India's women cricketers could be forgiven for feeling a little jealous during the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia, where the hosts are paid as much as the men and play in front of packed stands.
While Australian women’s cricket is on a roll, India’s women lag far behind their vaunted men’s cricketers, who are feted as demi-gods with endorsements and lifestyles to match.
In Australia, the final of the fifth edition of the Women’s Big Bash League drew a sell-out crowd in Brisbane last year, underlining the growing appeal of women’s cricket.
The T20 World Cup final, at the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground, could attract a record attendance for a women’s sporting fixture, exceeding the 90,185 at the 1999 football World Cup final in Pasadena, California.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Australia have won four T20 World Cup titles so far, and are hot favourites to make it five when the tournament starts on Friday.
Meanwhile in India, the world’s largest cricket market and the sport’s financial powerhouse, there’s no women’s version of the Indian Premier League, and few opportunities to play.
A case in point is teenage batting sensation Shafali Verma, who cut her hair short and had to pretend she was a boy to play matches when she was younger.
Last year, a women’s T20 Challenge involving three teams was played alongside the cash-rich, globally popular IPL.
Indian cricket president Sourav Ganguly has vowed to push women’s cricket during his tenure, but for now it’s up to the players themselves to prove their worth – despite reaching the 50-over World Cup final in 2017.
“There is definitely a big gap,” Verma said.
“The men get so much support and us, after doing so well, we should be supported more,” she said.
“But it again it boils down to playing well. If we play better, then we will slowly but surely get recognition, as does men’s cricket.”
India’s top male cricketers, led by Virat Kohli, earn more than 10 times as much as the leading women on the annual contract list of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the world’s richest.
On the female A-list, T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana and Poonam Yadav get $71,500 each, while Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah receive around $1 million, not counting their lucrative endorsements.
Last year Kohli was listed among Forbes’ 100 highest-paid athletes worldwide, with estimated earnings of $25 million.
But opener Smriti Mandhana said the squad was focused on winning matches for India, “and if that happens, everything else will fall in place”.
“We need to understand that the revenue we get is through men’s cricket. The day women’s cricket starts earning revenue, I will be the first person to say that we need the same thing,” said Mandhana.
“I don’t think any of my teammates are thinking about this [pay] gap because the only focus right now is to win matches for India, get the crowd coming in and earn revenues.”
The International Cricket Council has been urging cricket bodies around the world to follow Australia’s lead and dramatically raise wages for women’s players.
The hosts are eyeing a multi-million-dollar payday should they retain the T20 World Cup title on March 8 in Melbourne.
In addition to the increased prize money of $1 million for the World Cup winners, Cricket Australia will kick in another $600,000 should its team clinch the title.
A Bollywood biopic on batting icon Mithali Raj is expected to hit Indian movie theatres next year, but large endorsement deals still elude India’s women, in contrast to the men’s players.
“Indian women’s cricket is not able to generate any money on their own,” veteran sports journalist Vijay Lokapally said.
“Australian women have many sponsors. The Aussie fans go and watch women’s cricket.”