The scriptwriters who plot the course of many IPL matches are obviously doing their best. We’ve had tense finishes, teams escaping from jail to win games, and Super Overs galore. But yeh dil maange more. Locked out in distant Dubai and played before empty stands, IPL 2020 is suffering from an acute glamour deficiency. It needs more appeal—much more than the appealing you hear from the players, and the best way to improve matters is to get women onboard.
Not for a moment am I suggesting that we get the ‘cheer leaders’ back. That would be outrageous, sexist, objectifying… and I can see hackles rising in feminist quarters. Instead, I vote that women come in as officiators. Look back across cricketing history. Women’s cricket has had many umpires of the same gender and some women have also stood in men’s cricket too. There are 12 women match officials across different ICC panels. (In fact two Indians cracked the glass ceiling as recently as March 2020). Should we fly them down to the Gulf then? Nah, they are fine for sport, but IPL is masala.
For masala entertainment, all roads lead to Bollywood, and the cricket pitch is where two of India’s raging passions can converge. Of all sports, cricket is the most gender-friendly. Soccer expects its referees to pant after the ball, in proximity to roving Ronaldos and marauding Messis. This will be stressful for girls on the field, and could prove explosive off the field. In tennis, the referee is more heard than seen. Seated high up over the net, it makes little difference if ‘he’ is in fact a ‘she’. It is only in cricket that the adjudicator stands in splendid isolation at the popping crease or at square-leg (we could shift her to ‘fine leg’, if that seems more appropriate).
In these difficult times, everyone involved has to step up and do his or her bit to draw in spectators. Batsmen and bowlers can’t do it by themselves because they come and go (CSK batsmen go at high frequency). It’s only umpires who stand in the middle right through. And while our current crop of umpires is doing a fine job, none of them is a crowd puller in the class of a Bollywood diva.
Imagine a scenario where a Virat Kohli gets into his element at one end, and umpire Deepika Padukone gets into her element at the other. Virat hits a four and the time-honoured gesture of the hand moving sideways and ending across the chest rivets the whole stadium’s attention. He clobbers a six in the next over, only to send the crowd into rapture as Vidya Balan stretches lissome arms high overhead.
Even suppose the batting enters a slow spell (typically Overs 7 to 13 in a T-20 match), women umpires can still hold the crowds in thrall. Picture Alia Bhatt indicating a leg bye—raising one stocking-sheathed knee and tapping it meaningfully. Or think of Sunny Leone bending over and crossing her wrists to indicate ‘dead ball’. At the end of the day, the ‘man of the match’ would, by popular vote, be a woman.
There will of course be the usual pernickety puritans who will demur at this break from tradition. Let’s swat these spoilsports out of the stadium. I am sure the fair sex can actually improve the quality of the contest. For one thing, sledging would be muted since a lady is within earshot. For another, the presence of a member of the opposite sex could provide just the incentive for whimsical middle order batsmen to extend their stay at the crease. You are also less likely to hear of dissent. A woman umpire’s verdict will be more easily accepted because players – especially married ones – must be used to allowing a woman have the last word.
It will be fitting if India takes the lead in bringing eves centre stage. Our country has a rich tradition of letting women act as arbiters of our destinies. We have had ladies ‘umpiring’ the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha some seasons ago. Our political pantheon blossoms with ‘didi’ ‘bahenji’ and a while back, ‘amma’. As we all know, the ‘third umpire’, who takes the final decision on practically all matters of importance in the Opposition is a woman.
So let’s have a game changer right now in this edition of the IPL, and do unto our umpires what they in turn have done to batsmen. Let’s declare the present lot ‘out’ and welcome the arrival of ‘umps’ with more oomph!
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK