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The challenge of the Women’s T20 Challenge: The clash with WBBL

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Ever since the news came to light about the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) taking place in the UAE, there is a lot of buzz around the tournament. While there are a lot of questions to be answered like quarantine, player travel from different parts of the world and schedule among other things, there is a definite sense of excitement all around the cricketing world.

Afterall, IPL is one of the best T20 leagues in the world. And not only is the IPL important on the cricket side (to all cricketing nations and their players), it aids the Indian board big time on the financial aspect as well. In fact, BCCI President Sourav Ganguly was quoted saying that not hosting the IPL this year might cause the BCCI a loss of a whopping sum of INR 4000 crore. Yes, you read that right.

Hence, it’s no surprise that the BCCI has been working and planning rigorously to make it happen. They’ve been jotting down points across all aspects and are trying to do everything in their power to put things into place and host the tournament over a 51-day (or 54-day) window (September 19th to November 8th or 10th).

The IPL has been the talk of the town over the last couple of weeks. Day after day, there is some news surrounding the cash-rich T20 league that pops up. All eyes are on the BCCI, IPL Governing Council and the franchises as they are set to meet today (August 2nd) to finalize the SOPs, schedule, protocols and plenty of other things.

However, amidst this IPL chaos, there was one news around the Indian cricket that went under the carpet. The Indian women’s team were due to tour England was called off. Originally, India were to play four ODIs and two T20Is. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tour was pushed to September. According to ESPNCricinfo, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) planned to convert that into a tri-series with South Africa being the third team.

Citing the increasing number of coronavirus cases, inability to assemble camps and travel restrictions, the Indian cricket board cancelled the tour. With about seven months to go for the ICC Women’s World Cup (if it happens), it was a big setback for the Indian women’s side.

Australian women’s wicket-keeper Alyssa Healy wasn’t too amused with the news. She has been one of the torch-bearers for women’s cricket over the last few years. And she was concerned.

The question came up, what would have the BCCI done if the Indian men’s team had to tour England. Would they have cancelled the tour? Indian women’s cricket has been in the background for far too long. And in the last few years, ever since the 2017 Women’s World Cup, it had garnered a lot of attention. It came to the forefront. And just when it was scaling new heights, it’s been pushed back again?

Yes, it’s true that organising a camp in India would be a problem, travel is an issue, quarantining or self-isolating oneself for 14 days is boring and can get to one’s nerve. But things need to change in cricket as the world does. No one knows for how long this pandemic will continue. So, will Indian women’s cricket continue to take a backseat? Even though the men’s will first play the IPL and then fly to Australia for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy?

The BCCI President had an answer. “I can confirm to you that the women’s IPL is very much on and we do have a plan in place for the national team also,” Ganguly was quoted saying.

The Women’s IPL or the Women’s T20 Challenge as it is known as was postponed indefinitely along with the 13th edition of the IPL. The first edition in 2018 was a one-off game before it was increased to three teams. This year was supposed to be a four-team affair and the tournament was supposed to be held in the IPL Playoffs week.

However, when the IPL got postponed, there was hardly anyone who spoke about the Women’s T20 Challenge. There was constant news on the happenings around the IPL but not the Women’s T20 Challenge.

But Ganguly has come out and said that the Women’s T20 Challenge is ‘very much on’. The sources even say that it will be held in the last phase of the IPL in the UAE. “The women’s Challenger series is likely to be held between November 1-10 and there could be a camp before that,” a source was quoted saying. In fact, there is news that India might play South Africa before the T20 Challenge while they are likely to go to the Caribbean post that.

So, what is the fuss about?

There is absolutely no doubt that this is wonderful news that Ganguly and BCCI are planning for women’s cricket too. They seem to have a vision as well. However, there is a massive clash that is bound to come if the aforementioned plans are set to go ahead.

The sixth edition of the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) is set to take place between October 17th and November 29th. It is that tournament that will likely restart women’s cricket in Australia post this COVID-19 pandemic. And if the planned Women’s T20 Challenge gets a green signal, it falls right in the middle of the WBBL.

It’s no surprise that the Australian women’s cricketers and others are disappointed. New Zealand star Suzie Bates wasn’t too pleased with the news either. Rachael Haynes also expressed her disappointment. And it was Healy once again who is leading the charge. She had a big tussle and debate on Twitter with Indian journalist Boria Majumdar.

WBBL is one of the best T20 leagues in the women’s game and Indian players who’ve played there have themselves credited it for their development. Hence, it comes down to the question of conflict. There are a few Indian cricketers who have WBBL contracts along with some top international stars from all over the world.

The Women’s IPL is in its baby steps and there is absolutely no doubt that it needs the best players from around the globe to participate in it. Yes, it is six Indians that make it to the XI but there are five overseas players as well. The likes of Healy herself, Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning, Lizelle Lee, Sophie Devine, Suzie Bates, Steffanie Taylor, Danni Wyatt, Amelia Kerr and the names could go on. Imagine a Women’s IPL without these stars now?

Why has IPL become as big as it has today? One of the biggest reasons is that the big international and overseas stars are available throughout the tournament (well, most of them and for a large part). Hence, the Women’s IPL also needs a similar stage where it has all (or most of) the players available for the entirety of the tournament.

Yes, international games or national duty gets priority and if India and South Africa do play a bilateral series, that would get preference. But what would be a WBBL without a Harmanpreet Kaur or a Smriti Mandhana for the second year in a row? Or even the likes of Lizelle Lee or Marizanne Kapp missing out?

And what would that do for the WBBL? It’s one of the top leagues and it surely does need its overseas players at least available for the major part of the tournament. And what happens to the already signed WBBL contracts? Can the players break that?

Majumdar dragged the topic of some of the marquee players from England, Australia and Sri Lanka set to miss the first stage of the IPL. Yes, players from those nations are big and play a huge part in the success of the IPL. But with the men’s version already being a brand and building a legacy, they could even do without a few of those players. But the Women’s game surely cannot, at least the Women’s T20 Challenge.

Then, the argument of the Indian perspective also comes into the picture. Not every Indian cricketer has a WBBL contract and if the women’s Indian league doesn’t take place, it affects the current crop of the Indian women’s cricketing community. Hence, this is a big challenge and dilemma for BCCI and also, Cricket Australia (CA) to an extent.

 

This argument did go on for a while and both WBBL and the budding and ever-evolving Women’s T20 Challenge is an absolute must for the game. It is these leagues and the Kia Super League (KSL) in England that is bringing evolution to the women’s game. Indian veterans Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj spoke in favour of having the Indian tournament, just because of the fact that it’s in the budding and evolving stage and its growth shouldn’t be hindered.

While Goswami and Raj have expressed their support for the BCCI to go ahead and organise the event, it would be a shame to not have some of the top cricketers in the world. And it may well even be harsh on them if they have to pick and choose. There is no way the Australian cricketers would leave the WBBL. Cricketers from New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and England will need to make a decision if this clash becomes a reality. It would be a loss for both tournaments and as a fan on Twitter said, WBBL needs Indian players and the WIPL needs Australian cricketers. And Rachael Haynes hit the nail on the head when she said while the game grows, there is no need for premier domestic tournaments to compete against each other.