Women’s IPL or WIPL have been announced. About time. How will this affect women’s cricket in India and will we give them a fair chance?

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2023 has started off as a bright year for women’s cricket with three major sporting events scheduled back to back- The inaugural Women’s Under-19 World Cup in January, Women’s T20 World Cup in February and the most anticipated… Inaugural Women’s IPL(WIPL) in March through April.

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All you need to know about Women’s IPL (WIPL)

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On Monday, the auction for the sales of broadcasting rights for the 5-team Women’s IPL took place and they fetched a pretty impressive amount of INR 951 Cr (11 million US dollars approx) over a period of 5 years from 2023-27, roughly INR 7.09 Cr per match. Although it’s far lower than what the IPL is earning (INR 118 Cr per match and INR 50000 Cr for 5 years), it is still very promising considering the fact that IPL also started from INR 8 Cr per match in 2008.

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Also the rights to own the proposed 5 teams will be sold on 25th of January where the current IPL franchises and their owners are expected to break the banks to have a corresponding women’s team.

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The tournament is to be played in March, and will see many Indian and International superstars plying their trade for the respective franchises. A players’ auction would also take place in February where teams can pick the players of their choice within a certain purse limit.

The broadcasting will be done by the newly founded Viacom-18 sports network.

Are we late in launching the Women’s IPL compared to other countries?

The IPL was the pioneer of franchise-based T20 cricket and attracted immediate success way back in the summer of 2008. It has been 15 years since then and many other nations have started their own competitions namely, the BBL in 2010 (Australia), the BPL in 2012 (Bangladesh), the CPL in 2013 (West Indies), the PSL in 2016 (Pakistan), The Hundred in 2021 (England), LPL in 2020 (Sri Lanka) and more recently the ILT20 (UAE) and SA20 (South Africa). But since then other countries, many of them with lesser resources than the BCCI have leapfrogged and launched their Women’s Leagues prior to WIPL.

The WBBL commenced in 2015, the women’s CPL in 2022, Pakistan announced corresponding Women’s PSL before WIPL and in a first, England started the Women’s Hundred simultaneously with the Men’s Hundred in 2021 itself. No surprise that Australia and England are currently top 2 women’s teams in the world.

Why was the Women’s IPL delayed?

For many years, the argument was that India lacks the talent pool for organizing a full-fledged women’s tournament. Also it is worth considering that majority of the Indians didn’t even know that something called an Indian women’s cricket team also existed in this world. Only when Harmanpreet Kaur blasted her way to 175* against a power packed Australian team in the semi- finals of the 2017 Women’s World Cup and India ended as the runners-up in the tournament, did people take notice, and the call for The Women’s IPL started gaining impetus.

But still it is very unlikely that a cricket loving country with a population of almost 1.5 billions lacked the talent pool for WIPL. Rather it was lack of encouragement and our not-so-good domestic structure responsible for the slower growth in women’s cricket.

The need for WIPL and its benefits

The WIPL has the potential to change the whole scenario around the women’s cricket in India in many aspects. It can do a world of good to every single active player and also the aspiring ones; not just in India all over the world.

KL Rahul, The Vice-Captain of Indian Men’s test team said that he took cricket seriously after witnessing Brendon McCullum’s whirlwind innings of 158(73)* for KKR against RCB on 18th April 2008- the first night of IPL.

Will Smeed, a 21-year old emerging cricketer from England says that if given a choice, he will choose playing the IPL over an International World cup because he grew up watching IPL and is highly inspired by the standard of competition. That’s quite a big statement to make.

The IPL has inspired a whole generation of fans and even the current crop of players over the last 15 years. If the WIPL can do that too, the Indian team would become world beaters.

League tournaments help in developing a talent pool and acknowledging valuable performances

The names that have come out of IPL tournaments have been embedded in the minds of people who watched them live in a match. MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma earned captaincy accolades by guiding their teams to multiple IPL titles. Not just the top players who are cricketing geniuses in their own sense, but even the lesser known, low profile players made the world look up and notice their unbelievable performances. They all came to the IPL, proved their worth, did wonders for their team and even went on to represent India at the international level.

These tournaments also provide a player-friendly environment which contributes immensely in the overall development of players in every aspect, be it technically, tactically, physically or mentally. There are world class coaches, physios, trainers, analysts ready to help players anytime. Even if the player is not a part of playing 11, she can develop her game in this culture, enhancing her performance wherever she plays next.

