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Indian Premier League 2021

IPL 2021: Why Women's IPL is still a distant dream?

With the IPL set to begin on April 9, questions about #WIPL resurface.

IPL 2021: Why Womens IPL is still a distant dream?
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Plans to add a fourth team in the Women's T20 Challenge this year have been rolled back (Source: The Hindu)

By

Rahul Kargal

Updated: 11 April 2021 2:22 AM GMT

On the cusp of the Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore opening fixture for IPL 2021, the occasional yet persistent talk of the Women's IPL has resurfaced yet again.

England International Kate Cross tweeted out a post from Women's Criczone that featured a Ben Stokes quote.

Speaking to the Decoding Athletes Podcast, the English all-rounder had batted for women's franchise cricket in India, while stating he'd like to see a women's team associated with every men's franchise that is currently in existence in the IPL.

Soon thereafter, former Australian International and hall of famer Lisa Sthalekar echoed Cross' sentiments. Her tweet also had a quote from KL Rahul.

The Indian batting star had said that he follows the women's game and would like to see a team from Punjab, the franchise that he leads in IPL 2021.

What plagues the Women's IPL movement?

If critics are to be believed, the lack of a large enough and high-quality player pool apparently limits the formulation of the Women's IPL.

A quick look at the framework of the IPL reveals that the Indian players, both domestic and international, form the backbone of the famed tournament. The overseas players then come in and add the requisite firepower.

The women's game in India has evolved significantly over the past decade. Also, the BCCI handing out annual contracts to a pool of 22 women lends a much-needed fillip to the women's game in the country.

Presently, the first-class circuit for senior women comprises of limited-overs games (T20 and 50-over matches) and the occasional stint of the longer version.

That said, barring the players with BCCI contracts, the others play as semi-professionals while working full-time jobs to fuel their cricket.

And it is for this reason that observers like former India skipper Diana Edulji hold the opinion that quality Indian players aren't available in abundance.

"Look, I think we are trying to be a little more ambitious in saying we should have a separate IPL for women. It's not that easy," she said in an interview with ESPN Cricinfo.

"We will have to first build up our domestic sector again because of this gap. We'll know what's our domestic scene and know how the players are doing in the 50-overs format."

Others, like former India skipper Shubhangi Kulkarni, don't entirely agree with Edulji and argue that the talent pool to match international standards is readily on offer in India.

"I don't think there's that much of a lack of talent, because the current lot of women players watch a lot of men's cricket, play fearless shots, and are not scared of getting out," she was quoted as having said to The Print.

Kulkarni has been a vocal supporter of the #WIPL call for several years now and has not held back when speaking about the obvious benefits of a Women's IPL to women's cricket in India.

"Look at what the men's IPL has done for the Indian teamโ€ฆ It has given it so many players, and the confidence with which they're coming out is because they're getting to play in front of huge crowds in the IPL which trains them for the national team. Plus, you're rubbing shoulders with international players in the dressing room. You learn so much. The same can happen for women's cricket."

Smriti Mandana, the current Indian batting star, also feels that the time is ideal now.

Speaking on a Red Bull's Decoding Athletes podcast series, she clarified that the Indian talent pool is in fact in abundance.

"Yeah, I think the kind of performances we've had in the last three-four years is great. The average age of the Indian women's team is 23-24, which means that there are a lot of young players," she said.

"The league definitely gives a boost to women's cricket and gives confidence to youngsters. We've seen in men's cricket; debutants are facing 145-150 speed deliveries quite comfortably. You can't see that they're nervous on their debut."

"The league has played a big role in that, and it's going to help women's cricket as well. If you really want to get a strong women's team in India, it's the right time to get a women's league," she added.

What does the future hold?

For now, though, fans looking to watch women's cricket with an IPL flavour will have to stay content with the Women's T20 Challenge.

Traditionally held when the IPL takes a brief break heading into the playoffs, the Women's T20 Challenge is likely to be held between May 24 and 30 this year, with New Delhi likely to get the nod of hosting these games.

While BCCI did have plans of adding another team to the current three-team format, COVID and the ensuing bio-bubble hazards have arrested those thoughts for now.

The future, however, does appear rosy for franchise cricket for women in India.

Speaking to reporters last year, Saurav Ganguly expressed optimism about women's franchise cricket unfolding in India by 2022.

"At the present moment, there are only three teams in the women's IPL and I believe that in a couple of years' time we will be good enough to have a separate IPL with seven teams, eight teams like the franchise-based teams for the women as well."

Needless to say, the Indian women will have to be patient.

Also, to keep the #WIPL calls alive, the Indian international team will have to produce results on a continuous basis. Sponsorship propels IPL and victories at the international level will go a long way in producing Indian stars.

The Indian Women's team lost the fifty-over World Cup final to England in 2017 from a position of strength and then surrendered tamely to Australia in the World T20 final in 2020.

One wonders if Women's IPL would have been a reality by now had India won both of those games.

That said, despite those body-blows, the march to the finals in both of those world cups did enough to capture the imagination of the nation.

New players, like teenage sensations Shafali Verma and Jemimah Rodrigues, became household names.

But several more continue to wait on the sidelines.

While proponents of the women's game will have to stay content with the Women's T20 Challenge for the moment, the day is not far when women will stride out for a multi-franchise IPL game while sporting Bangalore or Mumbai colours, much like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.

(With inputs from ESPN Cricinfo and The Print)

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