The need of a full-length Women’s IPL
The Indian team is getting there. Three ICC tournaments have been staged since the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup and the women have twice reached the finals.
For the longest time, the Indian women remained in the shadow of their male counterparts. The feeling that the girls were merely playing exhibition cricket is gone. They’ve raised the standard of their game immensely in recent times.
A sizeable talent pool to pick and choose a squad surely helps. The coming-of-age of youngsters like Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma and the emergence of the aggressive opening batter Shafali Verma has given the team more match-winners.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this Indian team has moved from filling up the numbers in major tournaments to becoming genuine title contenders. This team is playing more bilateral series than they ever have. The experience that comes with touring nations such as Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa often is invaluable. It poses a completely different challenge to playing at home and most players seem to relish it.
The ‘A’ tours have been re-introduced which gives more players the opportunity to face the challenges of touring a foreign nation. This eventually prepares them to take the step up to international cricket.
What the BCCI has done is not just pack the schedule for the national team but also organize more tournaments at the grassroot level for the women. The success story of Kashvee Gautam, a 16 year old from Chandigarh who took all 10 wickets in an U-19 ODI in February 2020 vindicates the added efforts put in by the board to nurture proper talent and increase the competition for places. It’s no surprise that she’s found herself a place in the 2020 Women’s T20 Challenge squads.
That still doesn’t hide the fact that India twice faltered at the final hurdle in their last two attempts at glory. It’s evident that not everyone in this Indian team has the experience of playing a big tournament. The ability to absorb the pressure of being watched by 86000 people and countless more on television requires getting used to for most people.
A bigger WIPL is necessary
According to Sunil Gavaskar, the board could look at Australia for inspiration. The manner in which Cricket Australia has invested into the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) for a few years now. The contribution of the WBBL can be seen not just in more world titles but more young girls pushing to take up the sport competitively.
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“Yes, you’ve got to say that the Australian Cricket Board has backed Australian women’s team for a long, long time. They also had the WBBL, which has given plenty of opportunities to even a lot of our Indian players: Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet [Kaur], Deepti Sharma – they have all played in the WBBL. That is a big tournament.
“That is a tournament where you get to play the best players in the world, and you learn from them. But like the IPL, majority of the players in the WBBL are Australian women and that certainly has helped them to unearth new talent. A women’s IPL will make a lot of sense because that will mean there will be a lot more exposure for the women, there will be a lot more talent, which is probably there, but we don’t know at the moment, will come to the fore. And then as the years go by Indian women’s team will start winning a lot more trophies,” said Gavaskar.
India’s T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur is aware of the importance of a bigger women’s IPL.
In the post match presentation after her team’s loss at Melbourne, she had said, “We are hoping for some more games for the Women’s Challenge and I hope some more teams will get it. That tournament is one of the high quality tournaments for us domestically. From that we already got two good players and hopefully in the upcoming tournament we do get more players so that they can come and contribute for the team.”
Shafali Verma, who burst onto the scene as a fearless 15 year old in the 2019 Women’s T20 Challenge ended up as India’s highest run-getter in the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup. She’s the best evidence of gold that’s waiting to be mined.
‘Not practical at the moment’
The BCCI has been mindful of organizing a WIPL to increase the exposure for women’s cricket. They started the Women’s T20 Challenge between the Supernovas and Trailblazers in 2018, with a one-off game at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium. The tournament grew to three teams with Velocity being added and a cumulative of four games took place at Jaipur in 2019.
The board had planned to host four teams in 2020 with the number of matches being increased to six. This was until the COVID-19 pandemic brought all sporting action to a standstill. Eventually, a 3 team format was agreed upon.
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly spoke to India Today why hosting a full-fledged WIPL would require some time to materialise.
“You need to understand the practicality. You need a lot more women players. I see that in four years’ time, to get a seven-team IPL with the best women players. You have to let the state association teams get stronger, a lot of them are getting stronger. The push for women’s cricket has been enormous over the last few years. Three years down the line, when you have 150-160 players, you can take the IPL forward. Right now, we have 50-60 players. With the push BCCI has for women’s cricket, that will only increase,” he added.
Follow a successful model
The Women’s T20 Challenge is a great start. But tournaments like these require time to settle in. 4 matches within a week scarcely offers that time – both for players and the viewer.
The T20 Challenge would do well by keeping the Women’s Big Bash League [WBBL] as their benchmark. And while comparing the two leagues would be harsh at this moment, it ultimately serves in the best interest for Indian women’s cricket to seek inspiration.
The Women’s BBL is the outcome of a $20 million fund pledged towards the growth of women’s cricket at a grassroot level in Australia. The reserve was created by a number of ex-cricketers donating sums to enhance the game for female cricketers.
Surely, the richest cricket board could invest a lot more money in promoting the tournament.
8 WBBL teams play 59 matches amongst themselves in a tournament that spans more than a month. Of those games, a record 36 were televised for WBBL 06.
This again emphasizes my point of a slightly larger tournament. If mobilising more players for the tournament was a challenge, the next best alternative would be each team playing the other at-least twice.
The WBBL tied Rebel – the title sponsor of the competition on a long term deal since WBBL 01, much like what Cricket Australia has done with KFC for the men’s tournament.
Australia have found the success formula to monetize women’s cricket. This goes against the belief that women’s sport cannot attract money and hence is unsuitable for widespread coverage.
The BCCI did manage to get Jio to sponsor the tournament in 2020.
Without getting too greedy, it would be fair to say that the board can do more to welcome new sponsors. It’s the same set of people that sells the IPL property to plenty of rising businesses every year, yearning to grab a share of the eyeballs that the mega money tournament attracts.
An extended tournament makes it more competitive. As a viewer, that’s predominantly what I’d like to watch. More games mean more chances of close games. And honestly, there’s no better flagbearer for the Women’s T20 Challenge than a string of closely fought encounters.
A Women’s IPL is the ultimate dream. It didn’t happen in 2020 and perhaps won’t happen even in 2021 and 2022.
Going by what Sourav Ganguly says, we’re going to see more T20 Challenges in the near future than a proper, full-fledged Women’s IPL that we want to see.