If the 2019 edition of the IPL Women’s T20 Challenge from Monday provides anything close to the drama we saw last time, there is every reason to hope for a strong response. The BCCI have given their experiment more chances to succeed by expanding it. One game has become four, the afternoon heat has (mostly) been replaced by a night game. Two teams have become three, and eight overseas players have become 12. And importantly, what was an unofficial, 13-a side encounter last year, is now an official domestic T20 series.
Mithali Raj will lead the new team, Velocity, while Harmanpreet and Smriti will remain captains of the teams they led last year. The personnel have changed though. Perry and her compatriots are not a part of this edition, collateral damage in a dispute over scheduling of men’s ODIs between the two boards. So, players from West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh join those from New Zealand and England for the first time. But critically, there are now 27 Indian players in the mix, as opposed to 16 from last year. And with only four of the 27 being uncapped, this little tournament is also an examination of how India’s second-string stack up.
Let’s take a closer look at the teams:
The destructive talents of Harmanpreet Kaur, Chamari Athapaththu and Sophie Devine, all in one team! It’s almost unfair. Devine holds the record for the fastest fifty in women’s T20I cricket, Athapaththu has an ODI high score of 178, and Harmanpreet…well Harmanpreet is Harmanpreet. Also on show will be Jemimah Rodrigues and England’s Natalie Sciver. And pace bowlers Mansi Joshi and Arundhati Reddy will love sharing the new ball with Kiwi quick Lea Tahuhu, perhaps the fastest female bowler in the world.
There is no shortage of star power in the spin department either, with the two Yadav’s Poonam and Radha taking the lead. They are not related, but with Poonam being 2018’s best bowler in terms of wickets taken, Radha wouldn’t mind being mistaken for her sister.
Mandhana’s team will lean heavily on her and their overseas stars in the batting department. Suzie Bates, the leading run scorer in T20I cricket, will be joined by Mandhana’s Kia Super League teammate Stafanie Taylor, who brings all-round skills to the table. But besides the three, there are players who haven’t made a mark with the bat at the highest level, so it is an opportunity for the likes of Deepti Sharma and Harleen Deol. Keep an eye also on Jasia Akhtar, who hails from Shopian in Jammu & Kashmir, and can hit the long ball.
Notably, Jhulan Goswami will lead the bowling attack, despite having retired from T20I cricket, and West Indies quick Shakera Selman will share the new ball. England’s Sophie Ecclestone, who won ICC Emerging Player of the Year last year, will add left arm spin to the mix.
Another team that seems a bit thin in the batting department, Mithali’s side has England’s Danielle Wyatt at the top of the order, along with West Indies vice-captain Hayley Matthews. But they will bank heavily on Mithali’s experience, as well as Veda Krishnamurthy’s exuberance.
The home-grown pace bowlers, Shikha Pandey and Komal Zanzad can both swing the ball into the right handers, and will be a handful. And the absence of Healy hands an opportunity to wicketkeeper Sushma Verma, who has fallen out of favour with the national selectors off late.
On paper, Harmanpreet’s Supernovas seem to be the strongest side, but the vagaries of T20 render such predictions pointless. What happens off paper, beyond the scorecard, is more important. Already, social media is lit up by posts showing an unprecedented amount of intermingling between Indian and overseas players. And in between hotel room-karaoke and traditional meals, you can be sure there is a serious amount of cricket-chat going on as well.
Only the top Indian players usually had access to this kind of osmosis; now India’s second and third string are feeding off their idols, and will share the stage with them. And they will take lessons learned back to their states, back to domestic cricket, and hopefully start to think like professionals, like internationals. More than the scores, more than the television numbers or the turnout at the stadium, it is these intangible benefits that might help make a full-fledged women’s IPL a reality that much sooner.
(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)
Harmanpreet Kauriplipl 2019mithali rajsmriti mandhanasupernovastrailblazersVelocityWomen's T20 Challenge
First Published: May 6, 2019, 8:37 AM IST