From new leagues to board support: How the WPL is changing women’s cricket in India
The first edition of the Women’s Premier League was not merely a historical event but an impactful one as well, as Krithika V writes.
The crowd turned up in huge numbers, and they were treated to some excellent cricket from the stars as well as the uncapped players like Saika Ishaque, Asha Joy, Kanika Ahuja, Shreyanka Patil and many more.
The WPL and its popularity influenced not only individuals but also several state associations under the BCCI.
A league of their own
Right after the Women’s Premier League was announced, major Associations like Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) and Goa Cricket Association (GCA) started their own leagues to promote and encourage female cricketers in the respective states.
The MCA announced the Presidency Cup right before the WPL auction, which featured the likes of Simran Shaikh and Humaira Kazi. Both players got picked up in the WPL auction.
The MCA Women’s T20 League was a one-of-a-kind tournament, featuring than 600 women cricketers – of age eight to 41 – from 48 academies and clubs. The teams were split into 12 groups of four.
While most cricketers were uncapped, the league also boasted of international players like Punam Raut and the former Indian star Sulakshana Naik.
Several teenagers made heads turn in the competition, including 19-year-old off-spinner Niviya Ambre, who finished as the leading wicket-taker with 11 wickets from five games.
Other youngsters include Manjusha Jadhav, a 12-year-old right-arm-pacer from the SKP Athletics Club: he six wickets included a spell of 4-4.
Among batters, Janhvi Kate, 22, slammed 185, the highest individual score of the tournament, while 18-year-old Kshama Patekar’s 161 was the second-highest.
Shikha Pandey was the only cricketer from Goa to play at the WPL. By his own admission, the scant representation from the state made GCA secretary Rohan Gauns Dessai realise that women’s Cricket in Goa needed a boost.
They launched the Goa Women’s Premier League which, just like the WPL, also had five teams – Geno Dragons, Celeste Super Women, Manas Panjim Gymkhana, MCC Estillo Legends, and Venture XI.
Apart from the 147 Goan cricketers, teams were allowed three guest cricketers as well, and they got the likes of Jasia Akther and Kiran Navgire.
Pandey, who predictably got the highest bid, also picked up the first wicket of the league. Akhter, the Player of the Tournament, made 418 runs in six innings at a strike rate of 172. She smashed two hundreds and three fifties.
It is not about the state associations alone. All around India, the academies and clubs are coming together to organise women’s tournaments in their respective states.
The Comrade Kodiyeri Balakrishnan Memorial T20 for women, for example, will feature top players from the state, including captain Sajana S. The logo was recently launched by Asha Joy, who played for the Royal Challengers Bangalore at the WPL.
Support that matters
In another positive move, BCCI assured that the women’s team would get a dedicated full-fledged support staff for the first time. As this point, the support staff are appointed temporarily, usually ahead of particular tournaments or tours.
BCCI secretary Jay Shah also confirmed through a series of tweets that they would send out advertisements for various positions, including the head coach.
The Indian team has been without a head coach since the sacking of Ramesh Powar in December 2022, Powar has since been moved to National Cricket Academy, while NCA coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar joined the Indian team as the batting coach for the T20 World Cup in South Africa earlier this year.
What lies ahead?
India Women will return to action in June with an away tour to Bangladesh. After that, they have several assignments at home, starting with South Africa in September, followed by New Zealand, England and Australia – all in this year. The complete fixtures are yet to be announced.
India are also set to host a couple of Test matches this year – their first on home soil since the Mysuru Test of 2014/15 against South Africa.
For the first time, there will be separate tournaments for Under-15, Under-19, Under-23 and Senior age groups.
The Under-15 One Day tournament was introduced last year, and it replaced the Under-23 tournament. This time, BCCI have included Under-23 T20 and One-day Trophy tournaments, but the Women’s Senior T20 Challenger Trophy and Senior Inter-Zonal One Day Trophy could not find a place.
The domestic season for women will begin with Senior T20 Trophy on October 19. The final will be played on November 9.