Thus it will help in raising the standard of women’s cricket as a whole. Currently the Australian team is the undisputed leader of women’s cricket, having won the last 3 competitions without any fuss. But courtesy WIPL, others teams will have new players to choose from and excel in world cricket.

Reducing the gulf between men’s and women’s cricket

A few days ago, while scrolling on the ESPNcricinfo app, I came across a headline, “Pandey benefitted from Clark’s advice”. I invariably thought that it was about Manish Pandey and Michael Clarke, but when I opened the article it was about Indian women’s team pacer Shikha Pandey and another great Aussie world cup winning captain Belinda Clark. I was amused at the fact that my mind automatically assumed this was about male cricketers despite the fact that Shikha Pandey and Belinda Clark are equally successful in their careers, if not more. Shikha Pandey had just returned to the Indian squad following a 2 year hiatus benefitting from Clark’s suggestions who has her statue instilled at the famed Sydney Cricket Ground.

Whenever there is a question, ‘Who is the all-time greatest batter in the cricket’s history?’ Some will say Sir Donald Bradman, many votes for Sachin Tendulkar but how many will consider Mithali Raj who in my opinion is as skilled as the above-mentioned gentlemen? Greatest bowler in ODI history? Wasim Akram, or Glenn McGrath maybe….. Meanwhile Jhulan Goswami goes unnoticed. The WIPL will ensure that the women cricketers also become a household name for the Indian audience and get their share of recognition.

Changing the landscape of women’s cricket as a whole

Although WIPL consists of the T20 format, it will still help in evolution and growth of women’s cricket in many ways.

Just for the context, starting from 1934 only 144 Women’s Test matches have been played as compared to 2000 Men’s Tests. 13 players have played more than 144 test matches individually as follows: Shane Warne(145), Mark Boucher(147), Mahela Jayawardene(149), Allan Border(156), Stuart Broad(159), Sir Alastair Cook(161), Rahul Dravid(164), Shivnarine Chanderpaul(164), Jacques Kallis(166), Steve Waugh(168), Ricky Ponting(168), James Anderson(177), Sachin Tendulkar(200).

Ironically, Sir Alastair Cook played 159 continuous Tests between May 2006 and September 2018; and Allan Border played 153 continuous tests between March 1979 and March 1994. That is still 15 and 9  more Test Matches than 8 women’s teams have played over 89 years. It’s ridiculous to say at least.

The T20 leagues can help in attracting audience, which will lead to more women’s tests being scheduled in future.

Financial aspects

Again one of the important things to consider for an athlete.

An athlete has 15-20 years of playing top level sports, where she has to maximise her financial returns and secure a future for herself. Although the BCCI did take a step in the right direction by declaring equal match fees for its Men’s and Women’s teams, the number of matches played by the Women’s team per year are nowhere close to what the Men’s team plays. Also, the major chunk is not constituted by match fees, but the central contracts offered by the BCCI, again having considerably less salaries for the women cricketers, a problem which can be easily solved by WIPL.

The money earned by the sale of media rights and teams of WIPL will hopefully be used in developing the grassroot structures in women’s game and provide sufficient facilities for nurturing the prodigies.

Challenges in the way

The greatest challenge that lies ahead for the WIPL is the public preference and interest. Are we as audience ready to embrace the WIPL as we did the IPL 15 years ago? IPL is played in vacation period in prime time hours, keeping us glued to the television and mobile screens. But the time window for WIPL suggests that it will clash with the marquee international matches of the Men’s Team almost every year.

This year there are India Vs. Australia Men’s matches to be played in March, with England Men’s team scheduled to tour during the same time, next year. So will the Indian audience do justice to Women’s game, for which they have been deprived since long, or will we continue our one-way love affair for the perenially underperforming Men’s team? Will the stadiums be a packed house or we will give an unfortunate message to the world that we were right in not starting the WIPL? It remains to be seen.

For the time being, let’s hope it will be a grand success like the IPL, and will ensure that we are heading in the right direction by eliminating gender disparity from sports. If it turns out to be on expected lines, WIPL will be a sight to behold.

Alexaaa play “DE GHUMAKE”…!

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