Match-starved India women cricketers pin hope on WBBL, domestic event

  • BCCI not planning any international series after the Australia tour has left women players anxious for matches ahead of next year’s ODI World Cup.
File image of India’s Smirti Mandhana representing Hobart Hurricanes in WBBL(Getty Images) PREMIUM
File image of India’s Smirti Mandhana representing Hobart Hurricanes in WBBL(Getty Images)
Updated on Oct 13, 2021 09:59 PM IST
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While Indian men’s cricket team follows the Future Tours Programme, there is always a question mark over the schedule of the women’s international tours. With the multi-format series in Australia having just ended, the Indian women don’t know what their next international assignment will be leading up to the ODI World Cup in New Zealand in March 2022.

The T20 Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) though starts on October 14, and with eight India players featuring for different teams, it could be the platform for them.

“I am very excited about playing in the WBBL and it is a great opportunity for us to grow as a team (India). If we can get those games before an international tournament, it will be very good for us,” India T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur said after the series in Australia. Kaur, who has been out of form and made an injury comeback for the T20s, will play for Melbourne Renegades along with Jemimah Rodrigues. The tournament starts in Tasmania and will travel to Adelaide, Perth and Mackay.

Rodrigues too was not in her best form in the home series against South Africa and in the bilateral series in England but found her rhythm with Northern Superchargers in The Hundred, scoring 249 runs with a highest score of 92*. She also looked in sublime form in the rain-abandoned first T20I against Australia at the Carrara Oval.

After the match, she said: “Competitions like The Hundred and the WBBL are top-class. Had The Hundred not happened to me, I would not have been in the India team after the England series. The multiple innings I played during The Hundred brought back my spirits and confidence. It would be great if India also has its own women’s T20 league.”

While Poonam Yadav (Brisbane Heat), Richa Ghosh (Hobart Hurricanes), Shafali Verma, Radha Yadav (both Sydney Sixers), Deepti Sharma, Smriti Mandhana (both Sydney Thunder) are the others who will play WBBL, the other players will turn out for their state teams in the one-day domestic tournament starting on October 31.

This year, the India women have played just three series besides training in the national camp held in Bengaluru. India’s World Cup preparations could thus depend on WBBL. “The reason the Australian team is doing really well is that the whole season they play very good cricket. If you saw the way Tahlia McGrath batted, we can see they are getting so much confidence because of the competition at WBBL. They are ready to play international cricket,” Harmanpreet Kaur said during the T20Is.

Many top Indian cricketers have been asking for BCCI to start a women’s IPL instead of the exhibition T20 Challenge, which was not held this year.

“If there is a women’s T20 league in India, it will be a great opportunity for domestic players who come to the international level. The same thing happened with the men when they got a platform like IPL. Now when they play international cricket, it doesn’t look like some young talent is playing, they show maturity because they have the tag of 40-50 IPL games where they have played good cricket and won matches for their teams,” Kaur said.

BCCI has hosted the T20 women’s challenge (exhibition games) thrice but has been reluctant to make it a full-fledged league with the pandemic also hitting its finances. India coach Ramesh Powar has a contract till the ODI World Cup, but the other staff is hired per tour.

Former India wicketkeeper Saba Karim, who was BCCI general manager, said: “BCCI is doing a great job in promoting women’s cricket. Even the girls have done justice to their talent worldwide. The fielding coaches, and now batting coach Shiv Sundar Das, are doing a fine job with the women’s team. Not giving full-fledged contracts to the support staff can be because the women’s team doesn’t play as many matches as the men do.”

Karim gave his opinion on not having a women’s T20 league. “That is the only (thing) we are lacking right now. If we get to play good cricket at the domestic level before international matches, we will definitely improve as a team. Why the men's IPL was a success is because of the kind of structure, the kind of talent that was coming up from the domestic level. A similar kind of thing needs to take place for women’s cricket also. BCCI should have more matches, more tournaments.”

Eight Indians got WBBL contracts this time because very few England and New Zealand players are available. Former India captain Shanta Rangaswami has been critical of foreign T20 leagues, pointing to Harmanpreet Kaur’s injuries. The 32-year-old batter was injured playing against South Africa, then in The Hundred and then injured her thumb in Australia to miss the ODIs and the pink-ball Test. If Kaur gets injured so much and misses India games then BCCI should not allow its players to take part in foreign leagues, as is the case with the men, Rangaswami said.

A domestic player, who did not wish to be named, disagreed: “Every cricketer wants to play as much domestic or international cricket (as possible). If there are not many international tournaments happening for India then why stop players from gaining experience from foreign leagues. When India has its own league then a decision can be taken over this.”

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021