'Cannot wait forever' - Mithali Raj wants women's IPL from 2021

She says initially the tournament could be started on a smaller scale with five to six foreign players instead of four

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana pose for the cameras in Jaipur, Women's T20 Challenge 2019, May 4, 2019, Jaipur


Mithali Raj feels that the BCCI should not "wait forever" to organise the women's IPL, and hopes the inaugural tournament is held in 2021. Raj, currently the most experienced player in women's cricket, suggested that the women's IPL could initially be on a "smaller scale".
"I personally feel they should start a women's IPL by next year, even if it's on a slightly smaller scale and with some changes in rules, such as, say, have five to six foreign players in the first edition instead of four as is the case with the men's IPL," Raj told ESPNcricinfo.
Raj is the second major voice in Indian cricket to urge the BCCI to start the women's IPL sooner rather than later. Just after India lost to Australia in the final of the Women's T20 World Cup last month, Sunil Gavaskar had said that it made sense to start the women's IPL because that would only "earn" more young talent that could help India win global titles.
The BCCI has acknowledged the growing popularity of women's T20Is and had scheduled a four-team contest in this year's Women's T20 Challenge with seven matches compared to last year's four. These were to run parallel to the men's IPL playoffs, but the tournament has now been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly had said that a full-fledged women's IPL was at least "four years away" when he took charge last October, mainly because India's talent pool has been perceived to be thin.
Raj agreed with Ganguly but, like Gavaskar, she stressed that a women's IPL would only boost the numbers. She also suggested some of the existing IPL franchises could own teams to facilitate the women's tournament.
Asked when a women's IPL could, or should, become a reality, Raj said, "I agree we don't have the depth in the domestic pool yet, but the key is to get the existing franchises to form teams, even if [only] five or six of them are keen to begin the process because in any case, the BCCI was going to have four teams [in the Women's T20 Challenge].
"You cannot wait forever; you have to begin at some point, and gradually, year by year, you can keep evolving the league and then bring it down to four foreign players."
To emphasise her point, Raj gave the example of 16-year-old sensation Shafali Verma, who was one of the most impressive batters in the recent T20 World Cup. Raj had led Verma at Velocity in last year's Women's T20 Challenge which the Haryana teenager used as a springboard to get the India cap in September later in 2019.
Raj said Verma was the "biggest takeaway" for India from the T20 World Cup and deserved a chance in ODIs too. "It's not a bad idea to consider her for the ODIs. She is young but that should not be a criterion for not giving her opportunities in the ODI side."
"Appalled at such news" - on sexual harassment allegations against Atul Bedade
Among the various topics Raj spoke about during the interview, she also weighed in on the sexual harassment allegations against former India batsman Atul Bedade, who was recently suspended as head coach of Baroda Women.
"It's too early for me or anyone to comment on the matter or come to a conclusion until the truth is established," Raj said. "It would not be right on my part or anyone else's to judge someone based on an article, but as a woman athlete, I am surprised and appalled at such news emerging because when there's so much progress taking place in cricket and other sports in terms of empowering women, when the administrators, the athletes, many of you in the media - we all are trying to get women's sports up to a level, these things make you wonder 'what is happening?'"
The full interview will be published on The Cricket Monthly on March 27.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo