Game played is trophy won

Gautam Gambhir would have been impossible to beat in a competition for eyeballs but Paromita Roy might have won a contest for spirit as both took guard 1,900km apart on a hot Thursday afternoon.

Opener Paromita scored 41 on the Maidan to Gambhir's 59 at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium, both ending up on the losing side.

For Gambhir's Kolkata Knight Riders, it meant the loss of a point in the IPL-6 standings. For Paromita and her team, it meant the loss of an opportunity that goes beyond playing in a tournament few follow.

"A tournament like this is a big boost for us. It doubles the opportunities we get to perform in a year because the CAB (Cricket Association of Bengal) holds only one tournament for senior women," said 20-year-old Paromita, in a hurry to reach her Garia home after the match so that she could "catch Sunil Narine bowling".

Paromita opens for Bengal with Madhumonti Bhattacharya. On Thursday, the two were representing rival clubs ' Shyambazar and Bhowanipore ' in the Women's Invitation Tournament organised by Shyambazar Club.

The fielders threw themselves at the ball on the patchy ground and the batswomen played what experts in the commentary box would say were more "sensible shots" than those attempted by several KKR batsmen in their last two outings.

But while the Chinnaswamy Stadium was a near full house, the only ones watching the effort put in by the girls were a few pairs of sleepy eyes along the concrete railing of Mayo Road and the mongrels who felt free to roam about within the boundary.

The trying conditions and the lack of spectators to encourage them didn't bother Paromita or Madhumonti. They are used to it, playing the game for the love of it and little else.

"I hope more tournaments for women like this one are organised by clubs and other institutions in Calcutta. We don't get enough exposure," said 23-year-old Madhumonti from Barrackpore, a Mumbai Indians supporter.

Do they fancy playing in a women's version of the IPL someday?

"That would be great!" Paromita exclaimed to wry smiles and admonishing looks from some of her more worldly-wise seniors.

"We had hoped things would improve when the BCCI took over women's cricket in 2006. But just the opposite happened. The club tournament stopped and was replaced by one where teams were created out of a pool of players, robbing the games of the passion with which real competitive cricket is played," rued Mithu Mukherjee, a former national player and selector.

The lone tournament organised by the CAB has been shifted to Kalyani, around 63km away. "We needed the tournament to be held in the city and be covered by the media to draw girls to the game," Mithu said.

The cricketers are also miffed that the tournament is held in May with summer at its peak. "Worse, creating teams named Red, Blue and so on from a pool of players is hardly a scientific way to go about it," a veteran said.

Potential Bengal cricketers used to get five matches or less to play in a year and grab the selectors' attention before the ongoing tournament was started by Shyambazar Club last year.

The talent pool is already drying up for want of exposure, reflected in Bengal failing to qualify for the knockout stage of the national tournament last season. The lowest point in the campaign was being bundled out for 32 runs by Tripura.

Jhulan Goswami, the only one from Bengal in the national team, feels the tournament started by Shyambazar Club would make a difference after a few seasons.

"This is only the second year of the tourney and already the level of competition has gone up. The ideal situation would be if these girls were nurtured by clubs throughout the year, just like in men's cricket," said Gautam Dasgupta, who heads Shyambazar Club.

For now, Paromita would be happy to play another match soon on that patchy Maidan turf.

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