Chavan, a late former Congresswoman and mother of Prithviraj Chavan, ex-Maharashtra Chief Minister.
In the same year, the WCAI also obtained membership of the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC). An interstate national women’s tournament began in 1973 with three teams – Mumbai, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
The second edition was held in Varanasi at the end of the year, and by then the tournament had expanded to eight teams. By the time the third championship was held in Kolkata, the number of teams had increased to 14. After that, all states took part in the national tournament.
In 1974, an inter-zonal limited tournament called the Rani Jhansi Trophy was held in Kanpur.
In 1975, an inter-university tournament was held in Rajkot, the trophy of which was named after Gunamathi Nayudu, the wife of India’s first men’s team captain, CK Nayudu. It also paved the way for sub-junior and junior tournaments for the U-15 and U-19 players.
The winners of each zone then competed in the Indira Priyadarshini Trophy, and the national team winners played the Rest of India team for the Rau’s Cup. There were camps held in partnership with the National Institute of Sports at Patiala where the legendary Lala Amarnath coached the women cricketers.
The first-ever women’s bilateral cricket series organized by WCAI was played in India in 1975 when the Australia U-25 team toured the country to play a three-Test series in Pune, Delhi and Kolkata.
India fielded three captains for each test – Ujwala Nikam, Sudha Shah and Sreerupa Bose. A little later after the Australian series, New Zealand joined for five three-day games in Kolkata, New Delhi, Lucknow, Pune and Bangalore.
But the big moment for the Indian women’s team came when they played their first ever Test against the West Indies in Bangalore in 1976 before claiming their first international win at Patna’s Moin ul Haq Stadium.
WCAI oversaw India when it hosted its first-ever Women’s ODI World Cup in 1978. This was an amazing achievement considering it was a time when the governing body relied largely on donations from individuals and the government.
In 1997 it also hosted the Women’s ODI World Cup, which featured 11 teams and Australia beat England in the final in front of almost 80,000 fans at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
After Sharma resigned from WCAI in 1978, the problem of raising funds became an ongoing problem for WCAI. Then came the issue of attending matches as the Indian women’s team did not play an international match between the 1978 and 1982 World Cups.
After years of struggle and hard work, including missing out on the 1988 ODI World Cup due to administrative apathy, India finally won its first-ever ODI series during the centenary of New Zealand cricket in 1995. Another highlight was finishing second in the 2005 Women’s ODI World Cup in South Africa.
The WCAI would continue over the next decade until the BCCI took over the running of women’s cricket in 2006. Although the number of matches below dropped drastically, runners-up at the 2017 ODI World Cup in England put women’s cricket in the spotlight for India.
So what has changed for women’s cricket in India after the BCCI took over the sport?
Traveling in unrestricted second-class carriages on trains was upgraded to air travel. Staying in dormitories gave way to hotel accommodation, and playing on rough wickets was traded for playing on better pitches.
From the low pay to making money playing cricket today, players received match fees and daily allowances in addition to the brand endorsements. There were umpires, video analysts and cricket started taking a professional look to get players to focus more on the game and their fitness.
But one thing is for sure, without the WCAI and their first steps to start women’s cricket in India, the WPL would not have come into being in a week.