History will be made at Jaipur’s Sawai Mansingh Stadium tomorrow when a bigger and better version of the Women’s T20 Challenge, a BCCI experiment on the sidelines of the Indian T20 League kicks off. This year sees an expansion from the one-off exhibition match played between the Supernovas and the Trailblazers, captained by Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana respectively, on 22nd of May last year, a few days before the Indian T20 League final. While the match turned out to be an exciting affair as it went into the last delivery, the fact that it was hosted under the scorching sun in peak summer at the Wankhede Stadium seemed to be the reason behind the low turnout at the venue.
This year the tournament is expanding to a third team as well as to a four-match affair and with the BCCI having learned its lessons, the matches have been shifted to the evening slot this time around, and the fixtures will include three group stage games where the three sides — Velocity being the newest entrant this year — face each other once, which then will be followed by the two top teams locking horns in the final.
The matches will take place at around the same time as the League playoffs, which the BCCI said was their only available window for hosting the women’s T20 games.
SCHEDULE @ Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur
6th May: Supernovas vs Trailblazers @ 07.30pm
8th May: Trailblazers vs Velocity @ 03.30pm
9th May: Supernovas vs Velocity @ 07.30pm
11th May: Final @ 07.30pm
Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj will lead the respective teams where 39 players have been divided into three teams, with each having four overseas players. Harmanpreet will lead Supernovas, while Smriti will be captaining the Trailblazers. The new team, Velocity, will be led by Mithali Raj. The tournament will see the participation of 12 overseas players in total.
“Our target is to promote women’s cricket in the country and this is a step in the right direction,” a BCCI official said.
India’s women’s team coach, WV Raman, will coach the Supernovas, while Biju George will be in-charge of the Trailblazers. Velocity will be coached by former India captain Mamatha Maben.
Squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (captain), Anuja Patil, Arundhati Reddy,Chamari Athapaththu (Sri Lanka), Jemimah Rodrigues, Lea Tahuhu (New Zealand), Mansi Joshi, Natalie Sciver (England), Poonam Yadav, Priya Punia, Radha Yadav, Sophie Devine (New Zealand), Taniya Bhatia (wicketkeeper).
Coach: WV Raman
Physio: Tracey Fernandes, Trainer: Afzal Khan, Manager: Trupti, Masseur: Rashmi Pawar.
The destructive talents of Harmanpreet Kaur, Chamari Athapaththu and Sophie Devine, all in one team! It’s almost unfair. Devine holds the record for the fastest fifty in women’s T20I cricket, Athapaththu has an ODI high score of 178, and Harmanpreet… well Harmanpreet is Harmanpreet. Also on show will be Jemimah Rodrigues and England’s Natalie Sciver. And pace bowlers Mansi Joshi and Arundhati Reddy will love sharing the new ball with Kiwi quick Lea Tahuhu, perhaps the fastest female bowler in the world.
There is no shortage of star power in the spin department either, with the two Yadav’s Poonam and Radha taking the lead. They are not related, but with Poonam being 2018’s best bowler in terms of wickets taken, Radha wouldn’t mind being mistaken for her sister.
Squad: Smriti Mandhana (captain), Bharti Fulmali, Dayalan Hemalatha, Deepti Sharma, Harleen Deol, Jasia Akhtar, Jhulan Goswami, R Kalpana (wicketkeeper), Rajeshwari Gayakwad,
Shakera Selman (West Indies), Sophie Ecclestone (England), Stafanie Taylor (West Indies), Suzie Bates (New Zealand).
Coach: Biju George
Physio: Khyati Sharma, Trainer: Soham Desai, Manager: Yet to be decided, Masseur: Nirmala.
Mandhana’s team will lean heavily on her and their overseas stars in the batting department. Suzie Bates, the leading run scorer in T20I cricket, will be joined by Mandhana’s Kia Super League teammate Stafanie Taylor, who brings all-round skills to the table. But besides the three, there are players who haven’t made a mark with the bat at the highest level, so it is an opportunity for the likes of Deepti Sharma and Harleen Deol. Keep an eye also on Jasia Akhtar, who hails from Shopian in Jammu & Kashmir, and can hit the long ball.
Notably, Jhulan Goswami will lead the bowling attack, despite having retired from T20I cricket, and West Indies quick Shakera Selman will share the new ball. England’s Sophie Ecclestone, who won ICC Emerging Player of the Year last year, will add left arm spin to the mix.
