For a week, the Sawai Mansingh Stadium will be the focal point of the women’s cricket universe. It will be hard to say that the world’s best cricketers will grace the pink city due to some conspicuous absentees, but rarely does India get to see such a congregation, with players from five different countries joining the best of Indian talent for the IPL Women’s T20 Challenge.
The Women’s T20 Challenge is an extension of the single IPL women’s T20 exhibition game that was held during the IPL last year. While last time, only two teams, the Trailblazers and the Supernovas, featured in the one off game, this time around a third team, Velocity, has been added.
The three teams will be led by the three most popular female cricketers in India: Harmanpreet Kaur will lead the Supernovas, in their blue and black colours. Smriti Mandhana will captain the Trailblazers in yellow and pink, and Mithali Raj will lead Velocity in purple. Also notable is the inclusion of Jhulan Goswami, in the Trailblazers squad, who will play these games despite having retired from T2oI cricket.
Each squad of 13 also includes four overseas players. The Smash Sisters, Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine of New Zealand will be in attendance, albeit in different teams. Also here are Danni Wyatt and Natalie Sciver of England. Sri Lanka captain Chamari Athapaththu will make her first appearance in this enterprise. Three West Indian players also feature for the first time, along with Jahanara Alam of Bangladesh.
Who’s not here?
If your eyes are searching for a certain Ellyse Perry, and you’re confused because you can’t see her, we won’t blame you. Perry, Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy were all invited to participate in the tournament but did not make the final cut, as a “communications breakdown” between Cricket Australia and the BCCI saw the players miss out. Leaked emails from the BCCI suggest that Cricket Australia made the availability of their players conditional to resolution of a parallel dispute between the boards, with the scheduling of a men’s series in January next year being the primary bone of contention. It means that the competition will be dulled somewhat, with Australia being the reigning T20 World Cup champions. But just as much as the Indian public and the BCCI, it is also a loss for Cricket Australia, with their players denied the opportunity to participate in something historic. There was also some indication that players from South Africa might participate, but an ongoing series against Pakistan has prevented this.
What’s the big deal?
With the BCCI scaling up the exhibition matches, this is the strongest indication yet that there are concrete plans for a women’s IPL are in place. It is understood that the depth in domestic cricket is one of the concerns that the BCCI has. Observers will be keeping a keen eye on the quality of cricket played over the next week, and will be hoping that there is not a large gap between the overseas players and the Indian players, as was seen in the initial few years of the men’s IPL too. That may decide how fast expansion plans for a full-fledged tournament are put in place, or whether this three team format will remain in place next year.
With the Women’s Big Bash League already established, and plans for England’s Kia Super League to be used as a stepping stone for the women’s competition in The Hundred, the women’s IPL has been called the last piece of the puzzle.
Last year, the one-off game was held as a curtain raiser to the first Qualifier at the Wankhede stadium. This meant that it was at the same venue as the Qualifier game, borrowing the same TV crew. It also meant it was relegated to the afternoon slot. Tickets were also clubbed with the Qualifier game, but with no re-entry allowed. Naturally, practically no one turned up to watch, and the best players in the world had to endure the 2 pm brunt of the Indian summer.
This time, there are three matches, held in round robin format between the three teams, with the top two playing the final. All but one of the games are being played at the primetime evening slot, and will therefore cash in on the viewing habit that has been created over the past two months. All the games are being held in Jaipur, which has a centrally located stadium with free entry. A dedicated broadcast crew is stationed there as well. All these signs are a welcome change from last year, and the tournament promises to be a ground-breaking step. After the last ball thriller that the women played last year, all involved in this project are aware that a good show will serve as a catalyst for the development of a full fledged league.
6 May, 7:30 PM: Supernovas vs Trailblazers at Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur.
8 May, 3:30 PM: Trailblazers vs Velocity at Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur.
9 May, 7:30 PM: Supernovas vs Velocity at Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur.
11 May, 7:30 PM: Final (top two teams) at Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur