'We can start with even four or five teams': Anjum Chopra calls for a 'structured plan' to initiate women's IPL
Following their participation in the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL), women's cricket in India have successfully hit a new high. And if that wasn't enough, the fact that most of the players returned an impressive show in the tournament adds to it. As many as eight Indian players have returned home, having gained from the rich experience of playing in one of the biggest franchise T20 cricket leagues in the world, and leading the way was Harmanpreet Kaur emerged as the biggest star, winning the Player of the Tournament honour following her all-round brilliance for the Melbourne Renegades.
The India captain peeled off 399 runs at 66.50 and strike-rate of 135.25, including three match-winning half-centuries and was a huge asset with the ball grabbing 15 wickets. Accompanying her in setting the WBBL on fire was her India teammate Smriti Mandhana, who smashed a record century for Sydney Thunder. Couple it with decent outings by Jemimah Rodrigues, Radha Yadav, Deepti Sharma and Co. the chorus has only grown louder in support of a women's Indian Premier League with several current and former players joining in the debate.
Former Indian captain Anjum Chopra, in exclusive conversation with Hindustantimes.com, believes that while the BCCI has shown intent, having announced a four-team Women's T20 Challenge last season before it was cancelled owing to the pandemic, there is gap with its execution due to their 'conviction in going forward'. The cricketer-turned-commentator also called for a 'structured plan for initiating a women's IPL' with just four or five teams, explaining why the board might benefit from starting the tournament without any further delay.
You have talked about it several times before. And now, with several Indian players returning a decent show, do you think the time is ripe for an IPL for women in India?
Women's IPL... it's a very interesting stage. I understand the chorus is happening and people are saying that it should happen especially after Harmanpreet (Kaur) winning the Player of the Tournament (Women's Big Bash League) award. All these are absolutely fine. The day the BCCI decides to conduct a Women's IPL it will happen, the point is, the resistance is not only because they do not want to start it or they do not want a women's tournament. I think there might be some other issues or questions on how it can be done and how it can be handled. We can of course have a shorter version of the IPL, maybe with 4 or 5 proper teams with international players.
Probably it could start by adding a few more teams to the Women's T20 Challenge event itself...
It's not a tournament where somebody says 'let's do it' and then it doesn't become a grand success and help your own players. IPL men's tournament is now on a very auto-pilot stage. And people like Venkatesh Iyer have been chosen for the Indian team straightaway from a seven-match performance in IPL 2021. There was a time when players were judged by their performance in a season, but now players are selected based on their performance in half a season.
Many years ago, not many people know about it but people in the BCCI do know, I have already worked on it. 4 or 5 teams will definitely make a lot of sense. Question is, who runs the tournament? Maybe an administrator is assigned. Then the question is, do they need another team, which is already running the IPL, to run a separate Women's IPL? You can have the same people running the Women's event as well. But probably they know the answer better as to whether they do need a separate team altogether. Are they short of manpower? Maybe. No cricket organisation has so much manpower. So, it is not about intent with the BCCI not wanting to initiate it. Let's not forget that they had proposed a four-team Women's T20 Challenge event last season and would have happened in May had the pandemic not hit. So that was already announced.
It's not the franchises in India that do not want to do a Women's IPL. It's the parent body that needs to lead the way. And for the same franchises to go ahead and take on the Women's team. If the BCCI can increase the size of the IPL from 8 to 10, I'm sure we can have a structured plan for initiating a women's IPL. It may not be eight teams to 10 teams, it can be just five or six or even four teams. But in a very structured manner. With the success of the smaller version we can always expand. But the benefit that BCCI will have now is that these women's T20 leagues have already mushroomed around the world, whether it is the Women's Big Bash or the Kia Super League. So it's all about intent and execution. Probably there is a gap between the two in just having the conviction in going forward.
How impressed are you with Harmanpreet Kaur following this WBBL season where she won the Player of the Tournament award?
Didn't see all of her innings though, but she scored runs at a strike rate of over 130 which is good for me. But what is heartening to see is that she is emerging out of her injuries that she has been picking up over the last couple of years and she has come back to striking the ball in a way she has been known best. She is doing match-winning knocks. She is contributing with the bat and ball. And that's a very good sign for Indian cricket and for Harmanpreet. If you look back in the last two or three years, we still talk about that unbeaten 171-run knock (in 2017 Women's World Cup against Australia) and the hundred she got against New Zealand in the T20 World Cup. But those are history now. You need scores to back yourself now. She had a few good performances but she hasn't had an impactful performance. Picking up the player of the tournament award is very special for any player. And others have also done well. And many have been busy with cricket this year - they played against South Africa then they went to England, Australia, played the league (The Women's Hundred) in England and now in Australia. So they have been on the ground, playing cricket, which is an important thing. And for Harmanpreet I hope she is ready to carry this form as long as possible for the Indian team as well.
Jemimah has shown that she can be an attacking option at the top of the line-up. Deepti Sharma has shown versatility with her batting responsibility. How important are these again with the World Cup around and India facing a middle-order issue as recent as in the last series?
The important thing is that they are playing cricket and being a well-oiled machine so that whenever you have to run fast then you know exactly what things you can match. Jemimah batted well, very good. Others performed well, good again. Smriti Mandhana scored a record century, again very impressive. So all these things are absolutely essential for Indian cricket that these players will come back with a valuable experience and exposure in a tough situation. And this will obviously rub off on the other players. How much others can learn from this is up to the individual again. Also, Harmanpreet, who won the Player of the Tournament award, still has to play a match-winning knock in 50-over cricket which is very different to T20 cricket.
Shafali Verma, was on six occasions, used as a middle-order option where she scored a 43-ball 53 and 15-ball 20. Do you think India would want to try this strategy?
It is up to the coaches, but don't think that will happen. Franchise cricket is very different from international cricket and how players are utilized in franchise cricket is up to them and how the player shapes up. Hitting the ball out of the park for the Indian team is different and hitting the ball out of the park in an unfamiliar condition against different bowlers is very different. I was actually not surprised that she was used in different conditions. At least they gave her an opportunity to be part of the XI because we have seen in the IPL that if a player doesn't perform in two games, then there is no coming back.