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I'll try to be a conscience keeper to the BCCI office bearers - Shantha Rangaswamy


Shantha Rangaswamy has become the first female representative of the Indian Cricketers' Association to be part of the BCCI Apex Council. Have things changed after the Lodha reforms? "Yes", she says "could you have imagined a woman being here?". Having donned various roles in cricket even after her playing days, she opens up about issues related to women's cricket that still persist- in age-group cricket, the domestic structure, women's IPL, Test cricket and more.
Excerpts from the interview:
What are the key issues that you are looking to fight for as the ICA female representative in BCCI?
I don't intend to fight for anything. With people like Sourav [Ganguly], Jay Shah and Arun Dhumal (in the apex council), they are all pro cricket. Though I've known Sourav as a cricketer, the other two also I've found to be very proactive and quick on their uptake. So, I don't see a need to fight because they are accommodating and willing to listen. But the key issues I'm looking to address are having under-16 tournaments pan India, two-day games for under-19 and inter zonals.
Those in power, the new guys, the young lot that is coming in, won't be having prejudices. Generally, people like me with age-old believes can have prejudices. People in power have to ponder if what is happening is right or wrong. I will try to be a conscience keeper to the office bearers.
Is it possible to have [Women's] Test cricket with several others boards also reluctant?
England and Australia are still playing. When I was the chairman of the selection committee, and Anurag Thakur was the secretary, we used to speak to the boards of some of the countries and have matches. England played, South Africa played. It is only once New Zealand refused that we don't have Tests. We have cut it off.
If it's a question of crowd, even the Test matches for men saw empty stadiums during the India-South Africa series. That should not be the criteria. Why does Ashes Test have the crowds? We need to generate interest. If we make an effort, given the clout of BCCI in world cricket, we can bring a change. But first, we need to put in that effort and then worry about the result.
With no Test matches happening at the international level, days cricket has stopped at the domestic level as well. What's your view on that?
I'm advocating for two-day games for under-19. It is to perfect your technique, to improve your staying power in the middle. Nowadays, with so much shorter format games, we tend to compromise on our technique. If Virat Kohli is excellent across formats, it is because of his superior technique. He doesn't play across. How do players learn that? It is only by playing longer games at that level.
BCCI has passed the buck of organising the Under-16s to the respective zones. Is it time they take onus of organising that?
Under-16s are happening only in the south zone for the last 10 years. Brijesh Patel had started it when he was the convener of South Zone, and they are carrying it on. Everyone is talking about not having an adequate base for women's cricket. Where will you get the base from (without an Under-16 level)? This is the feeder system. Under-16 is where you can widen the base.
My focus is on getting the base broader. How do we get the base broader? By playing more matches at Under 16, pan India. Make it each zone, pick up a zonal team, have six zones and have inter-zonals for the time being. Three years later, broaden it to a national championship like they do for the under-19 and senior team.
But a lot of players drop out of the cricket system after 20 due to social issues or financial reasons...
For women cricketers, job opportunity is a core issue. That is where I feel, BCCI can play a part with a high-profile president, secretary and treasurer. With their contacts, they can talk to government departments or corporates to open doors and give job opportunities to women cricketers.
But can't the BCCI offer contracts to the state players or facilitate that via the associations? New Zealand Cricket has offered contracts to 79 women cricketers...
I won't be surprised if it comes through in India also. But you must realise one thing, contracts for women cricketers, in a country like New Zealand and in India are different. But the cost of living in New Zealand itself is perhaps much higher than India. But, it's a good suggestion. Let's try and see if we can take that forward.
In recent years, the match fees have gone up. But 95% of the amount spent is for men while only 4.96% is for the women. Talking of central contracts, there is a wide disparity there. We need progressive-minded office bearers. Now with the likes of Sourav, Jay Shah and Arun Dhumal there, hopefully, we will be able to do much more than what we have done for women's cricket. They are youngsters, their perspective is much broader.
You were talking about inter-zonals for the senior team players...
I want inter-zonals to be restored. The glory that inter-zonals usually generate, I don't see that with these coloured teams - red, blue, green. Why can't we have inter zonals? That sense of team spirit, that competitiveness comes only when you play for a particular team. In the current scenario, players play for themselves. I'm not saying that everyone is like that but basically human beings are selfish. How do you foster that team spirit? Go back to the zones. Especially in women's cricket, the inter zonals was a premier tournament. The standard was very high. We have done away with it and I'm very displeased. I'll talk to Sourav and others about it and convince them to restore it.
Unlike the top men's domestic cricketers, who are playing almost throughout the year, senior women cricketers go through without playing domestic games for almost nine months. Are the lack of matches a cause of concern?
Even during our days, much before the BCCI took over women's cricket, we used to play in so many invitational tournaments; in Chennai, Mumbai, Kanpur and Kolkata. But BCCI don't permit it. We should stop with this dog in the manger attitude. Either I organise it or allow them to play (elsewhere). Now if you don't give permission, if you don't have matches for nine months, (the players will lose interest). Now with no zones, from 60 players, it has come down to 42 players (in Challengers). My point is, how are we going to sustain the interest (of the remaining players)?
Is Women's IPL a viable option right now?
I feel we are a few years shy of holding a women's IPL. My focus is on improving the under-16s and the under-19s. That is the feeder system, it needs to be broad-based. So that five years down the line we can have quality IPL matches.
WBBL is a standalone tournament now. Do you think with each passing year of not having an IPL-like tournament, the gulf between India and Australia widens?
We cannot be straight-jacketed. We need to think out of the box. The money that we will have to spend for women's IPL will be much lesser than what we spend on men's IPL. What I've gathered so far is that the new office bearers are open to ideas. Nothing is achieved without venturing into it. How much ever you cry hoarse, unless we climb up the hill, we can't reach the top. It's an effort. When IPL started for men, did anyone think where it will go? People were making fun of it before Lalit Modi implemented it. It's such a roaring runaway success now, a Kamadhenufor BCCI. If that gentleman hadn't pushed for that, would it have happened? We may have to go to smaller centres, and like WBBL and KSL, we have to involve foreign players.
In the late 70s, when Kerry Packer introduced coloured clothing and white ball, they called it a circus, he was called a mad-cap. Nobody acknowledges today that half the cricketing world is mad. They are all copying that. We need revolutionaries like Lalit Modi or someone with an open mind. Women's cricket is like our child. The day BCCI office bearers will start thinking like that, the transformation will commence.

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