It has been a weekend to remember in Mumbai. A warm glass of water for the throat and a letter of leave to the boss at work is prescribed to anyone who was at the two cricket stadiums over the course of 4th and 5th March. A highly anticipated tournament overwhelmed, and at times underwhelmed, this writer, and here is an account from the DY Patil stadium, recording a time we will definitely tell our kids about.
With the booking platform showing ‘sold out’ for tickets, there were high hopes that DY Patil would host a big crowd for what would be a historic opening day – whether you are a player, a fan, a reporter or anyone else. It’s a day that has been an intangible concept for a few years, and was finally set to materialise into reality. A total of 87 players had been acquired by five teams, along with the best support staff from across the globe. Everyone wanted to be there; and there we were. People poured in from every gate, the footfall could make a shopping mall jealous. In what is a familiar feeling in India, there was chaos at the gates: where do we collect the tickets? Which gate to enter from? Has the show begun?
Yes, the show, you heard it right. Bollywood stars Kiara Advani and Kriti Sanon danced as the opening ceremony commenced, a precursor to the much-awaited performance by Punjabi singer AP Dhillon. Here too, the performance stage was facing the VIP section of the stadium, so 95% of fans were dancing in the stands without much to see.
Personally, the first ball being bowled was the main event. After the performance, the teams came out for warm-up. The big screen displayed the playing XIs of Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Giants, with incomplete line-ups and mispronounced names. Let alone the sweaty-smoky atmosphere after the flamethrowers and firework rockets had done their job, to have the cricket not being taken as seriously was disappointing. But it was time to quickly move on, the real show was just getting started.
The teams walked out and everyone stood for the Indian national anthem, played only once per tournament, right at the start. A handful of people left after AP Dhillon’s 15 minutes, but that was truly their loss. Mumbai openers Hayley Matthews and Yastika Bhatia stepped out to the crease. The crowd in blue made it a point to be heard. Ash Gardner with the ball, Beth Mooney behind the stumps. Mithali Raj’s team vs Jhulan Goswami’s. Adani-owned team vs Ambani’s. Let’s play.
Harmanpreet Kaur magic
That first innings of the Women’s Premier League was what dreams are made of. Mumbai Indians, in front of their home crowd lit up DY Patil. Imagine a gymnast running in for the vault. Hayley Matthews was the springboard, Harmanpreet Kaur and Amelia Kerr did their routines and the bowlers ensured MI stuck the landing. Score? 10/10. The actual score? MI 207/5 and a victory secured by 143 runs.
It looked like Harry di wasn’t quite done batting from the T20 WC semi-final. Her effortless stroke-play made the work of the stadium MC and DJ Gangu quite easy, but the crowd was louder than the music.
The second innings was as anticlimactic as the first innings was thrilling. Beth Mooney walking off in the first over with an injury set the tone for what would go on to be a slow burn right till the end. After 15.1 overs, the Giants were bundled out for 64.
Walking away from the opening matchday, adrenaline was coursing through my veins at an all-time high. These players were in WPL jerseys, getting the best treatment by franchises and putting on a show for the Indian crowd. That’s the essence of what we have been requesting for. Uncapped Saika Ishaque taking 4 wickets (including two Aussies) with an economy of 3.47, and blushing when Charlotte Edwards and team MI appreciated her post-match, that’s what we want to see happen.
The game was one-sided, but it was entertaining all the same. People left the stands with blue t-shirts and orange flags and clearly it was a successful opening day. The restaurant manager at my dinner place asked, “kaun jeeta, Mumbai na?” and I remember smiling really wide. “Haan, araam se,’’ I replied. People are curious, people want to know. Fan bases have reputation at stake here. The WPL is well and truly alive.
A thriller on second day
5 March, 2023 saw the two new franchises go head to head at DY Patil, under lights. How would they fare? Although it was a Sunday evening, the stands were not quite as full as one would have liked.
Creating a fan base from scratch isn’t easy, but thrilling cricket would certainly be one way to do it. Capri Group had provided free UPW fan merchandise on each seat in Bay A, B and C which resulted in a wave of yellow. GG had bigger problems at that moment, a new captain in the middle for the toss and a massive defeat to put behind them. Nonetheless, there was enough of an atmosphere to welcome these two teams into what is going to be a very competitive and entertaining cricket league.
Gujarat had a tight turnaround from their opening fixture drubbing, and UP Warriorz wanted to show the cricket fans that they were not to be taken lightly. GG won the toss and elected to bat first. By the WPL trend so far, the first innings total had been 205+ and the chasers had been far from successful.
Trust lieutenant Deepti Sharma to make the first breakthrough for UPW, getting Sophia Dunkley clean bowled. Ecclestone followed, proving her world No 1 ranking in the T20I bowling charts. At the end of the powerplay, the game hung in the balance, and to be very honest, at the end of 20 overs, it was the same. The 169/6 posted by the west-coast franchise was a defendable total, but not unattainable for the Warriorz in yellow. There was a lovely crowd engagement during the half time break as the flood lights went off and the phone torches were on.
Quick transition into the second half of what UP were hoping would be a record-setting chase in the short existence of the WPL.
After 3 overs, they found themselves at 25/3. The two Aussies Alyssa Healy and Tahlia McGrath had been outclassed by their compatriot and new entrant to GG squad, Kim Garth. The clan of supporters had gone silent as Kiran Navgire and Deepti Sharma had to rotate strike diligently to set a foundation. As a fan of round numbers, the equation after 10 overs was pretty simple, needing 100 runs of 60 balls… and then Deepti’s bails went flying.
Garth got Kiran, who played a solid knock for her half century, and Simran back-to-back in the following over and it looked like the Giants were really on top. The think-tank of Rachael Haynes and Mithali Raj were scripting a 24 hour comeback story from the dugout and the two experienced international legends were being shown on the big screen a fair bit to catch all the cool and calm expressions.
UP managed only a run a ball for the next 5 overs, leaving 70 runs required from the last 30 deliveries. Their runs-scored worm would need an oxygen tank and some proper boots for the steep climb ahead. 63 needed from the last 24 balls.
Grace Harris, who is known for going into beast mode in these kinds of situations, was out in the middle. Handy with the bat, English star Sophie Ecclestone had the best seat in the house, at the non-striker’s end.
Oh, what an exhibition it was. Although a few fans had trickled out, the yellow army was slowly finding its voice again. A stunning heist followed and with 7 fours and 3 sixes to Grace’s name, UP Warriorz pulled off an impressive chase – the first of the WPL too.
The match had it all, DRS drama, golden ducks, absolute fireworks with the bat and some important singles and doubles too. After Match 3 of the Women’s Premier League, it is safe to say: welcome to the WPL baby, it is here to stay.
As DY Patil Stadium gets a day of rest on March 6, the sounds of “Super Harman” & “UP Warriorz jeetega” chants will echo in the minds of many, and will probably keep echoing until they find themselves in the stands again. It was a weekend where dreams turned into reality.