Is the WPL ready to expand beyond 5 teams?

As the Women’s Premier League (WPL) concludes another successful season, with competitiveness underscored by four teams vying for knockout berths until the last league game and defending champions Mumbai Indians losing their eliminator to eventual champions Royal Challengers Bangalore, the question arises: Is the WPL ready to expand beyond 5 teams just yet?

5 Teams participated in WPL 2024. PC: Twitter
5 Teams participated in WPL 2024. PC: Twitter

While it’s known that the WPL will remain a 5-team competition in its 3rd edition, as stated by IPL chairman Arun Dhumal in a media interaction, “We are hoping to increase the number of teams but for the coming three (2023-25) seasons it will remain five.” The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and WPL think tank will soon have to decide on expanding the tournament to 8 teams and more rounds of games. However, while more games and the expansion of the league are the need of the hour, is it 6 teams that can deliver a more competitive season or 8?

With 4 overseas players, plus one (optional) association player, and local talents comprising a playing XI. With top-tier domestic and best-of-best international talents already in the mix of 5 teams, the biggest challenge will be the imbalance and the concentration of strength among a few teams only. Even a WPL mega auction may not solve this and it ultimately comes down to the performances of Indian players that determine teams’ success in tournaments.

Among the 23 debutants in the recently concluded 02 edition of the WPL, 17 were Indians, but only a handful managed to leave a promising impression. While Shabnam Shakil, Titas Sadhu, Mannat Kashyap, and to a lesser extent, Saima Thakor and Sajeevan Sajana, showcased their talent, it was a case of missed opportunities for Vrinda Dinesh, Tarannum Pathan, Poonam Khemnar, and Shraddha Pokharkar.

This highlights an overreliance of teams on star players, both established Indian players and overseas recruits, with domestic talents still struggling to establish themselves with fewer opportunities and game time. While the introduction of multiple new teams featuring some of the best international players adds to the competitiveness of the league, there remains a clear gap between them and the top-tier Indian talents, and this gap may widen further.

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The lack of efforts to promote domestic talent development is reflected in the stark contrast in performance between uncapped and capped Indian players, let alone international stars. The depth is certain, evident from match winners emerging in a lengthy domestic season, but not seasoned for the level of WPL. Efforts such as the ‘A’ series and tour games against English regional teams or Australian domestic teams, along with better pitches throughout the domestic season, could be a start for the BCCI to nurture local talent and ensure a pipeline of skilled players for the tournament.

This begs the question of whether the league’s expansion, which is under consideration, could lead to a smaller concentration of top-tier talent on each team, resulting in a perceived decrease in the overall competitiveness of the league.

Expanding the WPL with three additional teams after the 2025 season may not be wise, but it could be considered by 2028. In the meantime, introducing a sixth team comprising other domestic talents and overseas players could boost competition. Additionally, adding an extra round or two to the current double round-robin format of the WPL would support the tournament’s growth.

Despite these challenges, there are compelling arguments in favor of expanding the WPL. A larger league could provide more opportunities for aspiring players, particularly those from smaller regions or emerging cricketing nations. It undoubtedly serves as a platform for nurturing young talent and promoting the growth of women’s cricket on a global scale.

Furthermore, expanding the league could attract a broader audience and increase the commercial viability of women’s cricket in India. With the growing popularity of the sport and the increasing demand for women’s cricket, exponentially increasing fan interest, attendance, and viewership, potentially attracting more sponsors and revenue opportunities, will further elevate the profile of the WPL.

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Balancing the need for growth with the preservation of competitiveness will be crucial in shaping the future trajectory of the league. Ultimately, whether the WPL expands beyond its current format to 6 or 8 teams or maintains its existing structure, the focus must remain on the growth and development of women’s cricket.

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