Harmanpreet Kaur perhaps fired the first shot in the quest for a potential women’s IPL back in December 2016 at the North Sydney Oval. It was a stunning inside-out blow over the extra cover boundary on her Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) debut which got everyone talking, including Adam Gilchrist who called it “as good a cricket shot as you will ever see” on air. It was also ironic that while Kaur’s male counterparts in India never get to showcase their T20 skills in leagues abroad, the first real validation for Indian women’s skills in the shortest format came far from away home.
On Tuesday at Wankhede Stadium, 18 months since that Kaur shot and a terrific World Cup campaign in England later, they will take a major step towards maybe making that women’s IPL a reality when the BCCI hosts an exhibition T20 match prior to the IPL Qualifier-1 in Mumbai. Kaur & Co will also have company though with some of the biggest stars in women’s cricket — from Ellyse Perry to Suzie Bates — set to join them in the game that will played under IPL rules and will be broadcast live on Star.
The match, even if it is being billed as an “exhibition” with each team to have 13 players, will be a litmus test for the concept of the women’s IPL itself. The reception at the ground and on TV is likely to be looked at by the BCCI as a yardstick to whether they plan to follow the trend set by the WBBL in Australia, which was adopted in England with the Women’s Cricket Super League last year. There will be those questioning the timing of the match, which is scheduled to start at 2.30 pm on a weekday, and the fact that it will be held before Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad get going with their No.1 v No.2 playoff clash later in the evening. There will also be the logistics involved, considering that the boundaries are generally a tad shorter for women’s matches.
The Heat hurdle
It will also be a maiden opportunity for the foreign stars to show off their skills in front of an IPL audience, even if it remains to be seen how many turn up at the Wankhede. The extreme humidity and heat levels in Mumbai this time of the year will also be a significant hurdle. The two teams practised at the CCI on Monday, and they sweat buckets, a precursor to what they’ll witness during the match. It’s certain, however, to not have an impact on the excitement levels within the two teams, the Trailblazers and the Supernovas. As they looked forward to the match, the two captains, Kaur and Smriti Mandhana, both of whom have got a taste of playing in the WBBL, also revealed dealing with constant queries about why India doesn’t have a premier T20 league of its own.
“Everyone is excited. Whenever I went to Big Bash, all of them used to ask when is IPL starting and I had no answer to them. Everyone wants to put up a good show and bring women’s cricket to the World,” Mandhana said. This wouldn’t be the first time that women’s T20 cricket will be clubbed with the men’s in a bid for promotion, or a push for it anyway. The World T20 for both men and women have been held simultaneously over the last three editions since 2012. Later this year, though, we’ll see the women’s World T20 being held independently in the Caribbean. It is surprising to not find any of the West Indian cricketers here for the match on Tuesday, considering they are the defending T20 champions of the world. While CoA chief Vinod Rai was quoted recently saying that the women’s IPL might still be a two or three years away from being a reality, Kaur and Mandhana felt that they might not have to wait that long. They did admit though at there not being enough players in the country to fill up 8 franchise teams like in the IPL or even in the WBBL. “Four to five teams, to start with it 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, that can same happen with women’s cricket,” said Kaur.
Bates, the Kiwi veteran, kind of agreed with India’s premier batswoman. “In the WBBL, you always had the Australian players that were great players and worked hard. But now, younger players are able to make it to the Big Bash teams and be the best cricketers they can be. So if that can happen in India, it would be massive for the women’s game.”