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Women’s IPL: It is time for BCCI to get going and end the wait

Matches and records are coming thick and fast for the Indian women’s cricket team on their tour of Australia. On 26 September, Mithali Raj and Co pulled off their highest-ever chase to end Australia’s world-record 26-match ODI winning streak. Four days later, starting on 30th September, they will be playing their first-ever Day/Night Test.

The frenetic scheduling would make the uninitiated feel that the women’s team has too much cricket on their hands. Any such assumption is far from the grim reality. The ongoing assignment Down Under is only the second away tour for India since they played in the T20 World Cup final on 8 March, 2020.

After COVID-19 pandemic struck, men’s team participated in a full-fledged IPL, toured Australia and hosted England while their female counterparts — the likes of Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana — sat at home waiting for international cricket to resume. Their first match in 2021 came 364 days after that World Cup final.

A women's IPL will help India bridge gaps like slow scoring rate and lack of options in the squad. Image courtesy: Twitter/@BCCIWomen

A women’s IPL will help India bridge gaps like slow scoring rate and lack of options in the squad. Image courtesy: Twitter/@BCCIWomen

In those 364 days, Indian cricketers witnessed their peers from Australia, England, New Zealand, West Indies, Pakistan, and South Africa take the field while the players belonging to cricket world’s richest board — Board of Control for Cricket in India — kept playing the waiting game.

Still, this team always puts the best foot forward every time an opportunity comes around. In England’s backyard, they fought tooth and nail to draw their first Test match since 2014. They lost the ODI and T20I series 1-2.

They began the recently concluded ODI series with a heavy defeat against the Aussies but bounced back immediately to script a last-ball thriller in the second match. India were in control for large part of the match after scoring 274/7 batting first. Aussies were reduced to 54/4 at one stage but India let the game slip out of their hands with inexperience coming to the fore. The inexperience of playing under lights. The inexperience of playing with dew around. The inexperience of playing in pressure cooker situations.

Eventually, missed half-chances, poor fielding and overthrows brought the game down to Australia needing 13 from the last over. Once again the fielders were put under pressure, committed mistakes and thanks to a late no-ball, Australia secured a five-wicket win.

The streak lived on, only to be broken in the next match. Goswami, after bowling that no ball,  redeemed herself by hitting the winning six in the final over of the third match.

 

Just to give more context. Australia are a record six-time ODI Champions. They also have five T20 world titles in their cabinet. England have four ODI and one T20 World Cups to their name. And yet India almost stood toe-to-toe with two of the biggest teams in world cricket. But there’s a difference between close defeats and winning consistently. Old-fashioned batting, lack of bowling options, poor fielding are mainly the gaps that India need to bridge to be at par with Australia and England.

But, how do you that?

One thing both Australia and England have in common is a professional T20 league. Cricket Australia launched the eight-team Women’s Big Bash League in 2015 and the T20 competition has gone from strength to strength since. England and Wales Cricket Board launched six-team Kia Super League in 2016 and it has now been replaced by the eight-team The Hundred.

As women’s cricket becomes more competitive, Australia and England have stayed ahead of the curve thanks to their large pool of international-ready players, as a result of the professional T20 competitions. The opportunity to play in best stadiums, alongside best players, in front of packed crowds with many other watching it on television acts as the perfect recipe to get domestic players ready for big occasion of international cricket.

Australia’s Megan Schutt, World No 3 ODI and T20 bowler, told The Guardian last year: “I don’t see the WBBL as just a domestic cricket tournament any more. It’s the future of our game. It’s where we attract kids, nurture them, offer them opportunities to play either for fun or for competition and grow women’s cricket for generations to come.”

WBBL players 18-year-old Darcie Brown and 19-year-old Hannah Darlington have recently taken to international cricket like duck to water.

Yastika Bhatia, Richa Ghosh, Sneh Rana's recent performances have made the argument that women's cricket in India lack depth fall flat. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@BCCIWomen

Yastika Bhatia, Richa Ghosh, Sneh Rana’s recent performances have made the argument against depth in women’s cricket in India fall flat. Image courtesy: Twitter/@BCCIWomen

Similarly, the impact of the Indian Premier League on the Indian men’s cricket has been multifold but most importantly it has aligned with India’s rise as arguably the best team in the world. BCCI picking an India team for the recent white-ball tour of Sri Lanka when one senior team was already camping in England would not have been possible without the IPL. A lot of the players from that Indian team for Sri Lanka tour now found themselves in the squad for the upcoming T20 World Cup.

For women cricketers, BCCI only hosts an exhibition event — Women’s T20 Challenge — consisting of three teams during the IPL. The Women’s T20 Challenge has not been held in 2021 so far. While Australia and England continue to grow on the back of their T20 leagues, it is India’s loss not to have a full-fledged IPL for women cricketers.

The ongoing Australia tour is women’s team’s last scheduled assignment prior to the 2022 ODI World Cup which starts on 4 March. It’s no secret India still have a lot of areas to work on — ranging from improving strike rates to finding a stable middle order and pace bowling options. Just imagine what India could have gained had there be an IPL for the women cricketers.

Also given the financial might of BCCI there’s actually no logical rationale behind not starting a women’s IPL immediately, more so at a time when the board is working on expanding the men’s IPL with an eye on the revenue.

For those who feel that India lack the necessary depth in numbers and quality to have a full-fledged IPL, the emergence of debutants Yastika Bhatia, Meghna Singh and Richa Ghosh during Australia ODIs should serve as a reminder.

India’s appearance in the ODI World Cup final in 2017 embedded women’s cricket into the consciousness of cricket fans in the country. But if BCCI and India aim to win a World Cup, a women’s IPL will go a long way in helping them in the process.

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