KOLKATA: Indian captain Mithali Raj opened the second annual International Cricket Council (ICC) women's cricket forum, reflecting on how far the game has come in the last 12 months.
Speaking in Kolkata on the opening day of a week of the ICC meetings, Raj painted a picture of the significant changes that women's cricket underwent in the last decade - from her not even knowing that there was an Indian women's team when she first started playing to not being able to walk down the street unrecognised.
"This is the beginning of good times for women's cricket, what happened in the World Cup and the way people now see women's cricket as a viable sport," she said.
In front of an audience comprising ICC member CEOs, head of women's cricket, and other leaders in the game, Raj said that she hoped this was a turning point.
"There is no longer any ignorance about the women's game, cricket talk is not limited to the men's game or amongst men's fans. The reach is now there, so the common man can see women's cricket and we are breaking viewership records and it is important we continue that interest," Raj said.
"We are now starting to see stand-alone women's event and we have the ICC World T20 later this year and this is good. Double-headers were important at first but no matter how good the women's cricket, it was always overshadowed by the men. At a stand-alone tournament you 'own the stage' and it's another opportunity to promote the game on a larger platform," she added.
Holly Colvin, ICC women's cricket manager, added, "At the inaugural ICC women's forum last year, the seed to broadcast every match of the women's World Cup was sown. The group here can influence and change the women's cricket landscape for the better."
"The 2017 ICC Women's World Cup was a resounding success but we cannot rest on our laurels. This year's forum is about how we maintain the momentum and continue to grow the women's game," Colvin concluded.
Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director of Ogilvy South Asia introduced the concept of building the brand of women's cricket to the forum.
"Now is the time to celebrate these women, we have to popularise the game and the players. One way of doing this is to give women's cricket a sense of purpose that touches the hearts of people and gives the game a brand identity," Pandey said.
"Women's empowerment is a global issue and if we can celebrate women's empowerment through cricket we can make an impact. Every government wants to promote this, but can cricket lead it? We need to tell strong stories that become the surround sound to the cricket and turn these players into stars," Pandey added.
Day two of the forum will continue on April 23 with a focus on sharing best practice and growing the number of women and girls in cricket.