Ee sala cup namdu: How WPL is a gamechanger for girls and sport - Hindustan Times

Ee sala cup namdu: How WPL is a gamechanger for girls and sport

Mar 24, 2024 08:46 PM IST

If ever proof of possibility was needed, it was provided by WPL 2024. Its success is a pivotal moment that will inspire a countless girls to just play.

For Ananya Upendran, the pivotal moment came on the opening night of Women’s Premier League (WPL) when Mumbai Indians beat Delhi Capitals with a last ball six by Sajeevan Sajana.

New Delhi: Royal Challengers Bangalore players celebrate with the trophy after winning the WPL-T20 final cricket match against Delhi Captals at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, in New Delhi, Sunday, March 17, 2024. ((PTI)
New Delhi: Royal Challengers Bangalore players celebrate with the trophy after winning the WPL-T20 final cricket match against Delhi Captals at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, in New Delhi, Sunday, March 17, 2024. ((PTI)

The uncapped 29-year-old from Wayanad “had been on the circuit for 10 years, on the verge of letting go,” says Upendran, a former state-level player who now heads GoSports’ Equal Hues Cricket Excellence programme. “And here she was, proof that given an opportunity, women can play high quality cricket.”

Proof is what WPL 2024 was all about. Proof that women can play. Proof that people want to watch them play. Proof of excellence. Proof that sport gives girls the freedom to be strong, muscular and forthright. Proof that all a girl needs is opportunity.

If you ever needed an ad for why women should play, this is it: The second season of WPL.

[Watch here]

The sheer joy of the Royal Challengers Bangalore players after they beat Delhi to be crowned queens. The tears. The dancing. The goofiness. The joy. The hugging and camaraderie. And, beyond the team, the jubilant crowds, even in Delhi where 29,000 fans packed the stadium and chanted RCB despite the loss of their team. People in Bengaluru gone mad; the women have done what the men haven’t in 16 years, bringing the trophy home.

“The second season of the WPL has proved that the current boundaries around women’s cricket need to be made larger. Not just on the field but also in our imaginations. About what Indian women’s cricket can do and how its power as the country’s biggest women’s team sport can be utilised,” writes Sharda Ugra, India’s fine sports writer, in BBC Hindi.

“In a country obsessed with male cricket, it was fantastic to see so many eyeballs on women’s cricket,” says Deepthi Bopaiah, CEO, GoSport, a non-profit that works to develop India’s Olympic and Paralympic talents through scholarships and programmes. “My male friends took their sons to watch. There so many myths and barriers being broken.”

Proof of possibility

Earlier, role models for girls who dreamt of making it big in cricket might have included a Virat Kohli or a P.V. Sindhu. Now there is no shortage of women playing cricket. Not just Mitali Raj or Smriti Mandhana but also a younger Shreyanka Patil who is just about starting her career, says Bopaiah.

“Girls today can see a pathway to success,” says Bopaiah. “They can see that this is a career worth following and they can see how it is a means to a livelihood.”

Among the 15 women cricketers chosen for the cricket excellence programme launched by GoSport in 2022, 13 are playing at the senior level, says Upendran. “The truth is you can’t make a living from domestic cricket. So apart from the obvious sporting goals, we want to be able to empower women to pursue sport without worrying about how to pursue a living,” she says,

Traditional objections from families to daughters who want to play—it’s a waste of time, it has no utility, it will distract from schoolwork and housework—tend to fall away when that daughter starts earning, sometimes enough to support her family, says Upendran.

The daughter of an autorickshaw driver from Wayanad, Mumbai Indians’ S Sajana began playing as a child with her friends in the nearby paddy fields. When she was in class six, she was enrolled in a residential school for tribal children where her sports teacher saw promise and urged her to take up cricket

As Sajana reached the district level, her daily allowance of 150 seemed like a good enough incentive to keep going. “Financially, it proved to be very helpful and because I was earning and saving, my decision to stay with cricket only strengthened,” she said in an interview to Sportstar.

When she was picked up for 15 lakh by Mumbai Indians, she was able to pay off the debts incurred by her family in rebuilding their home that had been damaged in the floods.

“WPL has just been a life changing experience for so many players,” says Upendran.

Cup runs over

Growing up in a small town near Solan, Himachal Pradesh, Diksha Negi had always been sporty. In school, she was captain of the kabaddi team, travelling to compete in tournaments in Haryana. “I got to see so many places and meet so many people. I could watch better players and understand what it takes to be good,” she told me on the phone.

Now 21, Diksha is enrolled in Panjab University, pursuing a degree in physical education. While she had participated competitively in table tennis, wrestling and taekwondo in school, she says she wants to pursue a career as a coach. “Today, there are a lot of opportunities for girls to play, whether at school level or at college level,” she says. “Teams are everywhere for all kinds of sport.” And just like that, an entire ecosystem propping up women’s sport from coaches to umpires, from commentators to physios, is blooming.

And here precisely lies the success of WPL. It’s not in the impressive stats—66 sixes, 295 fours—or prize money or brand endorsements or glitzy openings endorsed by film stars. It’s the firing of dreams, to play, to be seen, to be feted.

To watch women being celebrated is a powerful thing. It is in many ways a siren song that will only pull in more girls and women into its powerful heart by telling them they can.

The following article is an excerpt from this week's Mind the Gap.

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