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Cricket news - Building blocks set for a Women's IPL

Jahanara Alam bowled with raw pace and dismissed both [bowled] Nat Sciver and Sophie Devine in the final

There were lights. There were cameras - 31 of them. And boy, there sure was plenty of (high-quality) action at the 2019 edition of Women's T20 Challenge, in Jaipur. Here are the major takeaways from BCCI's second edition of a trial run towards launching a women's league in India:

Lack of depth? Say what?

Lack of depth? Say what?

It was poetic justice that when Harmanpreet Kaur collected the winners' trophy and offered to hand it over to her teammates, Radha Yadav put her hand up and held it aloft as shutterbugs clicked away. Barely minutes ago, the 19-year-old had stepped up to finish the job her captain perished attempting with her typical flamboyance.

It was poetic justice that when Harmanpreet Kaur collected the winners' trophy and offered to hand it over to her teammates, Radha Yadav put her hand up and held it aloft as shutterbugs clicked away. Barely minutes ago, the 19-year-old had stepped up to finish the job her captain perished attempting with her typical flamboyance.

Jemimah Rodrigues, 18, picked up the Player of the Tournament award for taking charge of Supernovas batting at the top. At 20, and with only four international games under her belt, Harleen Deol formed the rock of Trailblazers' star-studded top-order that comprised World No. 1 ranked ODI and T20I batters Smriti Mandhana and Suzie Bates for openers, and a T20 WC-winning captain Stafanie Taylor at No. 4.

Jemimah Rodrigues, 18, picked up the Player of the Tournament award for taking charge of Supernovas batting at the top. At 20, and with only four international games under her belt, Harleen Deol formed the rock of Trailblazers' star-studded top-order that comprised World No. 1 ranked ODI and T20I batters Smriti Mandhana and Suzie Bates for openers, and a T20 WC-winning captain Stafanie Taylor at No. 4.

Not to forget Shafali Verma. The 15-year-old Haryana batter - probably the biggest find of the tournament - made more heads turn than all of the aforementioned put together. Her shortcomings were found out soon enough, but her fearlessness stood out throughout. After a 31-ball 34 in Velocity's tournament opener, Shafali did not display an iota of apprehension in taking on Lea Tahuhu, amongst the fastest bowlers on the circuit, for a third time after having fetched consecutive boundaries off the Kiwi in the final. She perished in the attempt, against Tahuhu's experience, but gave a peek into the raw talent that lies at the age-group level, waiting to be discovered.

Not to forget Shafali Verma. The 15-year-old Haryana batter - probably the biggest find of the tournament - made more heads turn than all of the aforementioned put together. Her shortcomings were found out soon enough, but her fearlessness stood out throughout. After a 31-ball 34 in Velocity's tournament opener, Shafali did not display an iota of apprehension in taking on Lea Tahuhu, amongst the fastest bowlers on the circuit, for a third time after having fetched consecutive boundaries off the Kiwi in the final. She perished in the attempt, against Tahuhu's experience, but gave a peek into the raw talent that lies at the age-group level, waiting to be discovered.

The talent is there, in abundance. It just needs to be tapped better.

The talent is there, in abundance. It just needs to be tapped better.

A week of knowledge sharing at it's best

A week of knowledge sharing at it's best

Smriti Mandhana got a peek into the mind of one of the most astute captains (well, former captain now) on the circuit - Suzie Bates. Jhulan Goswami saw merit in what Bates had to advice, and had no qualms in going for the 20th over instead of her usual 19th at the death. The Indian pacer didn't execute most deliveries according to the plan but still managed to defend 19 off the over, and later confessed to Bates that bowling the final over of a T20 was "one of the best learnings she's had".

Smriti Mandhana got a peek into the mind of one of the most astute captains (well, former captain now) on the circuit - Suzie Bates. Jhulan Goswami saw merit in what Bates had to advice, and had no qualms in going for the 20th over instead of her usual 19th at the death. The Indian pacer didn't execute most deliveries according to the plan but still managed to defend 19 off the over, and later confessed to Bates that bowling the final over of a T20 was "one of the best learnings she's had".

Sophie Devine spent good part of her time in nets teaching and learning off Mansi Joshi and Arundhati Reddy, apart from, obviously pulling off a few pranks on other teammates. Overawed by her at first, Shafali's got the chance to pick the brains of another one of similar ilk, Danielle Wyatt. Devika Vaidya and Amelia Kerr have already become best of friends exchanging notes on the art of legspin.

Sophie Devine spent good part of her time in nets teaching and learning off Mansi Joshi and Arundhati Reddy, apart from, obviously pulling off a few pranks on other teammates. Overawed by her at first, Shafali's got the chance to pick the brains of another one of similar ilk, Danielle Wyatt. Devika Vaidya and Amelia Kerr have already become best of friends exchanging notes on the art of legspin.

