In the early ‘70s, while women were already playing cricket in England, Australia, and New Zealand, the sport remained male-dominated sport in India.
A man named Mahendra Kumar Sharma, however, would change the course of history and make it more accessible to Indian women.
Sharma used to organise softball and handball tournaments for school and college girls in Lucknow.
Author Suprita Das noted that he saw no reason to deny girls the opportunity to play the sport, and was also keen on starting a cricket association for women in India.
Before Sharma’s efforts, there was just one women’s cricket club in Bombay — the ‘Albees Cricket Club’.
In the quest to start his own club, Sharma went around in a rickshaw, a few miles from Lucknow, with a microphone, shouting, “Kanyaon ki cricket hogi, zaroor aaiye (There will be cricket played by girls, do come).”
This was possibly one of the first-ever cricket matches played by women in India.
Seeing the enthusiasm of the players, Sharma, who was just in his twenties at the time, decided to form the first association for women’s cricket in India.
It was named the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) and registered under the Societies Act of Lucknow in 1973 under the Presidentship of Begum Hamida Habibullah.
He also conducted the first women’s interstate, national-level tournament in Pune in April 1973.
But history was truly made when India played its first international match in February 1975 when the Australian under-25 team toured India.
The following year, the senior women’s team played their first international match against West Indies.
The Women in Blue hosted and played their first World Cup in 1978. Since then, India has reached the final of the Women’s World Cup in 2005 and 2017.
Despite all the accolades for the team and players, Sharma has not been recognised for his efforts, much less for creating legendary cricketers. “But for Sharma, women’s cricket would not have taken off the way it did in India,” noted former cricketer Shubhangi Kulkarni.