Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

What can the women’s IPL learn from overseas tournaments?

Posted on 17 June 2022 by Will Rogan

Deandra Dottin’s inspired performance led the Supernovas to victory over Velocity in the Women’s T20 challenge in Pune, India last week.

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After her team were put into bat, the Barbadian hit 62 off 44 balls, sending four deliveries into the jubilant crowd of over 8,000. She then took two wickets in four overs after the innings break, with one maiden.

Dottin and her team won by four runs and celebrated a third victory in four years for the Supernovas franchise. Celebrations were undoubtedly enhanced by the recent announcement of a women’s version of the Indian Premier League.

BCCI Secretary Jay Shah celebrated the quality of the cricket on display in the women’s T20 challenge, teasing the arrival of a ‘much bigger’ season next time round.

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In November 2021, president of the BCCI Sourav Ganguly mooted the idea of expanding the T20 Challenge, but the limitations of the Covid-19 pandemic put this on the backburner.

The women’s T20 Challenge has been going since 2018, and consists of just three teams playing in a round robin group stage before the fourth and final game decides the winner.

This year’s edition lasted five days and was up against the final stages of this season’s men’s IPL for the attention of the cricketing world.

This is certainly a tough gig for a tournament that should be increasing the profile of the women’s game.

This is reflective of the attitudes towards women’s cricket held by the cricket authorities in India. Writer for the Cricketer Nick Friend called the T20 Challenge in effect a box-ticking exercise.

So why has it taken so long for a women’s edition of the IPL to come into being? And what can an expanded tournament learn from other big competitions in the women’s game?

 

The pull of the IPL

The men’s Indian Premier League is the most prolific and commercialised tournament in cricket. New team Gujarat Titans won their inaugural title last week, beating Rajasthan Royals in the final by seven wickets.

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In cricketing terms, the money is immense. Teams bid for players at the IPL auction before the beginning of the season, signing promising young Indian talent and experienced overseas players alike.

A women’s tournament would undoubtedly increase the profile of women’s cricket on the subcontinent and around the world.

If the date mooted for a women’s IPL comes to fruition in March 2023, there is a good chance that it would coincide with the men’s edition in 2023 as well.

Tentative predictions for the men’s tournament look to place next season in a similar window to this year’s, from the end of March to the end of May.

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If the two coincide, the possibility that the men’s tournament would completely overshadow the women’s must be considered.

The BCCI would do well to look overseas to other short-form tournaments to ensure that the new women’s tournament is not sublimated under the power of the men’s competition.

 

Looking abroad

A strong example of women’s cricket remaining mostly in step with men’s is the ECB’s recent project, The Hundred.

Each of the eight newly formed franchises field two teams and play at established county and Test level grounds across the country.

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Each team bowls one hundred balls in a format designed to keep cricket fresh, fast, exciting and colourful. The aim is to attract the more casual fan and encourage those of a younger generation to take part in England’s national summer sport.

The Hundred was a commercial and sporting success last summer, with some of the world’s best players populating fields across England.

Crucially, the tournament allows for young, raw talents to sign for franchises. These youngsters can learn from and play against the best in the world, in much the same way young Indian talent is nurtured in the IPL.

This was the case in both Hundred competitions, with Indian players like 21 year-old Jemimah Rodrigues showcasing her huge talent beyond Indian borders.

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The shorter form of the Hundred meant that double headers were a common occurrence last summer, and this format looks set to continue.

The women would play their fixture first, followed by the men’s match. The aim was to incentivise spectators to get the maximum bang for their buck and encourage further exposure for the stars of women’s cricket.

This is something that Friend pointed out. When asked about what the IPL can learn from the Hundred, he pointed to a happy accident, that without the pandemic would not have happened.

The original plan was for the women’s Hundred games to be played at smaller level grounds, rather than the Test standard grounds that the men were scheduled to play at.

Friend said: ‘The reason those games were played at Test venues were for logistical and operational reasons related to COVID.’

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Ironically, in an attempt to control COVID, the two tournaments were brought together, rather than kept apart.