Sushma Verma, who put Velocity in a position to fight in the final, said she learnt to deal with pressure better sitting in the dugout in the previous game. "I personally liked the approach of foreign players... Two days ago, I was padded up from seventh over I guess and I was waiting for my turn. [Hayley] Matthews, who just got out and walked back into the dug-out [was so calm]. An Indian player would have probably been upset, but Matthews kept talking to me, and I didn't even realise that I am up for batting next. When the last ball of the match was sent down, it struck me again that I was next."

Sushma Verma, who put Velocity in a position to fight in the final, said she learnt to deal with pressure better sitting in the dugout in the previous game. "I personally liked the approach of foreign players... Two days ago, I was padded up from seventh over I guess and I was waiting for my turn. [Hayley] Matthews, who just got out and walked back into the dug-out [was so calm]. An Indian player would have probably been upset, but Matthews kept talking to me, and I didn't even realise that I am up for batting next. When the last ball of the match was sent down, it struck me again that I was next."

Give them a #WIPL already!

Give them a #WIPL already!

The old or discarded are not done yet

The old or discarded are not done yet

The tournament was as much as chance for youngsters to shine as it was a window of opportunity for the likes of Sushma and Veda Krishnamurthy to showcase they still got what it takes to make it to the Indian team.

The tournament was as much as chance for youngsters to shine as it was a window of opportunity for the likes of Sushma and Veda Krishnamurthy to showcase they still got what it takes to make it to the Indian team.

India wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia was excellent with the gloves for Supernovas, especially in the final with her stumping of Veda, but didn't get any chance to bat. Her predecessor Sushma, with her impressive unbeaten 40 in a pressure-situation final under lights and in front of a nearly packed stadium, seized the opportunity and displayed what little backing and role clarity can do.

India wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia was excellent with the gloves for Supernovas, especially in the final with her stumping of Veda, but didn't get any chance to bat. Her predecessor Sushma, with her impressive unbeaten 40 in a pressure-situation final under lights and in front of a nearly packed stadium, seized the opportunity and displayed what little backing and role clarity can do.

Veda, who has been in and out of the Indian team since the Australia series last year, displayed exactly the kind of maturity her ODI captain Mithali Raj had demanded of her back in 2018 when the collapse-prone Velocity decided, rather controversially, to abort chase and seek a safe passage to the final. Veda curbed her inner Rohit Sharma in the 53-run partnership Raj to prove she too has it in her to adapt to match situations.

Veda, who has been in and out of the Indian team since the Australia series last year, displayed exactly the kind of maturity her ODI captain Mithali Raj had demanded of her back in 2018 when the collapse-prone Velocity decided, rather controversially, to abort chase and seek a safe passage to the final. Veda curbed her inner Rohit Sharma in the 53-run partnership Raj to prove she too has it in her to adapt to match situations.

Shikha Pandey is far from discarded or over, but her noticeably improved death bowling skills can still give the youngsters a coming through a run for their money.

Shikha Pandey is far from discarded or over, but her noticeably improved death bowling skills can still give the youngsters a coming through a run for their money.

Though the sample size was small, but these four games showcased the best of women's cricket in India in most competitive light, and will therefore breed healthy competition for national side.

Though the sample size was small, but these four games showcased the best of women's cricket in India in most competitive light, and will therefore breed healthy competition for national side.

Think out of the box and find a middle ground

Think out of the box and find a middle ground

There's no denying that in a country of over a billion talents like the Jemimahs and the Shafalis are exceptions, and hence can be fast-tracked. But there are many more who lack the exposure to quality, competitive cricket which, due to several factors, the domestic structure is struggling to provide. Shafali may have the "bas maarna hai" [see ball hit ball] attitude because that's how her father's shaped her batting to be, but years down the line even if one girl coming through the ranks has similar approach because she saw a Shafali do that to world's best at the age of 15 and not back down, the tournament would have served it's purpose of contributing to the evolution of women's game in the country.

There's no denying that in a country of over a billion talents like the Jemimahs and the Shafalis are exceptions, and hence can be fast-tracked. But there are many more who lack the exposure to quality, competitive cricket which, due to several factors, the domestic structure is struggling to provide. Shafali may have the "bas maarna hai" [see ball hit ball] attitude because that's how her father's shaped her batting to be, but years down the line even if one girl coming through the ranks has similar approach because she saw a Shafali do that to world's best at the age of 15 and not back down, the tournament would have served it's purpose of contributing to the evolution of women's game in the country.

Leagues like this, the WBBL and KSL have the promise to plug that existing gap in standards. At the same time, lack of monetary returns for the stakeholders has been the primary factor holding India back on that front.

Leagues like this, the WBBL and KSL have the promise to plug that existing gap in standards. At the same time, lack of monetary returns for the stakeholders has been the primary factor holding India back on that front.

Mithali Raj offered a middle path to get the best of both worlds to make the league more viable in future. "This is just my personal thought, but I feel instead of four you can have five overseas players until you find out more domestic cricketers in. It makes sense because you also want to get the standard [of the league] up and at the same time give more exposure to domestic players. Increase the pool of players by adding a couple of more teams but you have more overseas players, too, to make it more interesting," she said in response to what her insights would be for the board when they meet to chart a roadmap for the future of this league.

