About a year back, in the United Kingdom, a bunch of Indian players were turning heads towards them at the ICC Women’s World Cup. The women in blue’s dream run to the final at Lord’s was seen as a watershed moment for Indian sport. The trophy eluded them but the limelight did not. In the immediate aftermath of the tournament, the clamour for a women’s IPL was the loudest it has ever been.
But then, not unsurprisingly, the women’s cricket team slipped under the radar. It was months before they even stepped on to the field again in India’s colours. And in that phase, Mithali Raj made an important observation - a women’s IPL is necessary, but not before a good domestic circuit is built.
Well, now the stage is set for a first-of-its-kind IPL exhibition match between Trailblazers led by Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur’s Supernovas at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday and players believe it would be a stepping stone for the launch of a women’s T20 league in the country.
International stars like Kiwi Suzie Bates, Aussies Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt and England’s Danielle Wyatt will be part of the game which will take place before the Qualifier 1 between Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
“It is very exciting for all of us to be playing this exhibition match and thankful to BCCI for organising such a unique match and it is a stepping stone to the IPL. And hopefully, we will put up a good show and audience and BCCI people will think of having a IPL,” Mandhana told reporters.
“Everyone wants to put up a good show and bring women’s cricket to the world. This is the first-ever match we will be playing with foreign players on Indian soil. Everyone is excited to be a part of this historical moment. We want to express ourselves in front of audience and BCCI, [to show] that [women’s] IPL will be good to watch also.”
Mandhana believes that a women’s IPL can take place with four teams but admits that there aren’t enough players for an eight-team tournament.
“Well, we cannot have eight teams, but we can have an IPL of 4-5 teams to start with, definitely not eight teams, not right now. Four to five teams, to start with is a good initiative, because when men’s IPL started, first two seasons only foreigners scored and later on we started developing our bench-strength. You never know, the same can happen with women’s cricket.
“Through IPL it’s easier to develop the bench-strength. The girls will be playing with all the foreign players and they will learn much more quicker and the bench strength will [improve] quicker,” explained Mandhana.
Similarly, India’s T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur feels that the players were waiting for this kind of a match since a long time.
“We are very excited and were waiting since a long time [to] play an IPL-like tournament. We are happy that we have got an opportunity tomorrow and hopefully we will get a good match.”
Asked whether India has players that could make up four teams for a women’s IPL, Kaur answered in the affirmative.
“We have 20 girls who are representing India - be it T20, 50-over, apart from it there is India A team. We do have 30-35 girls. Everything else depends on tomorrow’s match and how we get response from the public. And if there is good response, BCCI is very keen to form such a T20 tournament from next year.
“Earlier,there were not many players. But last two years we have got tournaments and BCCI has organized camps, so now there are 30-35 girls who can strictly focus on the League... in the years to come, we can get a good tournament,” she explained.
White Ferns star Suzie Bates also felt that in the future Women’s IPL could be a reality.
“Just so excited for all the girls to have an opportunity to play tomorrow and in the future we can have women’s IPL and more players and more Indian players get an opportunity,” she said.
“So there’s going to be a lot of nerves. We want a really good game for cricket. But look, I’m sure girls are going to be excited, and some girls are going to want to shine in the spotlight.”
“That’s what we want to see. We’ve seen it in the men’s game, that players just love the hype and crowds getting into it and such things,” she said.
IPL Trailblazers: Smriti Mandhana (Captain), Alyssa Healy (wk), Suzie Bates, Deepti Sharma, Beth Mooney, Jemimah Rodrigues, Danielle Hazell, Shikha Pandey, Lea Tahuhu, Jhulan Goswami, Ekta Bisht, Poonam Yadav, Dayalan Hemalatha.
IPL Supernova: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Danielle Wyatt, Mithali Raj, Meg Lanning, Sophie Devine, Ellyse Perry, Veda Krishnamurthy, Mona Meshram, Pooja Vastrakar, Megan Schutt, Rajseshwari Gayakwad, Anuja Patil, Taniya Bhatia (wicket keeper).
(With PTI inputs)