Even as the Indian Premier League (IPL) is headed towards an exciting finish, 45 women players from around the world (not quite, but more on that later) have gathered in the UAE, ahead of the Women’s T20 Challenge, that will be held in the first week of November.
An annual event since 2018, the tournament has gained traction for the star power and the big names it attracts, besides the quality of cricket on offer.
The inaugural season, held after the finals appearance of the Indian Women’s team in the 2017 World Cup, saw names such as Alyssa Healy, Suzie Bates, Lea Tahuhu, Sophie Devine and Ellyse Perry fly down to India for a one-off game, while the 2019 edition had three teams, with four matches.
The event had a bigger star turnaround, with players from Sri Lanka, England and West Indies in attendance, as fans lapped up the action on offer.
2020 was expected to be bigger. After all, the BCCI had been given the foundation to organise a memorable tournament after the girls from India once again created waves as they reached the T20 World Cup finals held in March in Australia.
The numbers are there as evidence. Not only did 86,174 spectators watch the epic clash at the MCG – the second-highest ever turnout in a women’s event in the history of any sports in the world ever – but as many as 52 million viewers tuned in to watch the game on TV.
Return to after nearly 6 months!
The #Velocity and #Trailblazers had their first outing in Dubai. From team talks to net sessions, here's everything that happened! The girls are excited to be back on the field. #WomensT20Challenge@M_Raj03 | @mandhana_smriti pic.twitter.com/swtMAH9mwT
— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) October 28, 2020
The ICC already termed the tournament as the second most successful ICC event ever after the Men’s Cricket World Cup in 2019, and we can be rest assured that the Indian audiences had a huge role to play in the triumphant staging.
And yet, the upcoming T20 Women’s Challenge, which will be held in Sharjah for a week from 4 November, seems much like an afterthought. For one, the haphazard planning, which involves quarantining 45 cricketers plus the support staff plus the organisers for four matches (one team will play just two games) all the way in UAE defies logic.
Holding the tournament in India was not feasible due to the rising COVID-19 cases in the country, and UAE, which has successfully hosted the IPL thus far, was always the first-choice venue.
But, if the BCCI and the cricketers were going through all the hassle of flying to another country and undergoing quarantine, could they not have played more matches?
The argument that pops up is that the BCCI wanted to schedule the event during the IPL playoffs week, as they have done for the last two seasons, and, thus, the teams could not have played more than two games apiece aside from the finals.
While cashing in on the craze of the IPL and channelising that towards the women’s tournament is understandable, the Board might have ventured into a new territory by holding a Women’s T20 Challenge as a standalone, even if just for two weeks.
The current schedule means that a number of big stars, such as Healy, Perry, Devine, Laura Wolvaardt, Natalie Sciver, Katherine Brunt, Lizelle Lee, Meg Lanning and Beth Mooney miss out from the “Women’s IPL” as the dates clash with the Women’s Big Bash League.
The dates of the WBBL were already announced when the BCCI declared that they would hold the T20 Challenge. Isn’t gauging the number of eyeballs the event attracts a huge part of this “experiment” that the BCCI is conducting, before they come out with a full-fledged Women’s IPL?
If yes, wouldn’t the presence of the international stars, who have their own fan following in India, helped in the Women’s T20 Challenge getting more attention?
And, more importantly, is it necessary to feed off the IPL and the male cricketers even after all the standout successes that the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana have achieved?
By hosting the Women’s T20 Challenge alongside the IPL even though they were aware of the absence of big stars only hints that the BCCI is unsure of how a lone women’s event will pan out.
This is not only robbing the youngsters from India a chance to rub shoulders with some of the legends of the game but also disallows the BCCI to truly get a sense of how successful or unsuccessful the Women’s IPL will be in the future.
But All Is Not Lost, and Something Is Better Than Nothing
Despite all the complaints, the upcoming Women’s T20 Challenge will be a huge opportunity for the cricket-lovers to watch the women stars in action after almost eight months.
Though the Perrys and the Healys miss out, Shakera Selman, Leigh Kasperek, Sophie Ecclestone, Danielle Wyatt, Deandra Dottin and Sune Luus will fly down to the UAE to participate in the event that will see three teams – Supernovas, Trailblazers and Velocity – fight it out.
Not only will the experience rub off on the domestic Indian stars but will also allow them to iron out their flaws as they get talking with the internationals. Over the years, we have seen that the Indian bench strength is not necessarily the strongest, and if just sharing the dressing room with the finest players from the globe helps in polishing the weaknesses, then we will readily lap up even a four-game Women’s T20 Challenge.
Talent will meet opportunity when Thailand player Nattakan Chantam, who had scored the first fifty for her team in this year’s T20 World Cup, will make her debut in the Women’s T20 Challenge.
Playing for Trailblazers, the 24-year-old has the platform to impress amid a number of stars and has a golden chance to go back to her country with countless memories, new skills and rich experiences.
In the documentary 'Beyond the Boundary', Sornnarin Tippoch, the skipper of the Thailand women’s cricket team, had admitted that her family was clueless about what her profession was, which only reflected the unawareness around cricket in the country. If Chanthm can leave a mark in this edition, Tippoch and the likes might just find it easier to explain their livelihood.
The BCCI has all the power to give wings and steer women’s cricket in an upward direction. With not many women’s events around the world, organising a tournament solely for the girls will open up a number of financial and opportunities for everyone involved.
The skill-set will be enhanced, the competitiveness will increase and hopefully, in the near future, no eyebrows will be raised when a young girl walks out with a cricket bat and opens up about her dreams of playing for India.
A four-game event, though, might not be the answer.
. Read more on IPL by The Quint.Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads, Curated Just For You2020 Women’s T20 Challenge: Something Better Than Nothing? . Read more on IPL by The Quint.