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Intriguing Case of Missing Aussie Stars for Women’s T20 Challenge

The biggest surprise though, is the absence of players from Australia in the competition. The likes of Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt and Alyssa Healy were all a part of the competition last year, with Australia contributing the most overseas players. This time they are conspicuously absent.

Snehal Pradhan |April 27, 2019, 7:04 PM IST
Intriguing Case of Missing Aussie Stars for Women’s T20 Challenge

In 2016, Mithali Raj stood on padded floors at the National Sports Centre of India, the Indian logo on her chest, about to foray into contact sport. No, she didn’t join the MMA that season. She was at the kabaddi.

Mithali was the guest of honour at the first ever Pro Kabaddi Women’s Challenge. She was flagging off exhibition matches between three League-owned women’s teams, part of the PKL’s plans to start a full-fledged women’s League. And at the time, it’s not hard to imagine Mithali wondering, ‘why doesn’t cricket do something like this?’

Three years later, Mithali will stand on the green grass of the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, living that reality. Exhibition has moved in the direction of execution; after a single IPL women’s exhibition match last year, the concept has now been expanded into a full round robin series, with one team added.

So, What’s New?

In a column for the Economic Times written after the one-off game last year, I called on the BCCI to take their history-making effort a few steps further the next year. No rocket science, just common sense. And to their credit, the BCCI have ticked all those boxes.

Last year the game was held at 2 PM, but it is understood that the broadcasters plan to air these games in the primetime evening slots. Last year the game was played as a curtain raiser for the first men’s playoff; this time, the entire series has been planned in the gap days between the playoffs. Last year, the game was played at the same venue as the men’s games, allowing the women to borrow the existing broadcast crew. This year the women have gotten their own playing field, with a broadcast crew that will be parked in Jaipur.

women's ipl

Everyone involved, including the players, knew that last year’s game was a smash-and-grab job. The kits had no sponsor logos, and the pads and helmets were not painted to the team colours. Instead, they were wrapped with either pink or blue fabric, to ensure monochrome on camera.

Expect a slicker show this year, and an exciting one. Last year’s game ended as a last ball thriller, even though the score was weighed down by a sluggish pitch. One new team means more overseas players, and more domestic talent who can show off their skills. It means more osmosis between the best in the world and the best in India. One match has now morphed into a high-end version of the Challenger Trophy, with the injection of foreign flavour.

Where are the Aussies?

The biggest surprise though, is the absence of players from Australia in the competition. The likes of Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt and Alyssa Healy were all a part of the competition last year, with Australia contributing the most overseas players. This time they are conspicuously absent.

The plot thickened with Cricket Australia releasing a statement insisting that there were no obstacles from their end.

“We confirmed yesterday that the players would be available and would be released for the tournament that commences on 6 May. There were no indications at the time that there were any problems with this.”

ESPNCricinfo has reported that “CA is believed to have been non-committal about the availability of women's players for the IPL exhibition for some months,” due to tensions in ongoing negotiations between the boards, with a bilateral ODI series hosted by India in 2020 the prime bone of contention.

Sources within the BCCI have now confirmed that the availability of the Australian female players was linked to the negotiations between the two CEOs, and to the issue being resolved. The BCCI is believed to have once again requested confirmation from Cricket Australia in early April, but not having received it, went ahead and filled the overseas slots, and announced the teams.

If this is true, it is unfortunate to see the players from both sides, spectators, and fans to miss out on the availability of top talent. Australia are current T20 World Cup Champions, and the likes of Perry and Lanning are big draws in India. But all involved will be riled by the fact that the growth of a women’s cricket property seems to have been stymied by developments in men’s cricket.

What Next?

The slow and steady, ‘take it year-by-year’ approach that the BCCI seems to be mapping out is not entirely a bad idea. While everyone is keen for a full-fledged women’s IPL, building a property like that is a slow process, especially when the groundwork has not been put in place. Take the Pro Kabaddi League’s foray into women’s sport for instance; the next year, women’s games never happened.

Depth is a concern, but a bigger one is the fact that England and Australia will continue to pull ahead until the BCCI catches up. The BCCI need to have the vision in place. The response to this year’s tournament will give us an idea of how fast we can get there.

(The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the YouTube Channel, ‘Cricket With Snehal’, and tweets @SnehalPradhan)

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