Indian star Smriti Mandhana said that this is the time for women’s Indian Premier League if the game needs to improve in the country while Ben Stokes and KL Rahul supported the idea that the existing franchises must be associated with women’s teams as well.

When asked by former England international Isa Guha on a podcast hosted for Red Bull, whether they would like to see women’s teams associated with their respective franchises, the two men agreed.

“Yes, I think when you at where the women’s game has gone to especially over the last four to five years, it has gone from strength to strength and it’s great how it is filtering into the men’s game in terms of [parallel] competitions and things like that,” Stokes, who plays for Rajasthan Royals, said.

“I’m very hopeful there’ll be a women’s franchise side associated with every men’s franchise side. To be able to grow the women’s game even bigger, what better place to do it than out here in India?”

Punjab Kings captain Rahul said he concurred with Stokes.

“I totally agree with Ben. I have been following the Indian women’s team for a few years now and the kind of performances they have been putting up in that last three-four years is amazing. I have seen a lot of young players coming through, a lot of them from Karnataka who always used to practise with us as junior cricketers. Great to see how they are playing. Would love to see Punjab Kings women’s team as well,” Rahul added.

Indian opener and T20I vice captain Smriti Mandhana, meanwhile, said the tournament is ready for an expansion. Asked about her thoughts on reports that Women’s T20 Challenge could expand to more teams by 2022, Mandhana said: “I think so, given the kind of performance [we have had] over the last three-four Inyears.”

“IPL is all about youngsters and if you look at the current team, the average age is around 23-24. Shows a lot of youngsters coming through. The IPL is definitely going to boost women’s cricket and get that confidence in youngsters, which we have seen in men’s cricket where people who are making their debut, you can’t feel that they are nervous.

“IPL has had a huge impact in that regard, that will really help women’s cricket as well. I feel it’s the right time to start, if we really want to grow women’s cricket especially in India, I think it’s the right time to start women’s IPL,” Mandhana, who has played in the Women’s Big Bash League and KIA Super League, said.

There is currently no official announcement regarding the Women’s T20 Challenge for 2021. The tournament was played in Sharjah in 2020, with three teams involved. Mandhana captained Trailblazers, while Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj captained Supernovas and Velocity respectively.