The ‘Curry Girls’: A Women’s Day tribute
India’s first Test-match win
India’s first Test match win had many incentives attached to it. The victory caught the fancy of the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. She asked the [home team] to fly down to Delhi from Patna after the win along with the visiting team. Victory celebrations were prolonged on hearing this news. At the dinner table she quietly thanked the Indian contingent for a wonderful gift on her birthday which coincided with the very first victory of the Indian team.
First One-day International win for Indian Women
February 21, 1985. The cricket pitch of Nehru Stadium, Indore had always been merciless to Indian cricket. Not even the men’s cricket team had ever registered a victory there. But the Indian eves, about to step onto the grounds, were determined to try and stop the Kiwi surge.
As Indian skipper Nilima Joglekar walked out of the pavilion for the toss, there was a spring in her step. An air of expectancy seemed to hover over the stadium like a promise of impending victory – a victory long overdue. The 7,000 cheering spectators seemed to sense it too.
India openers Gargi Banerjee and Rekha Gadre were soon parted when Gargi mistimed a hook shot and Kiwi wicketkeeper Ingrid Jagersma brought off an easy catch. Rita Dey played some beautiful strokes for her 18 runs.
Shubhangi Kulkarni joined Rekha Gadre. India were soon 63 for four. Shashi Gupta joined Kulkarni and fireworks erupted from both players’ bats. But then Kulkarni edged an outgoing delivery from Gunn and keeper Ingrid Jagersma made no mistake. But after the fall of Kulkarni’s wicket, the Indian batting was never the same, and India closed with 129 made in 43 overs. Shubhangi Kulkarni with 35 runs, and Shashi Gupta with an unbeaten 28, were the top-scorers.
Despite the paltry total, the crowd was ablaze with excitement, encouraging the home squad boisterously.
The very first ball of the innings dismissed Kiwi opener Jackie Clark. The wicket-taking spree continued as Debbie Hockley was brilliantly caught by Diana. Ingrid Jagersma soon went for a duck. K Dunning was clean bowled by Shashi Gupta for one run; K Gunn added five runs. The damage had already been done. The fifth wicket fell for 20 and after that, wickets toppled at regular intervals. The delirious crowd support had powered the bowlers in running through the visiting side. Within the first 30 minutes, the Kiwis were six wickets down for a meagre 25 runs. The visitors’ reply fell 56 runs short of the target. The stands erupted in joy.
Shashi Gupta was awarded the Bhaskar Trophy for Best All-round Performance. Shubhangi Kulkarni was awarded the Nayi Duniya Award for displaying exceptional batting skills. Kiwi bowler Shona Gilchrist was awarded the Free Press Journal Award for best bowling.
Indian women cricketers had finally arrived.
First one-day series win abroad
For 17-year-old Anjum Chopra who had just [graduated from] school, winning an Indian blazer was a dream come true. Apart from her and Renu Margaret, there were two other debutants in that Indian Team – Smitha H and Kalyani D – all seamers as well as all-rounders! There was even a new skipper at the helm – Poornima Rau. But New Zealand was not the easiest of countries to play in for Indians, what with its gusty conditions and cold weather.
Yet the Indians reached the finals of the event that was to be played against the Kiwis at the Eden Park in Auckland. India set the Kiwis a target of 200 runs. The game went down to the wire with India emerging victorious. They had notched up their first ever series win outside India! The teams the Indians managed to lay low were the best in the business, including the Aussies, making the victory even more meaningful for them.
First one-day series win at home
The Indians were in a precarious position. The team was in a rebuilding phase, with seven rank debutants thrown in against mighty England. The strategic team of the new coach Tarak Sinha, India’s first male coach in Indian women’s cricket; Fiona Fernandes, Asian Games gold medallist from the 1982 Indian hockey team, as manager; and the new skipper Anjum Chopra. They focussed on their team’s strengths and capitalised on the opponent’s weakness. The first game was in India’s favour and then Hyderabad proved a Waterloo for the English team. The Indians were captained by player-of-the-match on two occasions – Anjum, who ably led a young pack that included Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami who later went on to lead in the ICC rankings.
First Test series win abroad
It was the first trip of the Indian women’s team to the Rainbow Nation, South Africa in March, 2002. After the clean sweep of the ODI series against the visiting England team, the Indian women were ready to embark on an African safari.
The South African team was just starting to emerge stronger on the international scene. Their semi-final spot, dethroning England at the 2000 World Cup, had a big role in that. India lost the keenly contested one-day series 2-1, after the first match was rained off after more than an innings’ play. The one-off Test series game was to be played at Boland Park in Paarl.
India won the toss and elected to bat first and soon found themselves inching towards the 400-run mark in the first innings. Anjum top-scored with 80. Five top-order bats scored individual fifties and the team declared at 404.
The bowlers got great purchase on the fast and bouncy wickets, especially C. Brits and skipper Cindy Eksteen. The Indian bowlers restricted the South African batters to 150 all out and made them follow on. Unlike the first innings batting, the South African batters exercised caution and aggression in their approach on Day 3. Hemalata Kala, an all-rounder in her early years and always a keen bowler, turned her golden arm to bag the crucial wicket of A.L. Hodgkinson for 77, trapping her LBW. The South Africans, with the help of their lower order, managed to cross the Indian total. The mandatory overs started and the SA team were only eight down when Kala with her golden arm broke the partnership and gave her team a chance to wrap up the innings. Two overs were lost on the changeover time and the Indian team had four overs and 12 runs to score to reach their milestone. The coach Mr. Tarak Sinha, in consultation with the manager, Ms. Fiona Fernandes, decided to send in skipper Anjum Chopra along with her deputy Mithali Raj to knock off the required runs. As the anxious Indian team members waited for this historic moment sitting alongside the boundary ropes, Mithali hit a four off the first ball she faced from SSD van Zyl. A few singles between the two batters got the Indian team to the victory in less than two overs, thus recording the first ever Test series win abroad.
First game under BCCI
2006: News of the merger of BCCI and WCAI was to be followed by a tour to Ireland and England. But there was a major scare just before the team was to leave for Dublin, Ireland: the kits arrived with the old WCAI logos; the BCCI logo was missing! There was despair in the silent room.
A burst of frantic activity rectified the blunder: the new kits arrived in the nick of time, just before the team stepped on the pitch for their first encounter at Ireland. It was taken as an omen and sure enough, India won the first leg of the tour. The whole team was convinced it was an auspicious beginning...a harbinger of good luck to come.
First T20 game – against England
A few cricket aficionados would know that the women’s team played their inaugural T20 international match before the men’s side. The ladies’ team played it on 5th August, 2006 in England, whereas the men’s team played theirs in South Africa in 2007, before the T20 World Cup in West Indies. The results were, however, identical ... both Indian teams won their respective matches.
There was a nip in the air at Derby, the venue for the first women’s T20 between India and England. For the first time in their lives, the Indians had to negotiate dewy conditions, jet lag and most importantly, play under lights – a novel experience – all at once. No one complained, though, as excitement took precedence over adjustment.
Batting first, England lost their skipper Charlotte Edwards in the first over itself, castled by a beauty from Jhulan. Anjum Chopra managed a straight run out of the ever-consistent Claire Taylor, and that dismissal set the tone for the match. Controlled bowling by the Indian team restricted the English team to a mere 107 runs.
Leading Indian all-rounder Rumeli Dhar opened the batting for India, carrying her bat right through the innings with India winning by eight wickets in the last over.
Extracted from the book ‘Women’s Cricket World, Journey from 1745 to 2013’ by Anjum Chopra and Sunil Yash Kalra. Publishers: Indian Sports Books (2011).