Smriti Mandhana hopes WPL does for women’s cricket what IPL did for men
“Women’s cricket is at the stage where people can connect more with us because we are still growing; we want to grow to a level where everyone knows us,” says RCB skipper Smriti Mandhana ahead of their first WPL game.
The current generation of women cricketers are very fortunate. As the first batch of the Women’s Premier League, they have found big money and the stage to shine.
The product they had all dreamt of is here – Women’s Premier League. The franchise owners and sponsors have bought into the idea that it will be a hit. The onus is now on the players to provide the cricketainment to woo the audience.
All eyes are on who will provide the spark like how Brendon McCullum set IPL rolling with a blazing century. And Smriti Mandhana is a good bet to give the fillip WPL needs. Ultimately, the backing of the market will depend on the quality on offer.
“I feel women’s cricket is on the verge of going to the next level. I wouldn’t compare with men’s cricket or that sort, but to be involved from the time it (sport) is growing -- I feel that is the USP of women’s cricket because everyone can say we were part of the journey that got women’s cricket higher. Like I would say the 1983 World Cup victory changed men’s cricket. Whoever was cheering for them will be thinking ‘we actually supported men’s cricket to grow, to reach this level’. Women’s cricket is at the stage where people can connect more with us because we are still growing; we want to grow to a level where everyone knows us. And whoever supports women’s cricket will get involved in this journey,” RCB skipper Mandhana said ahead of Sunday’s first game against Delhi Capitals.
The star left-hand bat said women cricketers had unique skills to offer. “It is still very raw (women’s game). There is more swing I would say, and there’s more timing involved than power.”
Mandhana wears jersey No 18 like Virat Kohli does for the RCB men. On Saturday, at her pre-tournament news conference, journalists made a beeline for interviews. “As women cricketers, we always wished this happened to us,” she said with a chuckle. “(But) I wouldn’t say I am in the spotlight... I just feel normal, chilling, enjoying playing cricket.”
She was the most expensive buy ( ₹3.4 crore) at the WPL auction and Mandhana has to deal with the pressure that tag brings. “Not really. A certain value to a certain player... I wouldn’t really think about it. For me, this happening to women’s cricket is amazing, and I would like to keep that in mind. I don’t think any sort of value is going to add pressure on my mind.”
The cream of international cricketers will be on display at the WPL. They are used to the demands of professional cricket. But it remains to be seen how the domestic players cope up. It will be a big jump for them to be rubbing shoulders with the big names. “For the domestic cricketers it is just an amazing opportunity. Definitely with lot of excitement, will come a lot of nervousness. For us, senior players, it’s important to talk to them on a daily basis because those conversations are going to be really important in terms of getting them to a place where we can get the best out of them.”
Having been part of franchise cricket in Australia and England, the RCB captain is aware of the expectations that come with the job. “I wouldn’t like to compare both (pressure of franchise and international cricket) because when the franchise pay you, they expect a lot. Also, in franchise cricket you don’t have much time to dwell on the previous match, it’s such a quick turnaround, you have to just keep looking forward. That's one big learning from franchise cricket.”
What’s the next big step for the women’s game? “We have seen what men’s IPL has done for men’s cricket, I am hoping with women's IPL, the same happens for women’s cricket.”
WPL priority for RCB
It came as a surprise to many that RCB was not in the list of owners at the overseas T20 Leagues that began this year. Prathmesh Mishra, RCB chairman and Chief Commercial Officer, Diageo India (RCB’s owners), said on Saturday: “Investing in the women’s team (WPL) has always been at the top of our agenda. We believe it is a core part of our culture of diversity and inclusivity. We have invested ₹901 crore to get this team because this mission is really important for this country. In keeping with their ‘Sports for All’ concept, Diageo held back investments in overseas teams because “we believe in the India story and want to be part of this monumental journey.”