The WPL offers India’s forgotten players a chance to show the selectors what they are missing
Some senior domestic players have grabbed at the opportunity afforded by the WPL to showcase their skills and give their careers a boost.
On the day of the Women’s Premier League auction, Sushma Verma was leading North Zone in their Interzonal One-Day Trophy match against North East Zone.
“I wanted to finish the match fast and go watch the auction!” laughed Verma, who was the wicketkeeper during India’s runners-up finish at the 2017 Women’s ODI World Cup. “It wasn’t with the thought of ‘what will happen to me’, but rather that we have been waiting for this in women’s cricket for so long, so now let’s embrace it.”
Having wrapped up their chase of 96 by the 18th over, on the bus ride back, everyone had their phones out, and their own commentary going. The nervousness and excitement spilled onto the hotel corridors too. There was commotion on every floor as players got picked and lives were changed. Verma, whose team would eventually lift the trophy, went unsold in the first round.
“I have followed the men’s auctions, so I knew the kind of calculations involved. I knew that yes, it will happen for me in the second round, but I was also prepared for it to not happen,” she says. When her name was called again and the bidding began in earnest, she stopped paying attention. The amount didn’t matter to her. She would go to Gujarat Giants for INR 60 lakh, but her relief that day was about something else.
“I was excited, I was grateful. I just needed a platform and now I had it. It doesn’t matter what the amount is. The comebacks, the ups and downs, the roller-coaster ride in recent times – these last six-seven months, I had just one thing running in my mind: I want this WPL platform.”
Verma is 30. She last played for India in 2021. While she made it to the squad for the tri-series in South Africa this year, she has slipped down the pecking order for wicketkeepers in the national side, seemingly because of her batting.
In the last few years, she has worked hard on that aspect of her game. Last August, she moved from Dharamsala to an academy in Chandigarh to focus on her batting.
“Since then, I haven’t taken a break for more than three-four days. I stay in a boys’ hostel, I use the boys’ toilet. I’m at the ground the whole time. I wanted to shake things up, because I had got too comfortable in Dharamsala,” she says, offering insight into both the dedication and challenges rife in a level of women’s cricket that is still striving for professionalism.
In the domestic season, she moved up to open. She made lots of runs at a strike rate in excess of 100. She was part of the Himachal side that was one ball away from making it to the final of the women’s T20 trophy before rain interrupted the semi-final. She finished a game with a six. She lifted the T20 Challenger and Interzonal One-day trophies.
But who’s watching any of this? None of these could do for her career and comeback ambitions what the WPL could.
Verma wanted a platform, and the WPL provided her – and a few other senior players like her – exactly that.
Those plodding along on the domestic circuit will tell you that second chances – or even first breakthroughs – are rare for players past a certain age. Between the romance of a 39-year-old Jhulan Goswami and the excitement of a teenage Richa Ghosh and her U19 World Cup medal is a vast, quickly thinning, if not often barren, field of opportunities for those in their late 20s and 30s. Even strong performances for their state sides get lost in the anonymity of domestic cricket.
There’s always someone newer, if not shinier, to catch the eye of selectors. The promise of the future holds a stronger lure than the safety of the familiar.
But the WPL, with its primetime telecast, cricketing challenges, hordes of new fans, and all the fodder for selection arguments, makes ignoring performances (both good and bad) that much harder. Selectors, given in these past few years to befuddling silence, will face further scrutiny of their choices. For senior players, it’s a narrow window opening where others have closed.
And it’s a validation of their decision to stick around.
Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Asha Joy knows this too. With her Wanindu Hasaranga-inspired celebrations, Asha has, for lack of a better word, been a joyful addition to the tournament. At 32, she keeps national hopes still alive. She seems to approach every match as a gift, thriving in these additional opportunities late in her career.
WPL has offered her the chance to discuss life with Ellyse Perry and leg-spin bowling with Yuzvendra Chahal. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan thinks she could be a “match-winner” for India; he offered on Twitter to coach her “free of cost, because I believe she is a natural talent”. To reiterate, these are opportunities that are coming to her in her 30s. Asha has been representing her state for two decades.
The leading wicket-taker of the tournament among local players after the league stage is Mumbai Indians’ Saika Ishaque, a 27-year-old from Bengal who has put the left-arm spinners in the national side on notice.
And of course, constantly breaking down doors every time she’s been inexplicably ignored is 33-year-old pacer Shikha Pandey. Pandey has 10 wickets for Delhi Capitals – seven more than the next-best Indian pace bowler. According to CricViz, she has induced 33% false shots, which is the highest among bowlers with at least six overs.
Of course, having a platform means a very public failure too when you fall flat on your face. And there will also never be enough room in a short, five-team competition like the WPL to accommodate every individual’s hopes and dreams. What might the big-hitting Jasia Akhter, nearly 35, have done if given a game by Delhi?
But when the story of the inaugural WPL is told, among its many heart-warming successes will be this: That it gave the experienced foot soldiers of Indian women’s cricket a chance to take a bow.