Ever since Sourav Ganguly became the president of the BCCI in October, he has shown a willingness to invest in new ideas and innovations for Indian cricket, such as the first day-night Test in Kolkata: a bone of contention for too long in the past.
However, one idea Ganguly seemed to nip in the bud was the call for a women’s version of the Indian Premier League – a proper franchise-based domestic T20 league for women.
“You need to understand the practicality of it. You need a lot more women players. I see that in four years’ time, to get a seven-team IPL with the best women players [in participation],” he was quoted as saying recently.
Meanwhile Down Under, the final of the fifth edition of the women’s Big Bash League was played to a full house in Brisbane. This was the first standalone edition of the tournament after four successful seasons along with the men’s edition, and it worked out well by most metrics.
Indian cricket, on the other hand, continues to adopt a wait-and-watch approach.
Ganguly, seemingly, first wants a strong foundation: enlarge the base of the pyramid before building further.
“You have to let the state association teams get stronger, a lot of them are getting stronger. The push for women’s cricket has been enormous over the last few years. Three years down the line, when you have 150-160 players, you can take the IPL forward. Right now, we have 50-60 players. With the push BCCI has for women’s cricket, that will only increase.”
The BCCI president makes a very valid point about state associations needing to become stronger to have settled grassroots supply. But Ganguly’s assessment that a women’s IPL next year is just not practical, is odd.
The quality of the domestic talent pool and the supposed lack of market for it have long been concerns stopping the development of a women’s IPL.
Yes, a talent gulf between India’s domestic and international side does exist, but that is true of most teams. It is only through constantly playing matches and consistent competition that this can be addressed. And the argument that such a tournament is held back due to a limited number of players is flawed.
First and foremost, there is absolutely no need for a seven-team IPL in the immediate future. It is an established fact that a women’s cricket tournament cannot be held on the same scale as men’s for simple financial reasons.
However, there is no reason why, say, a four-team league cannot be organised in the near future. If you have a pool of only 60 Indian players, adding even a minimum of 10 overseas players, would give you a draw big enough to start a more regular tournament instead of a token exhibition affair.
Giving credit where it is due, the groundwork for a women’s IPL has been prepared by the BCCI over the last two years. The foundation was laid when the one-off Women’s T20 Challenge game was held in Mumbai in 2018 ahead of an IPL Playoff game.
It was then expanded to a three-team, four-game series in Jaipur in 2019, which shaped out to be a good contest held on standalone evenings and not as a doubleheader. The second did not have the tag of an exhibition game, which would have been a disservice given the quality of the players in action.
In keeping with this progression, the next logical step is a make it a regular venture that should be rooted, watered and grown. For any initiative to bear fruit, the seeds have to be sown and the tendrils tended to patiently.
A leap of faith
Hence, such a statement from the chief of the cricket board – the richest in the world – seems counterproductive.
How do we know that the current depth is not enough until a longer tournament – not one limited to four games – is tried out?
The parent body cannot keep saying there is no depth and then not do much to expand it. Women’s cricket has never got more sustained support than it is getting now with India A tours being reintroduced and a more professional contract system. Having the league at this time, where local players can interact with international stars, is the easiest way to improve the depth and quality.
An example of this is the case of 15-year-old Shafali Verma. The Women’s T20 Challenge gave her a big platform, which paved the way for a quick entry into the national team. She became the youngest Indian to hit a fifty in international cricket, breaking Sachin Tendulkar’s record. In only her second international series, and first match out of India, the opener shone with the bat in the West Indies.
The benefit Indian players have received in playing the two international T20 leagues is there for all to see. In almost every interview, players have spoken about how playing Women’s Big Bash League in Australia and the Kia Super League in the England helped them.
Harmanpreet Kaur’s game-changing innings of 171 in the 2017 World Cup semi-final is just one instance of the exposure benefiting Indian cricket. Having played with and against the Australians in the WBBL, she was better equipped to take on the best team in the world. Smriti Mandhana, and more recently Deepti Sharma and Jemimah Rodrigues have excelled when they played the Women’s Super League in England.
The need of the hour, therefore, for the women’s game is to increase match time. As things stand, international tours are still not very frequent and the domestic competitions are not always enough to develop bench strength.
At the end of the day, this all boils down to a question of money and motivation. With the BCCI’s resources, money is not as big a factor. The IPL is a cash-rich league and perhaps a few of the teams can be asked to field a women’s team. The board itself can use this as an opportunity to further the game by organising, and perhaps initially funding the venture, if required.
The tournament can work from the viewer perspective too, especially as the fans in pockets of this cricket-mad country have shown a willingness to back the women’s game too by turning up in numbers. Surat, that hosted the South Africa T20I series, a fine example of that fact.
Even with the smaller pool that Ganguly mentioned, a smaller start (more significant than just four matches) is feasible instead of the wait for three years to enlarge the base of the pyramid.
The motivation, though, could prove to be a bigger roadblock given the many things the current BCCI top brass would want to tackle in what is now a limited time in office.