It is the dawn of a new era, not for women’s cricket in India, but for the wider game as a whole this weekend.
After years of planning and discussions, and the hype of the last few months, the Indian Women’s T20 league finally gets underway in Mumbai.
The first match on Saturday will feature the Gujarat Giants against the Mumbai Indians, and that will be followed by a doubleheader on Sunday, with first Royal Challenger Bangalore taking on the Delhi Capitals, followed by the UP Warriorz playing the Giants.
It is the start of a packed schedule of matches, which will see each team play the other on a round-robin basis five times. The top team will progress straight through to the final on March 26th.
The sides that finished second and third in the table will face each other in an Eliminator game to decide the other finalist.
This year all the games are being played in Mumbai, with matches alternating between the Brabourne and DY Patil Stadiums.
To encourage as many women and girls to attend matches as possible, they will get free access to matches, and will not be required to buy tickets. Organisers have kept ticket prices down for men who want to attend games in person.
Most people though will be watching on television, with Viacom18 having secured the broadcast rights for the first five years of the new league. They will be eagerly scrutinising the viewing figures after the first round of matches this weekend.
Most matches have been scheduled for either weekends or during evening prime time during the week, in order to attract as large an armchair audience as possible.
Following the auction process, five teams have won the right to compete in the initial tournament (although there are plans to expand these in later years). Three share ownership with existing male Indian T20 franchise teams – the Mumbai Indians, the Delhi Capitals and the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).
The UP Warriorz are owned by Capri Global, who are based in Lucknow, whilst the Giants are owned by the sports arm of the Adani Group (they are unaffected by the financial turmoil surrounding the holding company this year).
All the teams are packed with major stars, both Indian and from overseas, following the player auction in Mumbai last month.
That saw Indian vice-captain Smriti Mandhana go for a record price to RCB, where she will captain the side. Her national captain, Harmanpreet Kaur will skipper the Indians, whilst the other three captains are all Australians.
Meg Lanning, who has just lifted the Women’s T20 World Cup, will lead the Capitals, Beth Mooney the Giants, and Alyssa Healey has been named captain of the Warriorz.
Among the other big-money players from the auction are Ashleigh Gardner, the Player of the Tournament from the World Cup, who has been bought by the Giants, and England’s Nat Sciver-Brunt, the ICC Player and ODI Player of 2022, who joins Kaur at the Indians.
Given that this is the first season that the league has been held, it is difficult to make any judgement as to who might be the pre-tournament favourites, and there is a risk that some of the players who were also involved in the World Cup may suffer a physical and psychological hangover after it.
The Indians have the advantage of playing all their games on home soil, but they are also one of the teams that have not fully utilised all the squad places available to them. The other are the Warriorz who only have a squad of 16, which, whilst this may be good for team harmony, does leave them exposed in case of injury or fatigue.
Based on who is in their squad, the Giants and RCB will be hopeful of going deep into the competition but, based on the experience of the men’s tournament over the years, it is not always the sides with the best players that win. Rather it tends to be the teams that can develop the best batting and bowling partnerships.
The wider objectives
Beyond the narrow sectarian interests of which teams do best, there are wider objectives at stake, including getting Indian players used to high-pressure match situations enabling them to close the gap in major tournaments to the all-conquering Australians.
And, more broadly still, it is hoped that it will encourage more girls and young women to take up the sport. If it can manage that, then it will be judged a success.
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