To borrow a phrase from Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the Indian cricket board and the Australian women’s cricket team are the two crucial entities in the sport.
So, any clash between the two is not good news for the development of the game, but it’s something that might happen once again ahead of the Women’s T20 Challenge.
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly’s announcement that the Women’s T20 Challenge will take place alongside this year’s delayed Indian Premier League in UAE, was met with a mixed reaction of delight and disillusionment. Even as several meaningful questions were raised about the ambiguous announcement, the issue eventually divided opinion.
While Indian ODI stars Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj welcomed the chance to have some game time, ICC’s T20 Player of the Year Alyssa Healy said what a lot of people were wondering about – how the Indian T20 exhibition event clashing with Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League is far from ideal.
It was a thought shared by top players including New Zealand’s Suzie Bates and England’s Charlotte Edwards. Indian journalist Boria Majumdar and Healy also had a spat on Twitter over the issue.
The Twitter exchange, unpleasant as it was, brought to light the conundrum BCCI’s announcement has caused. On the one hand, it’s a welcome news that India’s women cricketers will finally get some much-needed game time. After the dampener of India cancelling the fully-funded women’s tri-series in England due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s an important move.
However, clashing with the biggest non-international tournament is women’s cricket is counterproductive and robs both events of a bigger scope.
Here’s a more in-depth look at the many questions surrounding this issue.
Could a clash with WBBL have been avoided?
The biggest issue with the T20 Challenge is the timing. The IPL in UAE is set to run from September 19 to November 10. The event will comprise three teams with four matches to be played during the IPL playoff week.
Meanwhile, the *WBBL is set to be held from 17 October to 29 November in Australia.
Now, a clash between the two could have been avoided if the T20 Challenge was held before the WBBL began. Cricket Australia announced their schedule in the middle of July. The obvious option in front of the BCCI was to have the T20 challenge at the start of IPL instead of hosting it at the business end (alongside playoffs), giving enough time for at least a few players to potentially be a part of both.
The issue in that case is about the proposed international series against South Africa in October and later against West Indies that Ganguly said is being planned but there is no clarity on that front. In that scenario, cricketers from South Africa and West Indies might have decisions to make too. Will those boards prefer international cricket with BCCI instead of letting their cricketers be part of WBBL?
What’s better for the Indian players in the long run?
In an ideal scenario, the best thing for the women’s team would have been the international tour of England. Primarily because it would be good preparation for the ODI World Cup set to be held early next year in New Zealand. To that end, Ganguly said he has some plan for the national team and a camp is soon to be held.
But in the current scene, with coronavirus affecting all sport, any game time is welcome. The T20 team has not played since the final of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in March and ODI stars such as Raj and Goswami have not played since November last year. The T20 Challenge therefore guarantees match practice to the top Indian cricketers. That is crucial.
However, WBBL is the most established women’s T20 league in the world and has served as a vital platform for players from all countries. Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana have greatly benefited from their time in Australia and are likely to be among the Indians said to have WBBL contracts for the coming season. Teenagers Jemima Rodrigues and Shafali Verma could have been in the mix. Will they be allowed to play in WBBL if a chance presents itself?
In terms of exposure, viewership and monetary benefits, piggybacking on IPL ensures the T20 Challenge a high-quality set up in UAE and a bigger TV audience in India compared to WBBL. Let’s not forget that 15-year-old sensation Shafali Verma got global recognition during the T20 Challenge. But in the long term, a dedicated, long league could have more benefits as Harmanpreet, Mandhana, Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma have said of their time in Australia and England.
In this case, the current platform and practice for the players must have been the bigger consideration for the administration. It’s also probably why many Indian players are gung-ho about it, going by their tweets.
Will having no top Australian player affect Women’s T20 Challenge?
Given the quarantine rules in place, it is fair to say top Australian cricketers won’t feature in the UAE event.
It won’t be the first time the Australians will be missing out on the action. In 2019, a stalemate between the BCCI and Cricket Australia over scheduling had seen the T20 Challenge played without representation from the world champions in the format. Cricket Australia had actually apologised to Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry as they missed out on the cash-rich event. There were accusations of CA using the top women players’ participation in India as leverage and BCCI went ahead without them.
It would be unfair to say that the 2019 tournament lost on star power when it was the first time an actual T20 tournament for international players was held and had good matches. But having the Australian stars would elevate the profile of any league given their experience.
How will the travel and logistics in UAE work for a one-week tournament?
This will depend on what the BCCI’s plan for the IPL is, the exact date of the T20 Challenge and the players who decide to join. Since this would be a tournament completely under BCCI’s purview and not franchises, the SOP, squads and all would depend on the Indian board. For now, Ganguly has only confirmed the tournament and more details are awaited.
What will top international players choose?
A clash with WBBL will put some of the top internationals from other countries in a fix. Since its inception in 2015, the WBBL has seen the cream of world cricket participate. In fact, it’s the first overseas league BCCI allowed Indians to play in with Harmanpreet, Mandhana joining in 2016. India didn’t take part in the previous edition due to the South Africa and West Indies series, which was to preparation for this year’s World Cup, in Australia.
But most top players already have committed to WBBL and a choice between the league contract and a short-term but economically solid deal with BCCI will be a tough one. With the ECB postponing the inaugural edition of The Hundred to next year, WBBL is the only franchise based competition on offer in a season where international cricket is already curtailed. The T20 Challenge will also need a few top international stars to truly be a hit.
It remains to be see what the players, both India and international, with WBBL contracts will do.
Correction: The subheading for the first part of this article originally read: “Could a clash with IPL have been avoided?” It has now been corrected to: “Could a clash with WBBL have been avoided?” The error is regretted.