How Close are we to a Women’s IPL?
Jay looks back at the Women’s T20 Challenge, debunks the outdated ‘depth’ argument, and questions whether a WIPL will happen in 2023
Simran Bahadur looks to the skies as she reluctantly drags herself to the non-striker’s end. She gets down on her haunches, exhausted and heartbroken.
After reducing an equation of 47 required off 16 to 6 off 1 with the help of Laura Wolvaardt, Bahadur has just mistimed a Sophie Ecclestone full toss into the leg side.
Ecclestone, in contrast, is beside herself. She runs off on a solo lap of honour as her teammates and the entire Supernovas dugout eventually catch up to her.
Her elation may have caught many by surprise, especially as winning the Women’s T20 Challenge doesn’t carry as much prestige as winning the WBBL or The Hundred. Yet, Ecclestone’s reaction was down to a combination of how close the game was, the attendance at the final, which peaked at 8621, and the feeling that we are closer than ever before to a Women’s IPL.
Interest? Yes. Intent? Not enough
8621 is a surprisingly impressive figure for many reasons. Firstly, the final was hosted at the MCA stadium in Gahunje, which, for all intents and purposes, is located in the middle of nowhere beside the Pune-Mumbai expressway.
Secondly, the BBCI did not promote the tournament nearly as well as they could have. This half-hearted promotion is neither surprising nor is it a new phenomenon.
Indeed, the BCCI Women’s Twitter handle has often been inactive for days on end except, of course, to pass on birthday greetings to current or former players. Compare this to Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board, which actively promote women’s cricket and their respective T20 competitions all year round.
To make matters worse, the BCCI broadcasted a grand total of zero balls of the Senior Women’s T20 Trophy, whereas each game of England’s Charlotte Edwards Cup or the Rachel Heyhoe-Flint Trophy receives tens of thousands of views. Needless to say, if Indian domestic cricket were streamed, viewership figures would dwarf anything you would ever see in England. Streaming or broadcasting domestic fixtures would also maintain interest amongst fans throughout the year and not just when a premier T20 league is on.
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Not only has the BCCI’s intent paled in comparison to its Australian and English counterparts, but it has also been shown up by the recently concluded 2022 FairBreak Invitational. FBI 22, a privately funded tournament run by women’s empowerment organization FairBreak Global and two associate boards — Cricket Hong Kong and the Emirates Cricket Board — was broadcast in over 140 countries and territories.
It featured 90 players from 35 different nations, most of which were associate member nations. The tournament made stars out of the likes of Sita Rana Magar, Henriette Ishimwe, and Winifred Duraisingam, who were previously unknown to the majority of women’s cricket fans.
What makes FairBreak Global’s accomplishments even more impressive is their reaction to the logistical nightmare they were faced with. Due to Hong Kong’s government imposing some of the world’s most draconian Covid restrictions just months prior to the tournament — including a 21-day isolation period for inbound passengers and a ban on non-resident arrivals —FairBreak Global founder Shaun Martyn and Cricket Hong Kong made the agonizing decision to shift the already postponed tournament to the UAE.
They had to start many things from scratch. Yet, in spite of lacking the resources and financial might of the Big 3 boards, this did not dissuade them from staging the tournament.
On Wednesday, the New Indian Express reported that the BCCI is strongly considering staging the inaugural Women’s IPL next year in March. This could cause a clash between the WIPL and FBI 23, which is scheduled for 11 to 26th March in Hong Kong. Ironically, the Invitational may well have been the very tournament that spurred the BCCI into action.
However, the BCCI’s lack of intent means that they only have nine months left to pull off a March tournament. We still don’t know how many teams will be taking part, the bidding process for team ownership, or the dates of the tournament. These are some big missing details, so if I had to bet on whether a March IPL would happen, I’d probably just keep my money in my pockets.
Lack of depth is a myth
There has long been an argument that there isn’t enough depth for a Women’s IPL. Firstly, this assumption has gained a lot of traction amongst people who barely follow women’s cricket, and are not, therefore, qualified to be taken seriously. Secondly, a women’s IPL is exactly what you need to create more depth in India’s pool of players.
And thirdly, this season has emphatically proven that the outdated depth argument is a logical fallacy.
It’s staggering that Simran Bahadur walked in at number 10 in the final, and hit Alana King, one of the world’s best spinners, down the ground for six before taking three fours off Pooja Vastrakar, the tournament’s highest wicket-taker.
Eight out of the top ten run-scorers at the Women’s T20 Challenge were Indian. In this list was uncapped Kiran Navgire, who could not break into Maharashtra’s line-up for this season, and sought an opportunity out-of-station in the Northeastern state of Nagaland. Yet, against the Trailblazers she blitzed five sixes in a memorable innings of 69 (34).
Missing from the tournament were players such as T20 specialist Anuja Patil, veterans Ekta Bisht and Shikha Pandey, and strong domestic performers Dayalan Hemalatha and Disha Kasat.
There is clearly enough talent for more teams in a full-fledged Women’s IPL. There is clearly a large and growing market for the women’s game in India. What is less clear, however, is whether the BCCI will stop dragging its feet on a tournament that it should have launched years ago.
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