MUMBAI (Reuters) – The inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) begins on Saturday with a match between Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Giants in a potentially watershed moment for women’s cricket.
The clamour for a full-fledged women’s league had been growing even though Women’s T20 Challenge ran as a three-team sideshow to the men’s Indian Premier League between 2018-22.
The sale of WPL’s five franchises and media rights alone fetched nearly $690 million and the Indian cricket board has lined up an impressive array of sponsors for the 22-match tournament.
Several female cricketers experienced the biggest payday of their career in last month’s players auction where teams had $1.45 million each to spend on acquiring players.
India and Mumbai captain Harmanpreet Kaur has predicted the league to be a ‘game-changer’ for women’s cricket. Her India deputy, Smriti Mandhana, leads Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Reflecting Australia’s dominance in women’s cricket, captain Meg Lanning will lead Delhi Capitals, while her national team mates Beth Mooney (Gujarat) and Alyssa Healy (UP Warriorz) will also shoulder leadership roles.
Like in the men’s IPL, the WPL does not feature any Pakistani player given soured political relations between the cricket-mad neighbours.
India batter Jemimah Rodrigues had no doubts WPL would help India bridge the gap with Australia.
“We have been pushing the doors for a very long time, we are getting there, we are getting very close,” Rodrigues, Lanning’s deputy at Delhi, told reporters.
“I am sure the WPL will change a lot for women’s cricket.
“You will find many superstars coming out from it, many leaders, or many match-winners, I would say.”
Gujarat captain Mooney said she would try to instil fearlessness among her team mates, a trademark of the illustrious Australia team she has been part of.
“We see teams around the world and domestically back in Australia that you can lose momentum quickly if you let a couple of losses derail the group. It’s all about grabbing that momentum as well,” Mooney said.
“I think only way you can do that is being calm under pressure and taking the braver option always. I’ll try and instil that in the group as much as I can.”
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Himani Sarkar)