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Mandira magic for women's willow - Sponsor lined up for ODI series

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CHANDRIMA S. BHATTACHARYA   |   Mumbai   |   Published 18.02.04, 12:00 AM

Mumbai, Feb. 18: After sexing up men’s cricket, Mandira Bedi has come to the rescue of women.

The sporting diva has made private and corporate sponsors sit up and admit that women play cricket, too. She has lined up a title sponsor — as much a rarity in the women’s game as it is in surplus in men’s cricket — for a one-day series between Indian women and their counterparts from West Indies.

As they wield the willow in Calcutta, Gurgaon, Dhanbad, Lucknow and Jamshedpur — that’s the set of grounds they got — the Indian women will sport on their flannels the name of Asmi, a diamond company.

The brand, of which Bedi is ambassador, will be the title and team sponsors for the Indians. The last team sponsor for Indian women was Hero Honda, which took care of the World Cup 1997.

Without the sponsorship, the series, to be held from February 26 to March 12, would not have been possible, says Bedi. “The money I would have taken for my endorsement will go towards the cricket sponsorship,” says the actress, who promises that this is only the beginning. “There is another sponsor lined up for the next series,” she says.

Asmi’s sponsorship will be the most varied. “We have broken it into several parts,” says Shubhangi Kulkarni, former Indian player and at present secretary of the Women’s Cricket Association of India. There will also be a trophy named after the sponsors. “Things look very good with this sponsorship,” she says, not willing to compare the sponsors.

But there is also a hint that the partnership with Asmi may extend beyond this particular series.

The company is also glad. There is a lot of synergy between Asmi, for which the previous ambassador was actress Perizaad Zorabian, and the Indian women’s team, feels the company. “It is a perfect fit. Asmi looks at the contemporary woman, who is good at her job. The Indian women are very good. They beat New Zealand and are top-ranking in the world,” said a spokesperson.

But the unbeatable partnership is between Bedi and women’s cricket.

While Bedi cannot stop talking about how good the Indian women are, the women’s association cannot stop talking about the wonders Bedi’s presence has done to it.

“The last two or three years it was very difficult to get sponsors,” says Kulkarni. Tours and events were organised with a little help from a number of sponsors. In domestic cricket, players are accustomed to travelling second class in trains and staying in economy hotels. Thanks to the paucity of funds, no player — none in the national team even — can afford to be a full-time player.

From the series against New Zealand, each player got a paltry Rs 7,500. “It is a vicious circle,” says Anjali Pandharkar, who is on the organising committee of the association.

“Because we don’t have sponsors, we don’t get publicity. When we don’t get publicity, we don’t have sponsors.”

“But now, with Mandira taking up our cause, other corporates are also showing an interest,” says Kulkarni. “She came to watch a game and we told her that you have done so much for men’s cricket, so why don’t you do something for us? She took it up very earnestly and very soon we heard that she was approaching sponsors.

“The fact that DD covered the matches in the New Zealand series helped,” says Kulkarni. “Now people are more curious about women’s cricket here.”

Kulkarni even has a defence against the most serious charge levelled against women’s cricket — that it is so poor in quality it doesn’t matter — a charge that is spelled out by the team’s current captain, Mamatha Maben. “Who would want to come and spend their precious time to watch a team struggle to make 120-140? It has been 25 years now since the women’s variety was introduced in India and I am sorry to say that, barring the fielding standards, the game has taken a dip,” says Maben in an Internet article.

But Kulkarni is positive. “Things are improving. We played well against New Zealand,” says Kulkarni. “We held a fitness camp recently and the results are already showing in our girls.

“With sponsorships, we will be able to hold more training camps or go for a better choice of grounds,” she says.

And they will have Mandira Bedi sizzling by their side.

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