Squad: Mithali Raj (captain), Amelia Kerr (New Zealand), Danielle Wyatt (England), Devika Vaidya, Ekta Bisht, Hayley Matthews (West Indies), Jahanara Alam (Bangladesh), Komal Zhanzad, Shafali Verma, Shikha Pandey, Sushma Verma (wicketkeeper), Sushree Dibyadarshini, Veda Krishnamurthy.
Coach: Mamatha Maben
Physio: Prachi Lotlikar, Trainer: R Naresh, Manager: Vikas Pandit, Masseur: Niraja Desai.
Another team that seems a bit thin in the batting department, Mithali’s side has England’s Danielle Wyatt at the top of the order, along with West Indies vice-captain Hayley Matthews. But they will bank heavily on Mithali’s experience, as well as Veda Krishnamurthy’s exuberance.
The home-grown pace bowlers, Shikha Pandey and Komal Zanzad can both swing the ball into the right handers, and will be a handful. And the absence of Healy hands an opportunity to wicketkeeper Sushma Verma, who has fallen out of favour with the national selectors off late.
On paper, Harmanpreet’s Supernovas seem to be the strongest side, but the vagaries of T20 render such predictions pointless. What happens off paper, beyond the scorecard, is more important. Already, social media is lit up by posts showing an unprecedented amount of intermingling between Indian and overseas players. And in between hotel room-karaoke and traditional meals, you can be sure there is a serious amount of cricket-chat going on as well.
Only the top Indian players usually had access to this kind of osmosis; now India’s second and third string are feeding off their idols, and will share the stage with them. And they will take lessons learned back to their states, back to domestic cricket, and hopefully start to think like professionals, like internationals. More than the scores, more than the television numbers or the turnout at the stadium, it is these intangible benefits that might help make a full-fledged women’s Indian T20 League a reality that much sooner.
Top women overseas players say that a full-fledged Indian T20 Women’s League is long overdue
India’s win over Pakistan in the final of the first-ever World Twenty20 in 2007 drew not only worldwide attention towards T20 cricket but also led to creation of the Indian T20 League by the BCCI a year later. With further introduction of leagues around the world, the shortest format has taken centre stage.
Down Under, Cricket Australia moved a step further and staged Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) alongside the Big Bash League, for both locals and overseas players. The England Cricket Board (ECB), in an attempt to water the same garden, started Kia Super League (KSL) shortly. In an exclusive interaction with ANI, star players Suzie Bates, Danielle Wyatt, Stafanie Taylor, Sophie Devine, Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp, shared not only how these tournaments developed their games but also revealed that a full-fledged Indian T20 League-style women’s league is long overdue.
“It (WBBL and KSL) has really contributed to the improvement of the women’s game globally, not only with the skill level but also in attracting new fans to the game,” New Zealand all-rounder Devine said. “To be able to play alongside players from different countries and in different conditions has been hugely beneficial for my own game.”
Devine’s smashing sister and world number one T20 batswoman Bates commented, “They (leagues) have really challenged me to expand my game and I have enjoyed getting to know other players from around the world and how they go about their cricket and the different challenges players face from other countries.”
While South Africa captain van Niekerk pointed out, “The best play against the best and that is what you want outside of international cricket. It has changed women’s cricket and truly made it a global sport for all girls and women. As a player, you grow and learn so much in these leagues.”
Since the WBBL started, Wyatt has donned the Melbourne Renegades’ jersey. The England opener said, “Melbourne is a great place to play cricket and to test myself against some of the best cricketers in the world. It is the same for KSL. I love playing in these different T20 tournaments across the world. It is a lot of fun making friends and playing together but it is also a massive challenge on the pitch which I love as I want to carry on improving and getting better. The ECB has done a fantastic job with the KSL and it is great to see (the same) in other tournaments across the world.”
The T20 World Cup 2016 winning captain Taylor said, “I think that a similar set up to that of men’s the League will be ideal (to make women’s game a success). However, the duration should be shorter than the men’s.”
South Africa all-rounder Kapp will be busy hosting Pakistan for the ICC Women’s Championship but she stated, “I personally think what works really well in the Women’s Big Bash and Kia Super League is that you basically have the same type of setup up as the men’s teams.” Kapp’s teammate van Niekerk, who is nursing a neck injury, added, “I think we need the support from the fans. Without the fans, it will struggle to be a success. Also, the best players from all the countries should take part to make it truly competitive.”
“First of all, the fans are incredible in India. Watching the Indian T20 League at home and seeing the crowds turn up, just amazing to see. Secondly, after the 2017 ODI World Cup, the Indian Women’s team has taken off massively. Exciting new players have made a name for themselves. Their attacking brand of cricket is exciting to see,” van Niekerk said.
