Rs 4670 Crore for 5 Teams: BCCI's WPL To Provide Big Impetus To Women's Cricket

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BCCI's has auctioned the 5 Women's Premier League teams for a sum total of Rs 4670 Crore

Published: 25 Jan 2023, 10:10 PM IST

 BCCI's WPL To Provide Big Impetus To Women's Cricket

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Have you heard of the old saying: Don’t poke a sleeping lion?

Well if you have, you would agree if one were to say that it fits in best with India’s women’s cricket.

For a long while, India in women’s cricket was a sleeping lion who was happy to let things drift without ever wanting to make an impact. This was more out of laziness and ingrained patriarchy that exists in India as a society.

Since the time women’s cricket started in India, everyone was happy floating in the sea of mediocrity rather than aiming to increase their standards. The merger with the men’s board in 2005 was also done reluctantly without much thought. There was considerable resistance because the old order did not want to be disturbed by the presence or emergence of the women’s players.

Hence India’s women’s team continued to be also rans and were happy being second fiddle to the top two teams in the world, Australia and England.

This continued for a while with India slipping beyond West Indies to number five slot in the world.

But then it all changed!

India’s administration underwent a sea change with the Supreme Court stepping in and getting a Committee of Administrators (CoA) to administer the game. Then there was no stopping the women’s game as a former India captain Diana Eduljee was part of the CoA. Just because of Eduljee’s presence, the women’s game got attention and more prominence and by default, India’s team started getting noticed.

The crowning glory was how India reached the final of the Women’s World Cup in 2017 and lost narrowly to England. That tournament and the performances of India’s players won the hearts of everyone. There was no looking back post that. India’s players started becoming household names and new heroes emerged on the horizon.

Then they went from strength to strength as they reached the final of the T20 World Cup in 2020 just before a global lockdown, owing to COVID-19. India’s players lost the final to Australia, but a record crowd turned out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to watch the grand finale.

From thereon, there was no stopping India’s women. They even made it to the gold medal clash in the Commonwealth Games in 2022, but again lost. They were now making the title clashes and competing with the best in the world, but falling just short of delivering the knockout punches.

A big change that happened was that the BCCI was allowing its key players to play T20 or 100 ball leagues in Australia and England. This was ensuring that the Indian players were getting to rub shoulders with the best in the world. It showed the value of increased exposure.

But there was still something lacking. India needed something more than just token participation of their key players in global leagues. They needed more exposure for all their players. This could have only happened with the start of a world class league right here in India.

Over the past five years, the BCCI did experiment with a four-match tournament with three invitational teams and some international players during the men’s IPL. But it was just not the same. The tournament was too short and too small in stature for the players to learn more than they already knew.

India’s women’s game needed a huge facelift which could only come from a proper full-time franchise-based cricket league. There had been a lot of resistance to this idea over the years with a number of administrators feeling that there was just not enough base for them to start a tournament of this kind.

Hence, we were told that the experiment with the invitational tournament would have to continue. But thankfully with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Cricket West Indies (CWI) starting their own versions of franchise leagues for women, the final push came for the BCCI.

The sleeping lion had been poked and it was now ready to roar. The BCCI as is their wont made announcements in dribs and drabs through the course of 2022-23. There was no clear timetable laid out for us to know more about the tournament. But in Indian cricket, when it rains it pours.

The Women’s Premier League (WPL) first made a huge windfall with the sale of the media rights to Viacom 18 and then the sale of franchises on 25 January gave a massive gain to the BCCI. They were now laughing all the way to the bank with all the sale proceeds. The existing IPL franchises made competitive bids to their own sides and that helped the BCCI. For all the naysayers this was a big blow, because women’s cricket as shown by the franchise owners was viable and the format was here to say.

The fact that the franchises and the media house were prepared to take hits for a few years before making profits indicates that they have done their study of the market very well. The BCCI is also prepared to share a lion’s share of Rs 951 crores they will earn from the media rights with the franchises which means that even the powers that be are prepared to bide their time.

In the first few years the number of matches in the tournament could be lesser than expected. The franchises may not earn anything if at all from gate receipts, but because they are already existing players in the IPL could have bulk deals with existing sponsors. They will make a killing from the central revenue pool that the BCCI will share and the ball will be rolling for the second biggest league in cricket presently, the WPL!

But the biggest beneficiaries in all this will be the players not just from India, but from all over the world. The amount of money they are set to earn will be the highest from any tournament anywhere in the world, this could mean a huge windfall. This also means increased investment from the franchises in grassroots and increased involvement in developing younger players from India.

So the depth in India’s women’s cricket is all set to increase because the franchises will be keen to expand the footprint of the sport all over the country. Even players from abroad are set to gain from this exposure.  In short, women's cricket is set to get a huge facelift worldwide, but without any support from the world governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), which is once again a bystander in yet another revolution in the sport.

Within India, the state associations which were reluctant to embrace the women’s game will also be watching from the sidelines as the revolution will hit them hard and they can only watch without any inputs of their own.

For the women’s cricketer in India this is a huge win after years of being side-lined and made to feel like second class citizens in a country where the sport was a religion. Just imagine a couple of years ago at the height of the pandemic, they did not have a specific calendar, their money from appearing in the T20 World Cup was not paid to them and they stared at an uncertain future.

But a media campaign ensured that everything fell into place one by one and now they even have matching salaries with their male counterparts.  Quite a change from just over a decade ago when some administrators tried to dismiss the women’s game as not that important.

In India things do change, but they change slowly as the women will testify. 

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