Mithali Raj offered a middle path to get the best of both worlds to make the league more viable in future. "This is just my personal thought, but I feel instead of four you can have five overseas players until you find out more domestic cricketers in. It makes sense because you also want to get the standard [of the league] up and at the same time give more exposure to domestic players. Increase the pool of players by adding a couple of more teams but you have more overseas players, too, to make it more interesting," she said in response to what her insights would be for the board when they meet to chart a roadmap for the future of this league.

Raj didn't seem particularly keen on the idea of double-headers and one doesn't have to look beyond 2018 to figure why. But until this women's tournament is ready to completely step out of the shadows of IPL and become a stand alone product of its own while simultaneously accommodating more league games between more teams - an absolute, uncompromisable necessity - then double-headers might just have to be the way forward. Remember, WBBL is looking at a standalone event this year only after four years of a successful launch and building on the momentum slowly and steadily with each edition. Since this tournament is looking at expansion the following year - with or without the franchises coming on board - there will be an overlap in the 45-day IPL window, but a more carefully orchestrated show in terms of picking venues, match days and match timings can help avoid the mishap of 2018 while moving the league/game forward concurrently.

Raj didn't seem particularly keen on the idea of double-headers and one doesn't have to look beyond 2018 to figure why. But until this women's tournament is ready to completely step out of the shadows of IPL and become a stand alone product of its own while simultaneously accommodating more league games between more teams - an absolute, uncompromisable necessity - then double-headers might just have to be the way forward. Remember, WBBL is looking at a standalone event this year only after four years of a successful launch and building on the momentum slowly and steadily with each edition. Since this tournament is looking at expansion the following year - with or without the franchises coming on board - there will be an overlap in the 45-day IPL window, but a more carefully orchestrated show in terms of picking venues, match days and match timings can help avoid the mishap of 2018 while moving the league/game forward concurrently.

The audience will come

The audience will come

"TV pe toh nahin, but lights jal rahe the aur koi IPL game toh hai nahin Jaipur mein. Toh socha ja kar dekhte hain. Pata chala entry ekdum free tha," said Atul Singh as he waited for his boy gang outside the West Gate of Sawai Mansingh Stadium on Saturday.

"TV pe toh nahin, but lights jal rahe the aur koi IPL game toh hai nahin Jaipur mein. Toh socha ja kar dekhte hain. Pata chala entry ekdum free tha," said Atul Singh as he waited for his boy gang outside the West Gate of Sawai Mansingh Stadium on Saturday.

Loosely translated, despite not spotting the advertisements of it on TV (there weren't any in the city even unless you shared a common wall with the stadium), the fact that the floodlights were lit all evening well after the IPL caravan had moved out of the city was what pulled a 17-year-old to an evening game of the Women's T20 Challenge 2019. He enquired if there was a similar free-entry policy on the day of the final too, and brought six of his friends along this time.

Loosely translated, despite not spotting the advertisements of it on TV (there weren't any in the city even unless you shared a common wall with the stadium), the fact that the floodlights were lit all evening well after the IPL caravan had moved out of the city was what pulled a 17-year-old to an evening game of the Women's T20 Challenge 2019. He enquired if there was a similar free-entry policy on the day of the final too, and brought six of his friends along this time.

They were among the 13,000 who could gain an entry into the stadium. There were thousands more who queued up outside and had to be turned away because the authorities, perhaps, didn't anticipate to pull such crowds and could open only seven stands of the nine as ran out of enough security personnel to man each corner of the venue.

They were among the 13,000 who could gain an entry into the stadium. There were thousands more who queued up outside and had to be turned away because the authorities, perhaps, didn't anticipate to pull such crowds and could open only seven stands of the nine as ran out of enough security personnel to man each corner of the venue.

All of this is unprecedented for a domestic women's match in India, and all of this worked in tandem to create a buzz around town and pack the venue. It remains to be seen if it can still draw a similar crowd if one or more of these factors - night games, telecast and free entry - are taken out of equation. But if Jaipur - or even Baroda in March 2018 - is any indication, there is an audience for women's cricket and one that likes it enough to come back for more. Invest in marketing the product better, and then put a price tag on it - a minimal one to begin with - and perhaps women's cricket might just not turn out to be the financial dead-end that it's perceived to be by the franchises.

All of this is unprecedented for a domestic women's match in India, and all of this worked in tandem to create a buzz around town and pack the venue. It remains to be seen if it can still draw a similar crowd if one or more of these factors - night games, telecast and free entry - are taken out of equation. But if Jaipur - or even Baroda in March 2018 - is any indication, there is an audience for women's cricket and one that likes it enough to come back for more. Invest in marketing the product better, and then put a price tag on it - a minimal one to begin with - and perhaps women's cricket might just not turn out to be the financial dead-end that it's perceived to be by the franchises.

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