The one-off exhibition was a last-ball thriller and telecast by the board’s host broadcaster, but the crowd presence at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai was thin, partly because the game had a 2 pm (IST) start. Now in its second year, the tournament will commence at 7:30 pm except the second game, which will start at 3:30 pm as it clashes with the men’s eliminator match. Three teams will square up against each other in one round-robin league, with all games to be held at Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur.
Wyatt said: “Nobody came to watch us in Mumbai (during the ICC Women’s Championship in February) but we had quite big crowds in Guwahati (for T20Is) so hopefully the people of Jaipur will be excited and we can get big crowds in.” Keeping aside the venue, Kapp said, “As long as the games are being promoted properly, people will show up and support the women’s game. Indians absolutely love their cricket and I believe they will support women’s League.”
Temperatures in Jaipur is relatively high during summer. Wyatt, who claims to “love the heat”, said, “The conditions are obviously quite different to home and that takes a bit of getting used to. It is a lot hotter but you have to deal with it and just enjoy it I guess.” While Bates added, “It is difficult adjusting to the heat of playing in India but the more you play around the world the more you learn about what to expect and therefore plan and have strategies to keep cool. I try not to over think conditions and keep my game simple and stick to my strengths.”
BCCI’s attempt to build a full-fledged league may take a few more years, but to strengthen women’s game at the grass-roots level and inspire more girls to take up cricket professionally, these high-profile overseas players promise big motivation to lead that route. Van Niekerk said, “You might not know everything but if you can help one person with a bit of advice that is a win. I think that you need to showcase the cream of women’s cricket. It gets girls and women interested in the game. You need them to participate, to have grassroots to strengthen. Grassroots are important, but if this era of women cricketers get it right, the girls at grassroots will benefit from it ten folds.”
Taylor called for “words of encouragement about cricket and life off the cricket field” to influence the next generation and added, “We have to start somewhere and these T20 exhibition matches would only help to fuel interest from young girls entering into grassroots cricket. It will also make the administrators take a closer look at what improvements can be done to existing programs.”
Bates said, “It (inspiring local players) is not just about your performances on the field but what you can bring to a team off it. I always try to have a professional and positive attitude and be open to chatting to local players about my game and answering any questions they may have but also showing them how fun the game of cricket can be when you put in the hard work.” Devine remarked, “If we can all help one another then the standard of women’s cricket will continue to grow. It (women’s league) is a great product that is working hard to balance not only the top women cricketers but also exposing domestic players to the next level up.”
At the international level, India played New Zealand in double-headers setup early this year. The recent Women’s Big Bash League was staged alongside Big Bash League to get in more crowds. However, Cricket Australia has decided to provide separate platforms for its future domestic leagues. Even the ICC is set to organise standalone T20 World Cup 2020 for both men and women.
Contemplating the future of women’s league in India, Kapp said, “Double-headers is a good idea, especially maybe just for the first year of the women’s League, just to make people aware of the women’s game. However, after that, I think it should be a standalone tournament.” Wyatt, however, disagreed, “Maybe in the long-term, they will serve a different role, but I think that is the way forward for now. Obviously, we want to get the crowds in and hopefully, they will come in early and watch us first. We want all the fans to see that actually women cricketers are amazing, as well as men cricketers.”
Devine, who was part of the New Zealand team during the double-headers, said, “The timing is crucial to playing double-headers as there is a massive gap between games. It can be a long time for spectators to have to wait around. Also, the time of day and location of matches can have a huge impact. I know at the World T20 back in 2010 in West Indies the men played their final before the women and there was a great crowd that stayed on for our match.”
Stafanie Taylor, Hayley Matthews and Shakera Selman of the West Indies Women’s team will join their international counterparts and while Stafanie and Shakera will play for the Trailblazers, Hayley will play for Velocity, captained by Mithali Raj.
India holds special memories for the West Indies Women’s team as they won their first ICC Women’s World T20 title there in 2016. Captain of that winning 2016 team Stafanie Taylor is excited about returning to play in India, “I’ve always enjoyed playing in India but this will be a new experience for me. I’m looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere that I’ve seen in the League on TV and I’m hoping that this season will be a catalyst to have an actual women’s League.”
Stafanie added, “I feel proud to be one of three West Indies Women’s players chosen to participate this year and we’re going to bring the West Indian T20 flare that the world likes to see.”
There is definitely a place for women’s T20 leagues and the Indian T20 League obviously offers a great platform for the aspirations of women cricketers. The Jaipur event holds the key for a possible women’s League in the near future.
All the fixtures will be telecast live on Star Sports.
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