Friend explains how prior to the tournament, there was a sense of trepidation for some women at the prospect of playing for a crowd predominantly in attendance for a men’s game.

‘They were intrigued to see how double headers would go… the biggest thing they learnt was that there is an audience.’

The Indian cricket authorities could certainly increase their own profits and PR by combining the two. There are however, caveats.

 

A level playing field?

Throughout the marketing campaign for the delayed tournament, the Hundred were keen to equalise the representation of the men’s and women’s games.

It came as cricket consciously changed the laws of the game to accommodate all.

In 2017, the Marylebone Cricket Club, as custodians of the laws of the game changed the lexicon. For example, ‘batsman’ became batter to make a traditionally gentleman’s game more welcoming to everyone.

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Though a small change, it has certainly been a welcome one, embraced in good spirits.

The BCCI would be foolish not to at least consider a similar approach to that executed by the ECB.

The two team per franchise model puts both men’s and women’s players on equal footing in marketing spaces.

The combination of two teams under one badge is advantageous for the women’s IPL while the tournament is in its infancy. There are already strong fanbases for the men’s franchises – a strong marketing position is secured before the tournament even begins.

It would be sensible to use the existing clout of the IPL to allow the growth of the women’s game in India grow. They can strike out once it’s commercially viable, ensuring a solid return on investment. Men’s cricket giving women’s cricket a leg up in this instance is no bad thing.

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Journalist and broadcaster Nakul Pande agrees: ‘In the short term, the resource and brand name recognition bump of the women’s IPL teams being allied to the men’s, as in the WBBL or the Hundred or in women’s football, seems the way to go.’

Pande believes the women’s IPL has been a long time coming, and that exposure for young Indian female cricketers was thought to be inevitable by the powers that be.

There was no need, in their mind, to give young female players in India the same springboard as they gave the men when the IPL was introduced.

He said: ‘The BCCI has given the impression for a long time that it was happy to just wait for good female cricketers to emerge rather than going out and putting in place the systems that will help them develop properly.’

Pande believes the delay was a combination of two damning trends. The first is a lack of vision on the BCCI’s part and the second is the general misogyny that pervades women’s sport across the world. He continued:

‘It was insulting that the world’s top women’s players were getting paid less than the bottom tier men’s players, and given how much money the BCCI have compared to every other cricket institution, there is no excuse for women’s IPL players not to be paid well.’

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It will however be more difficult to persuade the men’s teams to share the limelight with the women’s IPL sides in the same way the ECB pitched the Hundred competition.

As a new format with modified rules, the Hundred was able to set its own agenda of equal footing at least in the marketing campaigns, between the men’s and women’s tournaments.

Academic and editor of CricketHer.com Raf Nicholson praised the shared marketing space present in the Hundred’s campaigns.

Furthermore, Nicholson believes that the tournament will also encourage coverage of the principal issues that face women’s cricket, such as the gender pay gap.

Nicholson believes that the prospect of the women’s team playing under the flags of existing men’s franchises could be acceptable, but with conditions.

She questioned the willingness of the male players to suffer a pay cut to contribute to the women’s game.  She asked: ‘Will they be willing to take a smaller slice of the pie?’

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Nicholson agrees with Pande that it has been an inherent lack of vision in Indian cricket that has prevented the institution of a women’s IPL.

Nick Friend believes that tapping into the huge pool of talent in India will not only increase the quality of Indian women’s cricket, but the quality of the game around the world.

The Hundred elevated the women’s game in England and will continue to do so as it seeks to become a staple of the English summer calendar. There are plenty more comparisons to be made.

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It seems to be the opinion of the cricketing community around the world that a women’s IPL can only be a good thing for the game on the subcontinent and around the world.

Young Indian players like Rodrigues should be afforded the platform to showcase their huge talent outside of international tournaments.

This, along with the possibility of unearthing further such talent in a cricket-crazy nation should only increase calls for such an outlet.

It has certainly taken far too long for a female version of the IPL to come into play. However only time will tell what form it will take and whether it will cherry pick the best bits from other tournaments, or seek to go its own way.