Feminine side of cricket

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Cricket takes center stage, with the ICC World Cup underway in Australia and New Zealand. In the world of men’s ODI cricket, the ICC World Cup is regarded as the premier tournament, witnessing participation as well as viewership from across the globe. It would be the time when cricket fans all over the world would be glued to TV screens. The tournament is one of the world’s most viewed sporting events and is considered the ‘flagship event of the international cricket calendar’ by the ICC.

The 2015 World Cup is the 11th ICC Cricket World Cup, scheduled to be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand from February 14 to March 29, 2015. This is the second time that Australia and New Zealand are hosting the ICC Cricket World Cup, after 1992. Forty nine matches will be played in 14 venues with Australia staging 26 games at grounds in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney while New Zealand hosts 23 games in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Napier, Nelson and Wellington. The final match of the tournament will take place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Sachin Tendulkar has been named the 2015 Cricket World Cup Ambassador by the ICC for the second time, after 2011 Cricket World Cup when he was the Ambassador for the first time. It will be one of the world’s largest international sports tournaments, with 14 competing teams and more than 400 accredited players and officials taking part in it.

India are the defending champions, having won the tournament in 2011 when it was held in the Indian subcontinent, defeating Sri Lanka in the finals by six wickets. The best part of it all is that, the tickets for the Pool B match between India and Pakistan held on February 15, 2015 were reportedly sold out within 12 minutes. This clearly shows how much the crowd has gone ‘cricket-crazy’!

As for Sri Lanka, having come close to the Champions Trophy twice and being beaten in the finals consecutively for two years, the disappointed Sri Lankan cricket fans are eagerly looking forward to make their long-awaited dream of a World Cup Victory come true. It’s a long time since 1996, when Sri Lanka won the ICC cricket World Cup under the captaincy of Arjuna Ranathunga, and the patience of the long awaited cricket fans no doubt deserve a victory.

So, the Sri Lankan Cricket team will be facing this year’s tournament bearing the hopes of two million Sri Lankan hearts. The team is captained by Angelo Mathews with Lahiru Thirimanne as the vice-captain. The 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup will be important for the veterans Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, for whom it will be the last time they represent the country at this level. It would be the last time Sri Lankan cricket lovers would witness the Sanga-Mahela duo in action at a world cup tournament!

Cricket Fever has spread across Sri Lanka irrespective of race, religion, gender or status. Unlike for other games, Sri Lankans have developed a strong passion for cricket over years. Sri Lankan female cricket fans are equally excited about cricket.

“I think it’s good to give Angi (Angelo Mathews) the captaincy. It’s more like a tribute to all the good he did at the T20 World cup.” This was the opinion of a female cricket fan about the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Here in Sri Lanka it’s natural to develop some kind of a trend along with the cricket madness. As during the big match season when you see boys streaming school flags out of buses, with the sound of papare bands, the feverish sense of rivalry in the air, rumors of fighting and the traditions associated with them – roadside brawls, dismissed as ‘friendly roughhousing’ by influential alums, trucking, and flaunting school colors everywhere, just to name a few - are steeped in years of socially constructed paradigms. The weeks leading up to these matches, the players are revered - boys want to be them, girls want to date them. Cricket creates some kind of a fashion; a trend among the fairer sex. Females are interested in cricket for many reasons.

“For me, the best part of Cricket is being the center of attraction in the crowd. I enjoy being in the crowd and dancing to the papare beat. Girls are so interested in face painting and wearing odd costumes just to stand out in the crowd. Last time I had to hunt for a Sri Lankan Cricket T-shirt all over the stores in Colombo, as they were all sold out within a couple of days,” said another female cricket enthusiast.

Female fans in particular enjoy the social aspects of watching cricket. “I must admit from a girl’s point of view, one of the main attractions is to find a nice spot at the boundary, spread a rug on the ground and soak up the sun while keeping one eye on the game,” said another. Even those who dislike the game could appreciate this part of the match-day experience.

“I don’t really enjoy watching 50 over matches. For me T20 is the best! They are just like tornados; quick, breath taking and destructive! The excitement and the thrill is doubled because the players get a limited time to score. If you want to witness “Cricket Magic” watch a Live T20 game!” This was the response of a female cricket fan who appreciated watching T20 matches rather than the ‘time consuming’ 50 over matches.

A spokesman for the England and Wales Cricket Board (EWCB) recently declared that ‘cricket is sexy’. But are professional cricketers themselves sexy? Most female fans questioned, said that some players - though not all - were sexy. Lasith Malinga topped the  ratings out of the Sri Lankan Cricketers while Angelo Mathews, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera all had female admirers. During the T20 World cup a number of girls went mad at Chris Gayle’s Gangnam Dance and it soon set a trend among others as well.

The numbers of female cricket viewers maybe on the rise but there is no doubt that the male gaze – in the stadium and at home – is trained on the women: the cheerleaders at the ground and in the stadium, the women in the crowd, the female reporters, and the female owners. They say that the more skin on show, the better; for the male audience and the ratings.

The literacy of females on the leg before wicket (lbw) rule in cricket was surprisingly low. The majority of respondents claimed that they did understand the lbw rule, though some admitted that they were unsure about its nuances - for example, where the ball has to pitch, what happens if no stroke is offered, and so on. A few courageous respondents tried to explain the rule, though not always accurately. “If it hits the players on the legs you have to do a lot of shouting and pointing - if you shout loud enough, he’s usually out,” suggested one person. As with football’s offside rule, cricket fans may all like to think they understand the lbw rule but many would struggle to explain it properly.

It is clear the Sri Lankan female audience is equally thrilled and excited about cricket as the males. On a certain day I was lounging on the couch and watching a test match between India and England. My mother and father were watching as well. Having taken a first-innings lead, Indians were struggling to bowl the English out quickly but things were getting out of control for the Indian team. Suddenly my mother said, “This captain is useless. He should switch Suresh Raina to the other end,” and walked off to attend to something in the kitchen. The stunned silence that enveloped the room in her wake spoke more eloquently than anything either my father or I might have said.

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