Even before a ball is bowled in the Women’s Premier League, fans of Delhi Capitals now know who Sneha Deepthi is and why hers can be a powerful story. The former India international and now a mother, who spoke about how hard it was to leave her kid behind, is determined to leave her mark. Fans of Mumbai Indians know how special this opportunity is for Assam’s Jinitimani Kalita. The pacer couldn’t control her excitement at having a chance to meet ‘Harman di’. There are more than 3.3 million subscribers for Royal Challengers Bangalore’s YouTube channel, where content is being uploaded on the likes of Shreyanka Patil, Kanika Ahuja, Disha Kasat to name a few.
For years, many of these cricketers have been toiling away in the domestic circuit. Not so long ago, an entire season of Senior Women’s T20 Trophy – a tournament featuring the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana – went without a single match being streamed or broadcast. It is not an exception too. Very few women’s domestic matches are produced for a streaming platform or television and the information available is often limited to scorecards.
Among the 87 players signed up by the WPL teams, 28 players are uncapped Indians. It is but a small percentage of the vast number of cricketers who play for their states in various tournaments. And now, with WPL finally a reality, every time you come across a video or story posted by the five franchises around them, the excitement is unmissable. For them, the next three weeks in Mumbai will be a chance like no other in their lives before. Not all of them might play in the matches, but it is nevertheless a platform unlike anything they have encountered.
In Mumbai. Under the floodlights. In prime time.
“In this day and age, visibility is everything, isn’t it? The visibility that will come through the WPL will, I hope, dispel this myth of the lack of depth in Indian women’s cricket,” Ananya Upendran, former Hyderabad cricketer and a contributor to Scroll, said. “This is something I have been shouting about for years now, but there is so much talent in Indian women’s cricket – talent that doesn’t always come across in the numbers that we see in domestic cricket. The skill levels in India are unbelievable. They will take your breathe away. I have always believed that, and I can’t wait for the world to see it.”
“The tournament is important for the domestic cricketers for the simple reason that a lot of them will get to play under pressure, play with the best in the business,” former India women’s head coach WV Raman told Scroll. “It will facilitate faster growth, in a highly competitive environment, this is something that many of them would not have been subjected to.”
“You make yourself visible, you announce yourself to the world with your deeds. It is important for them to exhibit their talent. This doesn’t constitute the entire domestic talent, we are talking about a handful of cricketers. India definitely has much more talent than what we see here, it’s just that these cricketers have a chance to display their skills.”
For starters, having five teams meant only a total of 57 Indian cricketers were signed up. The bids for franchises already showed that the BCCI perhaps missed a trick in not having at least six teams, with Kolkata Knight Riders among the bidders to miss out despite showing keen interest (and bidding big).
Among those 57, the internationals will mostly make up the starting XIs but the coaches of franchises have already spoken highly about the talent available at their disposal. Going back to Kalita’s example, she has gone from gushing about a chance to meet Harmanpreet to being named by the Indian captain as one of the names to watch out for.
“I know how important for me WBBL, Kia Super League and The Hundred were. Domestic cricket is not sufficient for a player to improve,” Harmanpreet had said in an interview with Scroll recently. “When you have a top league, I know how important it is to improve day by day. It is going to play a big role for all players. In the WPL, all games will be on television and nobody is going to miss out on the domestic talent. That is a key point. I am actually looking forward to seeing all the young talent in India.”
A golden chance to improve
The WPL’s predecessor (for longer than it should have been) was the Women’s T20 Challenge, that gave Indian cricket an uncut gem in Shafali Verma all those years back. Still only 19, she has taken immense strides since. She might have anyway, but that tournament shot her into the limelight. Such examples are numerous in the Indian Premier League too, of course.
Ananya said, “There are the opportunities that come with the tournament – to be seen, to make a name for yourself, to put your hat in the ring for higher honours. We saw what the Women’s T20 Challenger did for Shafali Verma and Kiran Navgire. It was the belligerence they showed in those tournaments that propelled them into the Indian team. However incredible their numbers were in the domestic season, truth is, it wouldn’t have mattered if they didn’t show sparks on that stage. The WPL gives that opportuinty to more players – not enough, but it’s a start, hey?”
While there is, of course, pressure associated with such a tournament too, Raman insisted that it is over to the cricketers to make sure they most of it.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to pick the brains of their acclaimed teammates, both Indian and overseas,” the former India cricketer said. “They can absorb a lot, observe in the first place about how they go about their cricket. Chat to them, find out what it is they need to improve. The possibilities are immense, the onus is on the Indian girls to get rid of their inhibitions, not get overawed by the stars.”
The chance to rub shoulders with the best players and coaches in the world: observe, talk to and learn from them, is something Ananya said she’d highlight to the aspiring internationals.
“It’s not just about understanding their skill, but also gaining different perspectives on the game – seeing and understanding that there’s more than one way to be successful,” she said. “I hope the youngsters use the opportunity to absorb as much as they can from the players (and coaches) around them. I hope they are brave and ask questions. I hope they enjoy the experience. I hope they come out of the tournament with a clearer understanding of the skills (mental, physical and tactical) that they need to develop to make the step up.”
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When Ananya was in South Africa recently to commentate on the ICC Under-19 Women’s World Cup, she had the chance to spend time with former England international Lydia Greenway, who has since been appointed as the fielding coach with Mumbai Indians in the WPL.
“Every time I chatted to her about the game, I was amazed by the insights she brought, the details she observed and just the tiny things she caught on that made such a big difference to the way I saw and understood the game. I am so excited for the young players in these teams to have access to players and coaches like that – who know so much and can communicate that knowledge brilliantly. I’m not saying they are going to make them superstars in a week or month, but I have no doubt that any interactions they are curious (and brave) enough to have with these people the better they will get more quickly,” she added.
While the broadcast rights, franchise tenders, auction deals set a fair few records, when the tournament finally gets underway in Mumbai on Saturday, it will change the lives of many of these young (and some older) cricketers.
For Ananya, who was part of the domestic circuit for many years, the competition will do them a world of good. “Maybe we have issues at all levels when it comes to dealing with pressure, but those are issues that this tournament will help solve. The quality of cricket these players will be exposed to through the tournament will be higher than most of them have ever played. Match-time makes you better. Competition makes you better. That’s what the WPL will do,” she said.
Indeed, as Kalita said in that video posted by Mumbai Indians, we can’t wait to go there.
Remember, remember, the fourth of March.