WPL: Big leap for women’s cricket in India

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For far too long women’s cricket had to draw its identity from the men’s version. Shafali Verma was the Virender Sehwag of the women’s game and so on. No more. With Rs 951 crore paid for broadcast rights and Rs 4,669 crore for the five franchisees, women’s cricket now has an identity of its own. Though equality is still some distance away, the intent seems right, and the market has responded well with leading corporates coming forward to invest in the women’s game.

Will the franchisees make profit in the immediate future? Do these numbers seem justified? These questions don’t have definitive answers just yet. While in the first five years chances of making money seem remote, the optics of owning a women’s team, the market potential coupled with the visibility make the Women’s Premier League (WPL) a viable investment opportunity.

The Indian women’s team may not have won a world cup yet. But what they did by reaching the finals in 2017 and 2020 is earn respect for themselves and for the sport. And that’s when the first seeds were down. The murmurs for a WPL had started.

Finally, the girls have been able to fight years of discrimination and create a template. The launch of the WPL has made sure that no Shafali will be stopped from playing cricket growing up in India.

And no neighbour will have the audacity of turning abusive to aspiring women cricketers. For a country as diverse and complex as ours, we wouldn’t mind trading a world cup for long lasting social change.

For girls in the West, playing cricket or any sport is a very natural progression. If they wish to pursue a career in sport, they do. In India it is not so or rather was. There are several social injustices that women are confronted with and have to deal with when growing up. Shafali Verma for example had to dress up like a boy to be able to play the sport. Her cohorts wouldn’t allow a girl to play cricket and Verma was left with no other choice but to dress up like a boy.

Having said that, the mission isn’t over yet. The story is yet to reach its logical conclusion. With such monies paid to own the teams, one would like to see a far higher player purse than the Rs 12 crore currently allowed. It is ultimately about the players. They need to earn more and get rewarded. That’s when the ecosystem will become robust.That’s when more girls will take to the sport and the foundation will get stronger. It is still Australia and England that dominate the women’s game. In five years, it will no longer be the case. The Indian journey has finally begun and will soon pick up momentum. It will be a tough grind but then when the going gets tough the tough get going.

And our girls, we have proof, are as tough as we will ever see in sport. To conclude with what Parth Jindal, owner of the Delhi WPL team, said at the end of the bidding, “Cricket is no more just a gentleman’s game.” Our women have arrived.

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