Thursday, 8 October 2015

To Bash or not to Bash

This article first appeared in '' Seamstress '', my column for Wisden India

These are exciting times for the women’s cricket community. The inaugural Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) is set to begin in December this year, and England will launch the Women’s Cricket Super League in the English summer next year. The women’s game is about to pass through the alchemy that transformed the men’s game eight years ago, and enter the radical sphere of T20 leagues.

While the ECB’s Women’s Cricket Super League is still in its cocoon stages, the WBBL is already recruiting players for its eight teams, aligned to the BBL teams.  As the Kings XI Punjab showed in the previous edition of the IPL, recruiting the right team is the first step to success. To quote Ed Smith,’’ Once the players are out on the pitch, they are on their own- which makes it important to get the right ones out there in the first place’’. 

With teams allowed to recruit up to three overseas players each, a possible total of 24 overseas players may find themselves playing down under this Aussie summer.  As teams look to recruit the best possible international talent, five teams have already announced the signing of a total of 12 overseas players so far. Conspicuously absent from the list so far though, are any Indian female players, although Cricket Australia has expressed an interest in recruiting them.

It is a well known but little mentioned fact that the BCCI does not encourage Indian male players to participate in foreign domestic T20 leagues. While overseas players from all countries flock to the Indian Premier League, how many Indians have you seen in the BBL? Or the Caribbean Premier League? None.

All players require an NOC from their home boards before participating in any foreign competition, irrespective of format. The BCCI seems to reserve Indian players for the IPL however, and no male player has played in a foreign T20 league in recent times.

But with no domestic league to reserve their female players for, the BCCI stands to gain in a number of ways by setting a new precedent and allowing its female players to participate in foreign leagues:

1.       Higher standard of cricket:
Indian players will gain infinitely by the experience of playing in Australia, widely considered to have the strongest domestic competition in women’s cricket. And the WBBL will be an extension of that competition. With the influx of international players, the standard is likely to rise even higher.

2.       Exposure to foreign conditions:
The players would spend more than a month travelling the length and breadth of Australia, acclimatise to the foreign conditions, speed of the quicker, bouncier Aussie pitches and the nuances of various venues. They could gain crucial insights into the adaptations that are required to succeed down under. And all such experience will only be useful as and when India tour Australia. (Incidentally, India will tour Australia for a bilateral series immediately after the WBBL in January 2016.  An acclimatisation period could not be more perfectly timed. )

3.       Financial benefits :
Domestic female players in Australia have recently benefitted from a significant pay raise, and WBBL contracts are likely to add to their windfall.  Such opportunities will be few and far between for Indian domestic players. While the BCCI can offer male players high financial rewards through its home league, the lack of any such league for women in India means that the board would be doing a considerable disservice to the women if they are not allowed to participate in foreign leagues.

Although the WBBL overlaps with India’s senior domestic women’s calendar, the absence of some Indian stars is a small price to pay in the bigger scheme of things. If the advantages gained by playing in the WBBL translate into an away series win, then the absence of the players during the domestic season will be worth it. Players can always be selected by the weight of their performances in the WBBL itself. And there is no preparation like match practice. As for the ECB’s Women’s Cricket Super League, it is unlikely to coincide with any domestic tournaments.

These leagues could open up uncharted opportunities for the world’s most talented players. Here are some Indian cricketers who teams in foreign domestic leagues might be keen on recruiting:

·         Jhulan Goswami :
The spearhead of the Indian attack for almost a decade, Jhulan’s pace and accuracy have been an asset to the Indian team. Ubiquitously known as a fighter, she has single handedly bowled her team to victory on many occasions. More than useful with the bat down the order, she adds value to a team through sheer experience and fighting spirit. On the fast, pacy pitches in Australia, a number of teams would have on their radar the ICC’s top ranked ODI bowler.
·         Mithali Raj:
The undisputed queen of Indian batting. She is the archetype of class. The Indian captain is known for her silken touch and effortless timing, both while playing the ball in the air and along the turf. With more than 15 years of international experience behind her, buoyed by truckloads of runs, she would be extremely sought after by team scouts. She opens the batting for India in the T20 format, and will lend stability to any team she may be a part of.
·         Harmanpreet Kaur :
Her batswing clearly tells a keen observer that Harmanpreet idolises Virender Sehwag. And like him, she is known for her ability to clear the ropes. In addition, she has recently added accurate off spin bowling to her skill set, and gained a reputation as a genuine all-rounder.  Combined with the fact that she is an exceptional fielder,  Harmanpreet is a captain’s delight, particularly for the T20 format.

With the BCCI  having announced that contracts will be implemented for the women’s team as well, the participation in such tournaments is likely to be addressed in those contracts.  The new BCCI administration has already taken positive steps towards the development of women’s cricket. For instance : the announcement of an intention to contract players, addition of an U-23 tournament and a three day tournament in the domestic calendar. Will the BCCI break down the wall it has built around itself for the greater good of Indian women’s cricket? I am hopeful. 

All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention, if only one may first conceive of doing so. – From the movie ’Cloud Atlas’

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