Cricket fans will be hungover from the results of the final of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2019 that was held in Hyderabad yesterday. The match between two old foes, known to be the best in the tournament for their consistency, would have drained fans of their emotions — both happy and sad.
By now, you will have known if the coveted trophy remained down south or moved westwards to the commercial (and at a point in time) cricketing capital of India.
While Indian fans prepared for the final between the ‘blues’ and the ‘yellows’, another premier league was conducted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in the dusty plains of Rajasthan. The first ever Women’s T20 Challenger was held in Jaipur, featuring three teams consisting of the best Indian talent on offer playing with cricketers from other countries.
This tournament followed a one-off match organised by the BCCI in May last year as a rehearsal for a women’s IPL, that concluded on Saturday. This game, played at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium just before the men’s 2018 IPL qualifiers, did not get the desired response from audiences but promised to build a platform for women’s cricket in the shortest format of the game.
Post India’s success in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Women’s World Cup 2017 where they lost to England by 23 runs at Lord’s, women’s cricket has seen a growth in terms of getting mind space among Indian cricket fans. Today, the names of Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana and Mitali Raj are battling for space with their men counterparts.
Though the gap between the two genders is very big, it is a good start for women’s cricket. The biggest victory for women’s cricket was the presence of 13,000 spectators at Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh Stadium for the final between team Velocity and the winners, team Supernovas. To see more spectators on the ground than those that attended the final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (the national T20 championship for men) must have given the women cricketers a big boost, not to forget the BCCI who went ahead in planning the tournament after a dismal opening last year.
The 2019 edition of the women’s T20 challenger had players from most active countries, barring Australia, playing in the tournament. To host a tournament such as this at the fag end of the IPL required courage on part of the BCCI considering the logistics needed (to host another big tournament) and the fatigue factor as far as the audience in concerned.
Women’s cricket in India has come a long way since it’s start in the early 70s. The stupendous achievement by the Indian men’s Test team in the West Indies and England in 1971 spurred on many young cricketers including women who held their first ever national championship - the Rani Jhansi Trophy - which was won by the ladies representing Bombay.
The first batch of ladies playing in Bombay of the 70s got a lot of encouragement from people like the legendary Vinoo Mankad, who coached a few of them along with the boys at the famed PJ Hindu Gymkhana in south Mumbai. Dronacharya Ramakant Achrekar too coached and mentored many young girls at Shivaji Park while clubs like the Indian Gymkhana opened up their doors for many ladies wishing to play what was then considered a man’s game.
Meant to be the women’s equivalent to the Ranji Trophy, the Rani Laxmi championship got to the fore many young women including Shantha Rangaswamy, Sudha Shah, Shubhangi Kulkarni and Diana Edulji (member of the Committee of Administrators, BCCI). The tournament lost its sheen post the merger of the Women’s Cricket Association of India with the BCCI in 2006.
Though the age-group and other tournaments run by the BCCI are throwing up talented players like Priya Punia, Radha Yadav and Jemimah Rodrigues, women’s cricket still has some distance to cover, for attracting audiences. Just like the men, women’s cricket needs heroes and, in the current lot, cricketers like Kaur and Mandhana are capable of doing exactly what the power hitters and finishers do in the men's version of the game.
The Women’s T20 Challenger could just be the trigger that will take women’s cricket to a higher level in India. It is a bit early to speak about the commercial success of the tournament in terms of the all important television ratings that determine sponsorships but there is no doubt that BCCI has managed to sneak into the mind of the Indian cricket lover with a platform that can interest them.