The first few matches in the Women’s Premier League has made a few things clear. Even with the number of reputed names in international cricket who didn’t get a contract from the auction, the quality in display from overseas players has been very high.
India captain Harmanpreet Kaur loves the big stage and almost always delivers when she sees one. And even if some of the top Indian internationals might not have yet had the impact they would have liked, the younger Indian talent have held their own in the company of the megastars.
Here’s the thing, though. Almost all of the above statements would have been true, say, in the aftermath of India’s memorable, yet heartbreaking, run to the final at the ICC Women’s ODI World Cup in 2017. We didn’t necessarily have to wait till the start of 2023 for it to be a reality.
As the cliche goes, better late than never. But it feels pertinent to address the fact that it has been late, nevertheless.
Over the past few weeks, it has been good to see the money come in from broadcasters, franchise owners and the number of brands associated with the league for its inaugural edition. The overdue recognition is finally here. The pre-tournament buzz evidently carried over into the first week too. Despite massive ticketing issues early on, the crowds were decent by most accounts (if not overwhelming for matches not involving Mumbai Indians, but that will happen). Since then too, there has been a steady footfall at venues.
There have been some sparkling individual performances across all five teams. Even in defeats, players have stood out (international or Indian). The pitches and pulled-in boundary ropes have played their part and a couple of cricketers have wondered maybe if that should be changed. But some of the ball-striking has automatically brought that into question without words being spoken.
Long story short, if there were any concerns over the quality of cricket in the WPL, those has been quickly put to bed.
What has also stood out is the number of passing references we have heard during broadcast and on videos by the franchises on social media: “We have been waiting for this.”
Now that it is finally here, players – current and former – have been able to say that frequently, in celebration, of course, of the fact that the tournament is finally happening. Former captain Anjum Chopra said in one of the pre-match broadcasts that after the men’s IPL started in 2008, she hoped that the women’s event will happen soon and kept prolonging her career before eventually hanging up her boots.
Reema Malhotra, another former Indian cricketer who has been part of the broadcast team with Sports18, told Scroll during an interaction that she has wished during the past week that if this was happening a little earlier, how much she’d have loved to play in it.
“I was telling Jhulan (Goswami), if it had happened two years earlier, I would have played for sure. From day one I have said that this is the dream of thousands of women that has been fulfilled today and I am one among them,” Malhotra said. “Der aaye durust aaye, I am glad I am involved with my inputs and insights in some form but definitely I’d have liked to play.”
Indeed, on Sunday after MI’s win against UP Warriorz, Harmanpreet and Malhotra shared a few moments wondering the very same. The Indian captain even got a bit emotional speaking to Malhotra about how good it could have been playing with or against her friends.
For long, the international-domestic collaboration has been highlighted as one of the advantages of such leagues, but last Thursday at the DY Patil Stadium we saw that happen between two superstars too. India captain Harmanpreet said about Australia and Delhi Capitals captain Meg Lanning, “She is a very good player, very good leader, it is a very positive thing that she is playing in India [in WPL], and sharing the dressing room with our domestic players, that’s what we always wanted.”
And since then, as if on cue, Shafali Verma played a remarkable innings in a run-chase after which she thanked Lanning for her guidance.
Indeed, that’s the sort of experience Indian cricket has been late to receive for no real reason apart from evident scepticism from the powers that be. In the first week alone, we have seen left-arm spinner Saika Ishaque take the lead in the race for leading wicket-takers. The MI player said after the match against DC, holding her player-of-the-match award, “Sapne jaisa lag raha hai... par yeh hakikat hai, maine ball daala hai accha.”
She is 27 now and finally, after an arduous journey, is having her moment under the spotlight. As WPL makes it clear there is great talent apart from the top players in the country, it is worth remembering there may have been many more Ishaques who might have had their moments if they had been brought to the limelight on time.
For now though, we will continue to hope the WPL – as the IPL has, undeniably – will give a platform to many more Ishaques to showcase what they can do. While it is great to have that stage finally, and interesting to see how long it takes for the effects to trickle down, it is worth acknowledging momentarily the delay in getting here too.