WBBL-Women’s T20 Challenge conundrum: A different window, better planning would have made it a non-issue

  • Abhishek Mukherjee
  • August 4th, 2020
  • 10:01:59 IST

Let us first look at the facts. IPL 2020 will be played in the UAE, between 19 September and 10 November. As with 2019, the Women’s T20 Challenge – a triangular tournament involving stars from around the world – will be played “during the IPL Playoff Week”. In other words, the four matches (including the final) will commence in the first week of November.

Given the fact that the Women’s Big Bash League will be played between 17 October and 29 November, the scheduling automatically barred cricketers from featuring in both tournaments.

This might have worked under normal circumstances (with both boards agreeing, of course). Some, especially the Indians, might have flown in for a week. Given that the WBBL takes place almost entirely on weekends, a window would have been possible. Unfortunately, with cricketers having to quarantine themselves before the tournament, that is ruled out.

This has effectively ruled the Australians out of the T20 Challenge in a near-encore of the 2019 edition. On that occasion Cricket Australia actually apologised to their cricketers once it became clear that they would not feature in the Women’s T20 Challenge following a disagreement between CA and BCCI.

But it is not about only the Australians either. Others will not fare any better, for they, too, will have to choose between the two tournaments. Given the lack of major tournaments in women’s cricket, it seems almost cruel to deprive professional cricketers of opportunities.

One must remember that The Hundred – ECB’s much-publicised tournament – did not have a 2020 launch in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. This had already come as a major blow to the women cricketers, for whom opportunities are scant. In fact, this year’s WBBL will be the first major T20 League for women since its previous edition.

Thus, it did not come as a surprise when several key overseas stars – Alyssa Healy, Suzie Bates, Jess Jonassen, Rachael Haynes, former cricketer Charlotte Edwards – responded, none of them in support.

What about Indians? Some of them (Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Poonam Yadav, Veda Krishnamurthy, Mona Meshram, commentator Reema Malhotra) have voiced support for the schedule, but none of them has featured in the WBBL.

On the other hand, the ones who have played in the WBBL (and/or were likely to get contracts this time) – Harmanpreet Kaur, Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma – are yet to respond, though it is very unlikely that they would travel Down Under instead of being part of the Women’s T20 Challenge.

Who is likely to suffer?

The cricketers, who could have played in both tournaments, can now feature in one at most. But even if one ignores them (there is no reason why they should) will the tournament benefit?

Much of the argument has been over the fact that it will be unfair to deprive “thirty” cricketers to allow “three” (presumably Kaur, Mandhana, and Rodrigues) to play in the WBBL. But to what extent will these “thirty” benefit?

While the likes of Kaur, Mandhana, and Rodrigues have featured in overseas T20 leagues, the others have not. The T20 Challenge, while shorter than it should ideally have been, provides them a window to rub shoulders with the best in business.

One problem India Women have faced over the years is the chasm between the first XI and the next level. While the big guns are good enough to take on the best in the world, an injury or two is often enough to expose the vulnerability of the reserve bench.

This remained unaddressed till the fringe cricketers got to play alongside the finest contemporary cricketers in the world, even if for two matches. Not only did that help them figure out their shortcomings, they also got to showcase their skills in front of these stars. The tournament may be shorter than ideal, but one performance may help elevate the stature of a cricketer.

Varma can be a case worth studying. Few had noticed her innings against Railways (49 in 38 balls) and Nagaland (128 in 56). Her ascent from near-obscurity to stardom took one innings, when she came out all guns blazing at a strong Trailblazers attack. Her batting partner Danni Wyatt immediately predicted that the teenager would play for India by 2019. Varma debuted in September, and was India’s best batter at the T20 World Cup.

While there is little doubt that Varma would still have risen through the ranks – she is simply too gifted to have not broken through – the ascent would not have been this swift had her innings not been come against Sophie Ecclestone, Deepti Sharma, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, and Stafanie Taylor.

Unless BCCI provides enough incentive to lure the big guns out of WBBL, performances at the T20 Challenge are unlikely to mean much, especially performances from fringe cricketers. If the stars do not arrive, the quality of cricket is unlikely to be significantly different from the domestic tournaments.

Which tournament to choose?

The Indians and Australians are unlikely to ponder much over the choices. They are likely to choose the tournaments in their respective countries. But what about the others?

Given how the two tournaments stand, the gap is simply too large to even compare. With eight teams and a double round-robin league system where every team gets 14 matches before the playoffs, the WBBL is a behemoth that showcases the finest cricket in the format.

The Indian counterpart, on the other hand, is a blink-and-miss weeklong event. If major plans lie ahead, they are not evident at this stage, and seem unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Could this have been avoided?

The IPL will commence on 19 September. The WBBL, almost a month later. Given that there is a month’s gap between the commencement of the two tournaments, it comes across as odd that the organisers decided to opt for an overlapping period.

Logistics would not have been an issue, since the T20 Challenge will have an overlap with the IPL anyway – just for a wrong window. With some planning, especially with the CA in the loop, this could have been sorted out.

If there are only three marquee women’s T20 leagues in the world, it only makes sense for the three boards – BCCI, CA, and ECB – to get together and come up with mutually exclusive windows.

The other problem

While we are still on the point of lack of exposure of fringe cricketers, why not add that promised fourth team in the mix? Logistics can be cited as a reason this time – the cricketers have to quarantine themselves – but that is not going to prevent an eight-team IPL

It is not a coincidence that Australia, already the best side in the world, has simply gone on increasing the gap with the other teams in the world since the inception of the WBBL, which features over seventy domestic cricketers.

With long-term planning, the BCCI may host a tournament that will help create a pipeline process to churn out world-class cricketers, complete with a reserve bench. On the other hand, they may continue with the current four-match format, where one team out of three will only get two opportunities. The choice is theirs.

Updated Date: August 04, 2020 10:01:59 IST

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