Historic. Unprecedented. Game Changer. Watershed moment. Big Moment. Revolutionary. Transformative.
These were the words used in almost every tweet that appeared with the hashtag #WPL on Twitter when the proverbial elephant in the room of Indian women’s cricket finally materialized. All these words sum up the feelings at the arrival of the long-gestating gratification of a full-fledged women’s T20 league in India.
After selling the media and broadcast rights to Viacom18 network for a windfall figure of 951 crores, BCCI had geared up to sell the team rights with a lot of serendipity. Yesterday, BCCI announced that the 5 proposed franchises have been sold for a total of ₹4699.99 crores, which is way more than what the 8 Men’s IPL teams were sold for in its inaugural 2008 edition. The figure in dollars comes to roughly $572 million, and the average at which each team sold is almost ten times the cost of teams at the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association).
To have this kind of numbers in the first edition of the tournament itself without a ball being bowled is a testament to the fact that the BCCI’s decision to kick start this league wasn’t only right, but perhaps even a few years late.
In the 2017 ODI World Cup when a certain Harmanpreet Kaur from Moga, Punjab, played an inning of 171 which got India to the final, women’s cricket suddenly gained mass recognition in the country. When the team returned home, fans thronged the airport despite India’s narrow defeat in the WC finals and the odd hours of their arrival.
The megastar of Moga had opened India’s eyes and hearts to its women’s team with her incredible power-hitting against Australia. The fans started recognizing that it was not only the Men In Blue that played cricket for India. The Women In Blue was there as well and they deserved their love and support.
“I don’t like the comparison between men’s cricket and women’s cricket,” says @mandhana_smriti, Vogue India’s #December cover personality. “I urge our women to participate in sports. That’s how things will really change…” Read more: https://t.co/9X8CKInUJp pic.twitter.com/KMY12pYZja— VOGUE India (@VOGUEIndia) December 10, 2022
The immense popularity of Smriti Mandhana keeps bringing more and more eyeballs to the game. She dazzles with her stroke play on the ground, and off the ground and wins hearts with her personality that is bursting at the seams with an elegant mix of charm and humility. Young guns like Jemimah and Deepti have popularized the game further by playing in global leagues around the world.
If that wasn’t enough, there was the record breaking presence of 86,174 people in the stands cheering for India and Australia at the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup final, and especially for the 16 year old Shafali Verma who became a sensation in the entire nation during the tournament.
In the recently concluded T20I series against Australia, almost 47,000 people showed up at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai to watch a 19-year-old Richa Ghosh bludgeon sixes down the ground and instantly become fan-favourite.
The present generation of Indian women have thus shown that they deserve the best women’s T20 league in the world. The BCCI took its own sweet time and finally budged to the masses. What is most remarkable about this decision is the fact that the word ‘Indian’ is removed from the league’s name. It just calls itself Women’s Premier League and doesn’t hide away from the fact that it aims for global eminence right from its inception.
The WPL is already the most prominent women’s league in the world in terms of its financial health, and its brand campaigns and adverts would only ensure that the faces of Indian women become recognizable throughout the lengths and breadths of the country. Even the overseas cricketers would benefit from the wages and publicity they would be earning from the tournament.
By the inclusion of one associate nation’s player in every team, cricket’s wider reach and impact are bound to multiply. Women’s cricket in India and almost all nations except Australia and England suffer from a dearth of professionalism and the lack of investment and availability of resources, especially healthcare. Now, these franchises will take care of that for their contracted players at least for that one month of the year when the league runs, and that would insinuate a newfound awareness in the players about their bodies, fitness, and skill level.
The present and the future of women’s cricket not only in India but across cricket is bound to grow with the WPL. However, it’s only when you factor in the past, that the true impact of this historic win for women’s cricket in India becomes palpable.
Shanta Rangaswamy is a pioneer of women’s cricket in India and she played for India for more than two decades. However, she didn’t earn a single penny doing that. Diana Edulji wasn’t allowed to enter the pavilion at Lord’s despite being India’s captain and ended up suggesting the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) to rename itself as MCP (Male Chauvinist Pigs). There were no remunerations, no accolades, no infrastructure, no anything for these women who kept playing the ‘gentleman’s game’ fuelled by the sheer ferocity of their passion for the sport.
This WPL is a win for all these women whose names are lost in India’s glorious cricket history. This is a win for Shanta’s grit, Diana’s ferocity, Sandhya’s skill, Purnima’s perseverance, Neetu’s guile, and Anjum’s panache. This is a win for Mithali Raj who played for 23 years for this country but had to waste many of those waiting to just play a game because there were none.
This is a win for the teenage Jhulan who was a ball girl at the 1997 Women’s World Cup Final at Eden Gardens and ended up playing at Lord’s in a World Cup final. This is a win for every young girl in the country who plays this game in their salwars, pants, or frocks and dreams of playing in a blue jersey with INDIA written on it in bold capitals.
The Women’s Premier League is a win for the past, the present, and the future of India’s women’s cricket.
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