Last year, the Women in Blue managed to grab millions of eyeballs thanks to their stellar outing in the ICC Women’s World T20 in Australia. Going undefeated into the knockouts, the hopes from Harmanpreet Kaur and co. were skyrocketing. On March 8, India took on the hosts at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of a record crowd of 86,174.
Though the visitors had got the better of hosts in the opening match of the tournament, on the d-day, the young and relatively inexperienced Indian side crumbled and ended up being the runners-up. They may not have won the coveted Cup, but they surely won many hearts.
After the memorable T20 World Cup outing, the stakes were high on the Women in Blue, however, in an unfortunate turn of events, the world was grappled with pandemic, and all the cricketing action was put to rest. After a few months, there were signs of resumption but as far as Indian women’s cricket was concerned the progress was snail-paced. The India eves were back in action only in November after a yawning gap of eight months to play T20 Challenge, also called Women’s IPL, in Sharjah.
The six-day event was good for starters, but unfortunately, the girls were sent back without any main course. The much anticipated India’s tour of Australia in January 2021 was canceled, despite the men playing a full-fledged bilateral series Down Under during the same period.
Women’s international cricket finally found its feet on Indian shores in March this year when South Africa toured India for a five-match ODI and three-match T20I series. Before flying down to India, the Proteas had hosted Pakistan, so it was expected that the South Africans would have an upper hand over the Indians. True to the expectations, the visitors clinched the ODI series 4-1 and T20I series 2-1. As the series is done and dusted, all eyes are now on the Women’s T20 Challenge.
In 2020 there were talks about adding one more team to the existing three-team affair that was started in 2018 with just two teams. In 2019, from two teams we went to having three teams and by linear progression, it was not rocket science to add one more team and make it four in 2020. However, the pandemic changed everything except the number of teams that played Women’s T20 Challenge.
This year again the talks and discussions around adding one team or maintaining the status quo have begun. Just like every coin has two sides, people are divided, whether to have one more team or go ahead with the extant three teams.
— Female Cricket (@imfemalecricket) March 25, 2021
What is coming in the way of adding one more team in the Women’s T20 Challenge?
There are two broad reasons. Number one is the availability of quality players to play alongside international players and number two is sponsorship and viewership. The first reason is actually not an issue. There is a big pool of players waiting in line to get a chance to showcase their talent at the highest level. The age group tournaments as well as the senior women’s domestic one day and T20s have propelled a large number of players to the center stage.
The recently concluded India Nippon T20 Cup also boasted four teams, despite the fact that it was mainly conducted for Karnataka players. So, long story short, there are quality players in India, who are just waiting to get an opportunity. The second reason is sponsorship and viewership, again, that should not be a problem. Last year, Jio came on board to be the title sponsors, while Dream11, Tata Altroz, Unacademy, Paytm, and CEAT also extended their support to the tournament.
In general, the popularity of women’s cricket and sponsorship/viewership for women’s cricket has become like a chicken and egg story. You do not know what leads to the other. Apart from these two, some may argue that India’s latest defeat against South Africa may dent the chances of having one additional team on board for the Women’s T20 Challenge.
All said and done, for the growth of women’s cricket in India, it is mighty important to have something like an IPL for the girls. There is seldom any doubt that IPL has done wonders for men’s cricket and the recent outburst of young players making it big in international cricket is the proof of it. Having eight teams should be a long-term goal, but for the short term, let’s begin with four teams at least.
Why is Australia the strongest side in World Cricket?
Going back to the initial part of the article, Australia won the ICC Women’s World T20 not because they were a better side but because they were able to hold on to their nerves. Just like their men have an eight-team Big Bash League, the women also have an eight-team Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL). The kind of tension and pressure that you are exposed to in WBBL, you get used to it and come to the big tournament, you are already prepared for it. Our girls, who are all quality players (otherwise they would not have reached the finals), lost not because of lack of talent but because of lack of exposure and experience of playing in front of massive crowds.
Adding a team to the current set-up is the least that can be done, after all, we all want to have that coveted ICC Women’s World T20 trophy that has eluded us for seven editions already.
On a lighter note, “Why should boys have all the fun?” It is time for girls to have some fun as well, isn’t it?
I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.