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Cricket news - Is the time ripe for a Women's IPL?

BCCI organised a one-off IPL-styled exhibition game during 2018 season.

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Way back in September 2007, the cricketing landscape changed once-and-for-all with the announcement of the Indian Premier League. The inaugural men's IPL was held in 2008 and since then, it has proved to be the foundation ground for younger players to showcase their skills in front of huge crowds. It also won them recognition, more monetary benefits and a chance to mix with the greats of the game.

With the success of the Indian Premier League, there is a school of thought that a women's IPL should also be held in order to uplift the game in the country and also to bring in more awareness about women's cricket.

One of the prime reasons that has kept BCCI away from organising one is its financial sustainability, with the franchises and broadcasters not showing keenness to tie up in this endeavour. The empty stadiums, low television viewing during women's matches and the lack of quality domestic cricketers has furthered their trouble with regards to the interest in the tournament.

Under such circumstances, BCCI has to put in its own money, allow the tournament to fail for a few seasons in order to reap rich rewards in the future, much like how WBBL and KSL turned out to be. And for the Indian cricket board, with its financial state, there can be no excuse to not be providing the best of structures when poorer boards have done better for their women cricketers.

By allowing Indian cricketers to rub shoulders with international greats and the best of support staff and engage them in higher level of competition will enable them to become better cricketers. And this in turn will allow them to win major tournaments like the world cups, something that can change the face of women's cricket in the country, draw crowds, inspire young girls and bring in more sponsors.

With ICC deciding that T20 will be the way to take women's cricket forward, it becomes all the more imperative for the Indian cricket board to be at par with the best in the women's game if not the pathbreakers, like Australia have proved to be.

Alyssa Healy, the Australian wicketkeeper-batter, who played in an exhibition game during last year's IPL, also backed the idea of Women's IPL. "I thoroughly enjoyed that experience, heading over there for a few days and playing in that exhibition game. It's probably the next step for the women's game in the T20 format, so if that gets up and running that's really exciting. I'm sure a lot of the girls would be willing to stick their hand up for it."

A women's IPL might be a short-term loss-making proposition, but it can have a large trickling down effect on Indian cricket. Unless the system creates a structure to improve women's cricket, India will have to continue to rely on cricketers emerging into prominence despite the system and not because of it.

Counterview

Imagine having a women's IPL that doesn't live up to its billing. Imagine franchises struggling to populate their playing elevens with quality players, and imagine a million of us sticking to television sets because it's the right thing to do. You can only be so much right, and only for so long. Let's accept it - entertainment cannot be forced upon. Not in 2019, for sure.

It was only in March last year that Mithali Raj advised against an IPL-style league for women, boldly predicting that having one too soon may go against promoting women's cricket. Having an IPL now without a strong enough quality player-pool might not get bums on seats or eyes in front of television sets, and hence prove counter-productive in the longer run. A recent ODI between India and England had 200 odd people in attendance at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. That in times when social media warriors make a case for women's cricket by the hour, tweet by tweet. Lord's was a packed house for the World Cup final, yes, but England won't turn up for women's IPL; India will.

Mithali elaborated her point by adding how women cricketers were just starting to get used to a professional set-up of contracted players, how the focus was slowly shifting towards building a quality A team, and how it could "take a couple of years to get the second string in place." And with facilities like MRF Pace Academy yet to open their doors to women cricketers, it might be a while before the need for a world-class T20 league arises.

Again, having a women's IPL now, though financially feasible, won't fetch returns. There were as few as three television ads running for the Women's T20 WC last year but that said, there's something greater than profit at stake here.

A big financial influx into the women's game can be devastating for a product still coming to terms with its own being on the international stage. When the men's IPL came around in 2008, it took the world by storm, perhaps triggering a secret Gen X that wanted to play just the IPL, as international cricket scorned at the thought of it. Remember Chris Gayle opting for IPL over Test cricket in England once and then waning out of it? You don't want women players fading out to cricket leagues before they become the Chris Gayles and Harmanpreet Kaurs they were supposed to be.

Yes, there's an urgent need to invest money in women's cricket but IPL is not the place for it. Evolution is boring, and let's not stream it on millions of TV sets, hoping that people will watch it for reasons more righteous than entertainment.

Do you have an opinion about this? Write to us at [email protected] with your views.

Anuj Verma: Organising a Women's IPL will be a great deal for women's cricket in India. But let's not forget that first, we need to create a bunch of women cricketers who can compete with international players. First BCCI needs to increase the level of women cricketers and after that, we can think of a Women's IPL.

Pradyut Hande: While international women's cricket continues to grow from strength to strength, women's franchise cricket is still at an extremely nascent stage currently. An IPL styled women's T20 tournament is still a few years in the making. Die-hard cricketing aficionados shouldn't mistake rising popularity for financial viability ... which is what it eventually comes down to.

The marketability of women's cricket in India, while on the upswing, is still nowhere comparable to the men's game. And, franchise owners and sponsors would be reluctant to invest in a predictably loss-making venture. Neither is there such a high level of viewer interest.

Instead of thinking of organising a sporting property along these lines, the BCCI needs to focus on strengthening the grass root levels. Fixing the domestic structure and talent pipeline should take precedence over a hastily conceived or ill-thought-out glossy, slam-bang franchise-based T20 tournament.

This would only cause more damage than good, setting Indian women's cricket back a few years. There's no need to jump the gun. A women's IPL should definitely be on the horizon. Just not yet.

Owais Dar: It would be great full to watch women's IPL. We already have excitement about men's IPL.

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