The latest edition of the Express Adda held at Tote on the Turf in Mumbai hosted Indian women’s cricket stars Harmanpreet Kaur and Punam Raut with former captain and Committee of Administrators (COA) member Diana Edulji. In a discussion moderated by Seema Chishti, Deputy Editor, and Bharat Sundaresan, Assistant Editor, The Indian Express, the three cricketers took questions on their new-found celebrity status, changing attitudes towards Indian women in sport, and their tales of cricketing one-upmanship against boys while growing up.
On the team’s preparation for the World Cup
Diana: Previously, what I observed was that they weren’t enjoying their game, and that is why their performance wasn’t coming up. Before they left, we brought changes in the support staff, encouraged them to increase their confidence level. We ensured they flew business class. They got the kit they wanted. They reached there eight days prior to the tour so that they got acclimatised. All that helped a lot. I would say that made the team happier and more united. That showed on the ground.
On being overwhelmed by the rousing reception back home
Harmanpreet: We had only planned our vacations. We had no idea that so many people were following our progress back home. From whatever we were told, only three-four matches of ours were supposed to be shown on TV. The rest were on a digital platform. But then we found out all our matches were being shown live. Then, as we reached the final, the stadium was packed and so many were watching it back home. We never expected so many people to be waiting to greet us outside the airport. There are so many events that we have to attend. Originally, I was planning a nice break with my family but we have become so busy instead.
Punam: When we were playing the World Cup, we were away from social media, but we did realise that the interest levels were growing back home. My family was keeping me informed, and they were being hounded by the media too. When we lost the finals, we thought okay at least we’re together now so we can digest it somehow, but when we return home it’ll keep haunting us, this nine-run defeat. However, when I returned, the whole of Borivili was there to welcome me. It never felt like we had lost the finals. Earlier, only Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami were known names. But now other names like Harmanpreet Kaur and Punam Raut have also become household names. I haven’t unpacked my bags yet. In fact, I’m trying to avoid some of the events that I get invited to.
On winning the gender wars and playing with boys
Harmanpreet: My brother and I used to have a lot of male friends. We were one group and had formed a team. There used to be some opposition teams who would say we don’t want to play with them since they have a girl. I once got hit on the head and that would scare some people. But my team was so united that they would say we’ll play only if she’s allowed. They never believed I would come this far. Back then, even they would dream about playing for India or batting with (Virender) Sehwag. I used to say I want to do the same, and they would laugh at me saying no, boys and girls can’t play together at that level. I once complained to my father and he explained that boys and girls play the sport separately. I met my coach only after I passed my 10th standard. He started a girls’ team just for me, and I used to feel awkward playing with girls.
On how parents are still not open to their daughters playing cricket
Punam: There’s so much passion for cricket within us that we don’t ever think about getting tanned. We have been playing this sport from childhood and we loved being out on the field throughout the day. During the off-season, if there was no cricket, then we would play football or some indoor sport. I used to play kho-kho in school. It never came to my mind that I’ll turn dark and what’ll happen aage jaake. There were many people in our society and some of my mother’s friends would keep saying, “Isse ladki ki tarah thoda rehne ke liye sikhao. Ladki ke kaam sikhao.” They used to ask my mother to teach me to dress up like a girl. Then my mother would scold me.