If Mumbai Indians got their Indian captain to lead in the Women’s Premier League for a parallel with the men’s franchise, Royal Challengers Bangalore went all out to get their No 18.
Years down the line, the moment Smriti Mandhana’s name came up for bidding for inaugural edition of WPL would be seen as a watershed for women’s cricket. There could not have been a better start to the proceedings, as MI and RCB went toe-to-toe for the Indian opener. RCB got their primary target for Rs 3.40 crore that put Mandhana in elite levels of renumeration in women’s sport. They then added, Ellyse Perry and Richa Ghosh and Renuka Singh Thakur.
But when that happened, you wondered... with a purse of Rs 12 crore, did RCB go overboard for four players? That was Rs 8.50 crore for four players. However, for those on the table, the plan was clear. Go hard early for international stars, and then trust their scouting network to pick domestic talents. Malolan Rangarajan and former India player Vanitha VR, part of the scouting set-up, had been working well in advance of the WPL tenders, looking at the talent in the domestic tournaments.
And so it was no surprise to see them add some of the best uncapped talent available from the pool. In addition, they picked up two international captains at base price in Heather Knight and Sophie Devine. RCB’s squad, led by Mandhana, arguably has the best mix of international stars and Indian talent.
|Player name||Country||State Association||Age||Specialism||C/U/A||Reserve Price Rs Lakh||Surname||Bid (In Rs Lakh)|
|Sophie Devine||New Zealand||33||All-rounder||Capped||50||Devine||50|
|Dané Van Niekerk||South Africa||29||All-rounder||Capped||30||Van Niekerk||30|
Ideal playing XI
Smriti Mandhana (C), Sophie Devine, Ellyse Perry, Disha Kasat, Richa Ghosh, Erin Burns, Poonam Khemnar, Megan Schutt, Asha Shobana, Shreyanka Patil, Renuka Singh Thakur
The core of the RCB picks itself. Mandhana, Perry, Ghosh, Thakur are certain starters. Given Sawyer’s New Zealand and Sydney Sixers connection, it would not be a surprise to see Devine and Burns take two other slots. Burns had a fantastic WBBL season in the middle-order and along with Ghosh, could potentially form a crucial part of their batting in death overs.
The other foreign-player slot in the XI could see some rotation, based on the conditions and how the domestic talent is shaping up. Schutt should be the front-runner, but if they need a spin-bowling-batting option either Knight or van Niekerk could be great options.
“Saying impressed [with young Indian talent] would be an understatement. Last few days into the nets have been outstanding. Shreyanka [Patil] with her off spin, Disha [Kasat] at the top there, there is someone like Poonam [Khemnar] with a power-hitting ability and Asha [Shobana] bowling leg spin has been as good as anybody that we have on ground,” said head coach Ben Sawyer in the pre-tournament press conference.
The names Sawyer mentioned could well be in the first XI for the franchise. Kasat was one of the top batters in the Senior T20 Trophy. Shobana and Patil offer two complementary spin options (leg-break and off-break). Khemnar’s power-hitting should find her a slot in the middle.
Most valuable player
It is tough to pick given the stars at their disposal, but also one cannot look past Mandhana. One of the best openers in world cricket, Mandhana set the tempo for the WPL auction and she’d need to set the tempo for the team as well. It would be interesting to see her approach to the tournament, as we saw an aggressive version of the batter in The Hundred last year. With the depth the first XI has, she could well have the freedom to go hard from the word go without the pressure of having to bat deep.
In Ben Sawyer, who is also the current coach of New Zealand White Ferns and Birmingham Phoenix in The Hundred, RCB have a name that has been associated with the women’s game for a long time. He has also served as head coach of the Sydney Sixers in the WBBL besides being assistant coach of Australia women. Director of operations Mike Hesson revealed that they were in contact with Sawyer well before the team was formed, and he had his inputs in building the team too. Assistant Coach and Head of Scouting is Malolan Rangarajan, who has been with the men’s team for a while now. Karnataka’s Vanitha VR will be fielding coach and help with batting skills too. The batting coach is RX Murali.
The franchise also appointed Sania Mirza as the mentor.
Strengths and weaknesses
The strength is undoubtedly their batting lineup. Mandhana and Perry can score heavily and at a good pace with their classical batting, while Devine, Ghosh, Burns offer the big-hitting prowess.
Honestly, there are not many loopholes in the RCB squad on paper. Their team-building plans were solid, then they reaped the benefits of strong scouting and a high-risk-high-reward approach to the auction. There is batting depth, there is plenty of leadership to help Mandhana out, there are three Indian internationals, there is a local flavour too.
But perhaps the one thing to be vary of, is how the domestic talent steps up to the challenge of playing in the high-pressure, result-oriented beast that is a T20 league. It is not always easy to make that step up, and while RCB have recruited well, there is bound to be some uncertainty around the uncapped Indian talent to complement the big names.
|MATCH NO.||DAY||Date||Match||Timing IST||Venue|
|2||Sun||5-Mar-23||RCB vs DC||3:30 PM||Brabourne - CCI|
|4||Mon||6-Mar-23||MI vs RCB||7:30 PM||Brabourne - CCI|
|6||Wed||8-Mar-23||GG vs RCB||7:30 PM||Brabourne - CCI|
|8||Fri||10-Mar-23||RCB vs UPW||7:30 PM||Brabourne - CCI|
|11||Mon||13-Mar-23||DC vs RCB||7:30 PM||DY Patil Stadium|
|13||Wed||15-Mar-23||UPW vs RCB||7:30 PM||DY Patil Stadium|
|16||Sat||18-Mar-23||RCB vs GG||7:30 PM||Brabourne - CCI|
|19||Tue||21-Mar-23||RCB vs MI||3:30 PM||DY Patil Stadium|