Bigger, richer Women’s Premier League set to start in India

INDORE (AP): More money. More hype. More plans. Women’s cricket is set to be transformed with the advent of the new franchise Twenty20 tournament in India.

The Women’s Premier League starts Saturday in Mumbai with star players from around the world, just a week after Australia defended its T20 World Cup title in South Africa.

The WPL has the backing of the Board of Control for Cricket in India in the wake of the enormously successful Indian Premier League, the sport’s leading franchise competition.

“The Women’s Premier League is a huge development. Female cricketers in India will stick to the sport for a longer duration now, and it will only benefit Indian cricket in the longer run,” Mithali Raj, a former captain of India and a mentor for the Gujarat Giants. “The league will expand in the future and bring financial viability to the women’s game.”

The BCCI for several years resisted calls for a women’s T20 competition, citing a lack of interest from sponsors and broadcasters, but did stage a four-match Women’s T20 Challenge to run parallel with the IPL knockouts. Other countries including Australia, which has dominated women’s cricket, and England stole a march in terms of women’s franchise leagues.

But late last year, India’s powerful cricket administration finally acted after a financial research report revealed a major appetite for women’s T20 cricket and the WPL was born.

Five franchises in the inaugural tournament went up for auction in January and were collectively sold for $580 million. Three existing men’s IPL teams – Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Capitals – purchased WPL franchises with home bases at Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi. Two new franchises were established with Adani Group and Capri Global buying the Gujarat Giants, based in Ahmedabad, and UP Warriorz to be based in Lucknow.

The three-week tournament will contain 22 games, including 20 in the league stage and two knockouts, all played in Mumbai for Season 1. It kicks off with Gujarat Giants against Mumbai Indians.

The WPL has already become the most lucrative women’s cricket property across the globe in terms of franchise and player values.

Nearly 1,500 candidates registered for 90 spots – including 30 for internationals — in the player auctions held on Feb. 13, when each franchise had a $1.5 million cap. All bar three positions were filled on auction day.

India’s star batter Smriti Mandhana was the most expensive player at the auction, with Royal Challengers Bangalore successfully bidding $413,950. Australian allrounder Ashleigh Gardner went to the Gujarat Giants and English allrounder Natalie Sciver went to the Mumbai Indians in the best deals for foreign players at about $390,000 each.

Harmanpreet Kaur, captain of India’s national team, went to the Mumbai Indians for $220,000 and will lead the franchise in the inaugural season. Australian cricketers were in high demand for their leadership skills. Multiple ICC World Cup winner Meg Lanning will lead Delhi Capitals, star batter Beth Mooney will lead Gujarat Giants, and star wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy will lead UP Warriorz. Bangalore is the early title favorite with the likes of Mandhana, Sophie Devine (New Zealand), Ellyse Perry (Australia), Heather Knight (England) and India’s star wicketkeeper-batter Richa Ghosh among its ranks. Viacom18 bought the global television and digital broadcast rights for the tournament for $120 million across five years, more than it paid for the rights for the South African men’s league for a decade, but a relative bargain compared with the IPL.

While still in its infancy, the WPL tournament is still widely expected to lift the profile of women’s sports in India and raise the aspirations of future generations of players.