Over the new year, Cricket Australia launched its long awaited Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL), to an overwhelming response. It surpassed all expectations, both on and off the field. Record crowds, televised matches with high viewership, and exciting encounters on the field were a big boost to women’s cricket world wide.
Hot on the heels of Cricket Australia’s ground breaking move, the England and Wales Cricket Board is gearing up to hold its own elite domestic competition for women, the Kia Super League. Scheduled to take off in June, the competition will condense the talent in England, spread across three existing divisions, into six teams.
The competition will feature six franchise based teams, featuring all 18 centrally contracted England players, evenly distributed so as to ensure an evenly balanced competition, as well as up to three overseas players per team. The league will be played only in the T20 format this year, with plans to extend it to the fifty over format as well next year.
Three overseas players per team, but unfortunately for Indian fans, no Indian female players feature in the list. Just as none featured in the WBBL down under.
The non participation of Indian stars in the WBBL was put down to the dates overlapping with the domestic season, and an international series against Australia soon after. It was hoped that with no domestic or international matches overlapping with the KSL, Indian players would be allowed to appear. It would have been an ideal opportunity to gain valuable experience of playing English players in their own conditions, especially considering that the ICC Women’s World Cup will be played in England around the same time next year.
India are currently ranked in fifth in the ICC women’s championship table. The top four teams will earn direct qualification to the World cup, while the bottom four will get a second chance at qualifying, by playing in a 10 team qualifying event in 2017.
Unlike the WBBL, whose franchises made offers to overseas players they were keen to bring on board, overseas players for the KSL were 'invited' to apply for the 18 slots. According to ECB officials, the board initially made contact with overseas boards, and players were then invited to apply. However, a senior BCCI official told Firstpost that they had not received any such communication from the ECB and that they could only consider allowing Indian players after they did.
This apparent miscommunication might just rob the Indian players of yet another chance to play in an international league, while players from other countries will gain even more valuable experience in playing against the best in different conditions.
It is pertinent to note the influence of the WBBL in the West Indies women’s successful World T20 campaign. Having spoken to some of the members of the Indian team over the last few months, the improvements seen in other teams due to these domestic T20 leagues was a recurring theme in our conversations.
Case in point: The West Indies women, who upset Australia in the recent World T20 final, had four players participating in the WBBL.
"Coming from playing in Australia, it helped me to already know a lot of the bowlers a lot better (and) what they're coming at me with," said the 18-year-old Hayley Matthews, who was player of the match in the final. Matthews scored 66 off 45 balls to help the West Indies to victory against the three time champions, the Southern Stars.
West Indies skipper Stafanie Taylor was an instrumental member of the Sydney Thunder squad that won the inaugural WBBL. No doubt the experience of playing in a number of high pressure matches, some of which were televised, came in handy in the World T20, where she finished the top run getter, and played a captain’s innings in the final (59 off 57).
The fact that no Indian players have featured in these two leagues threatens to send a wrong message to other countries, that the BCCI is not interested in sending its players to foreign leagues. It is pertinent to add that the BCCI does not allow any of its men’s players to play in foreign T20 domestic leagues either. While no official justification has ever been given, it is presumed that the BCCI seeks to reserve Indian talent for the IPL.
But the women don't have an IPL, do they? With no glitzy domestic league to reserve its female players for though, there was hope in the women’s cricket community that Indian players would feature in foreign leagues.
This BCCI administration has made a number of positive steps as far as women’s cricket is concerned. The introduction of central contracts, an Under-23 tournament, and plans to conduct an Under-16 tournament as well. However, if the BCCI does not follow this up with some progressive decisions, we might well see more instances of an Indian women failing to make the semi-finals in world tournaments.
India in previous ICC events:
2010 WWT20: Lost in the semi final.
2012 WWT20: Exit in first round. Failed to make semi final.
2013 Women’s World Cup: Exit in first round. Failed to make super six.
2014 WWT20: Exit in first round. Failed to make semi final.
2016 WWT20: Exit in first round. Failed to make semi final.