4th March 2023: The stage is set for one of the most awaited tournaments in the history of women's sport, the inaugural edition of the Women's Premier League to kickstart amid growing fanfare.
After India's heroics in the 2017 World Cup in England, there were calls from cricketing pundits around the world and former players for the inception of a league similar to the Indian Premier League and the Women's Big Bash League.
And five years since the Women in Blue's heartbreak in the summit clash at the Home of Cricket, Indian women's cricket has improved by leaps and bounds, and we are about to enter a new chapter in women's sport as the Women's Premier League is finally a reality.
To every person across the globe who has contributed to women's cricket, I am pretty sure they are brimming from ear to ear as we are about to witness history unfold at the DY Patil Stadium on Saturday.
With the five teams vying for the coveted trophy in a two-week-long tournament, we take a look at who will be the Most Valuable Player for each side that will not only lend balance to the playing XI but also be crucial to the fortunes of the franchise.
Mumbai Indians: Nat Sciver-Brunt
The second-leading run-scorer in the recently concluded T20 World Cup in South Africa, Nat Sciver-Brunt will be one of the players Mumbai Indians will be banking on in this extravaganza.
The vice-captain of the England outfit amassed 216 runs in five innings at an average of 72 and a strike rate of 141.2 to lead England's charge in the mega event.
Despite faltering in the semi-final of the competition against South Africa, Sciver-Brunt was easily the standout performer for the side and will be itching to showcase her skills in the five-team tournament.
In T20Is since the 2020 edition of the World Cup, the right-handed batter has scored 407 runs in 14 innings at an average of 40.7, which is the second-best among batters in the middle order (4-7) with a minimum of 400 runs.
Mumbai have an inexperienced pace-bowling unit with Pooja Vastrakar and Issy Wong in the squad, and the onus of the side will rely on Sciver-Brunt as they aim to stem the flow of runs in the middle overs.
Gujarat Giants: Ash Gardner
The joint-second most expensive player in the league, along with Sciver-Brunt, Ash Gardner will hold the key for the Gujarat Giants. The 25-year-old was recently awarded the Player of the Tournament in Australia's title-winning campaign at the T20 World Cup courtesy of her 110 runs and ten wickets in the tournament.
In her five years of international cricket, Gardner has been an integral part of Australia's dominance with her power-hitting abilities down the order and her off-spin bowling. With wickets in Mumbai set to assist strokeplay, the Giants will rely on the right-handed batter to give the innings some much-needed impetus at the death.
With a strike rate of 189.9 between overs 16-20, Gardner has been one the most destructive batters since the last edition of the T20 World Cup Down Under. She also has an uncanny knack of picking up crucial wickets with her bowling, and Beth Mooney will hope for her fellow Australian teammate to weave her magic and guide Gujarat over the line.
UP Warriorz: Deepti Sharma
One of the most improved cricketers in the recent time, Deepti Sharma will aim to make amends for her lukewarm performance in the T20 World Cup with some stellar contributions for the UP Warriorz.
The vice-captain of the Lucknow-based franchise was picked in the auction for 2.6 CR and is the first Indian player to scalp 100 T20I wickets across men and women.
With 49 scalps since the 2020 World Cup, the off-spinner is the leading wicket-taker in the shortest format. The 26-year-old has the ability to bowl in the powerplay and at the death, making it easy for Beth Mooney to finalise the playing XI due to her ability to bowl the tough overs.
Deepti has also been more than handy with the ball amassing 388 runs in 26 innings at an average of 32.33 and a strike rate of 128.5, making her the leading run-scorer by batters plying their trade at number six or lower since T20 World Cup in Australia.
Delhi Capitals: Marizanne Kapp
Delhi Capitals have been very smart in assembling a squad filled with experience and exuberance. While they boast of the likes of Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma and Alice Capsey, they also have a wealth of international experience in Meg Lanning, Jess Jonassen and Marizzane Kapp.
South Africa's leading all-rounder, Kapp will spearhead the Capitals bowling unit along with Under-19 star Titas Sadhu. The right-arm pacer is coming into the tournament on the back of an impressive World Cup campaign where she was the second leading wicket-taker among pacers with nine wickets in six innings at an average of 15.4 and an economy rate of 6.3 runs per over.
The 33-year-old has been South Africa's mainstay in the batting unit and will aim to contribute a lot more with the blade down the order. The right-handed batter is known to hit the ball a long way, and with the boundaries at the DY Patil ground and the Brabourne Stadium set to be a bit smaller in size, she will be the one to watch out for in the league.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Ellyse Perry
Ellyse Perry broke a million Indian hearts in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup when her acrobatic effort on the boundary cushions helped Australia save two crucial runs and edge past India in a nail-biting thriller.
While Perry did not have much of a role in Australia's dominance in the World Cup in South Africa, the Indian fans would well be aware of her exploits with the bat and in the field as they witnessed her two 70+ masterclass innings at home in the five-match series.
The 32-year-old has been around international cricket for over a decade and has rejigged her style of play in the shortest format to suit the nuances of the game and cement her place in the playing XI of the national side.
With Sophie Devine and Smriti Mandhana in the ranks, the Challengers have a formidable top order, and they would bank on Perry to guide the inexperienced middle order in crucial situations. She is also one of the leading wicket-takers in the T20I matches and will form the crux of their bowling unit in the middle overs and in the back end.
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