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The case for a bigger, better Women's T20 Challenge next year

With close to 30,000 people attending the four games in Jaipur, we wonder what a few sensible tweaks can do for the women's game in India

Lea Tahuhu and Radha Yadav celebrate Supernovas' winning moment, Supernovas v Velocity, Women's T20 Challenge final, Jaipur, May 11, 2019

Lea Tahuhu and Radha Yadav celebrate Supernovas' winning moment  •  Getty Images

She has only ever played T20 cricket internationally, and has a batting average of 4.75 there from nine innings. But two-two-two-four off the last four balls from Amelia Kerr in the Women's T20 Challenge final to clinch victory for Supernovas, and Radha Yadav is a star in the making now. Exactly what a platform like a kind-of-IPL is meant to do for women's cricket in India.
All told, it was a success. Four matches. Largely with good turnouts (13,000-odd were at the final). Three of the four games were played under lights, there was some excellent action and close finishes, Velocity choosing to play for qualification to the final instead of going for a win against Supernovas perhaps the only negative.
Lots to celebrate then, but there are a couple of things to think about for the organisers and powers that be.
Let there be light, as much as possible
India haven't played a day-night or night-only home international fixture since March 2016. The first non-day match they played, at home or away, since that World T20 game in Mohali was at the 2018 World T20, in the semi-final, which they lost to England. Failing to account for the dew factor and the lack of an idea of the intricacies of fielding under lights - apart from other things - abetted their loss.
At the Women's T20 Challenge, nearly a dozen catches were shelled - by Indian and overseas players, young and experienced. The swirling ball against the backdrop of the night sky posed all three teams a challenge. At the T20 World Cup next year, in Australia, two of India's four league-stage games will begin at 7pm local time, the remaining two at 2pm. The 2021 ODI World Cup, too, will have a sprinkling of day-night and night games.
With two world tournaments in the next two years, there is a case for the BCCI to consider hosting a few games under lights during the home series against South Africa later this year, and ensure a few night fixtures across all domestic tournaments, including the age-group competitions, in the upcoming season.
"Playing under lights is actually challenging because the whole atmosphere changes, the way the wind blows, with the light and the way the ball travels on the field," said India and Velocity batsman Veda Krishnamurthy, who took most catches (and, more importantly, dropped none) in the tournament. "So, at least if we start playing T20s in the evening [that will help] and also help bring in more crowd."
There's no blockbuster without the publicity
A standalone identity, in a non-metro city, held on the sidelines of the men's IPL were all vital when it came to testing the waters for a possible women's IPL, or a short three-team event to start with. If the response to the four-match competition - on social media and at the ground - is anything to go by, the Women's T20 Challenge was more than a sleeper hit.
Scheduling the final on the weekend, with a 7.30pm start, allowed appreciable prime-time viewership, the high-quality cricket in the final-ball thriller only bolstering the case for women's cricket in India to have a bigger, a more expanded T20 league of its own.
As crowd turnout goes, the attendance at Sawai Mansingh Stadium grew with each night fixture - from roughly 4,000 in the opening match to 7,000-plus in the second, to over 13,000 for the final. Even the only match with a 3.30pm start, in the sweltering Jaipur heat, had nearly 3,500 people in attendance at the stadium.
Be informed, these are numbers for a tournament that didn't even have much advertisement around the stadium premises. Locals - cab drivers, store owners, hotel owners, children and women - who came to watch the matches said that TV commercials, though sporadic, carried by the host broadcaster during the closing stages of the IPL's league phase played a part in piquing their interest.
Stick to the non-metros
Imagine, then, what Women's T20 Challenge signage at the airport (which had many Rajasthan Royals hoardings well after the team had been eliminated), the railway station, and in the immediate vicinity of the stadium could have done. No reason, then, for the BCCI to doubt the cricket-watching appetite - for women's games - among Indians, right?
"Smaller cities could work, because of the curiosity factor…," Mithali Raj, who also called for an expanded competition, said. "We could add one or two more teams, but [making] it a double-leg [competition], where we could play each team twice, will make it more interesting because any team can beat any team in the league. That gives every player and team a few more games.
"Back in the day, to promote the sport under WCAI [the now-defunct Women's Cricket Association of India], we tried to play at smaller places where a lot of people came to watch maybe because of the curiosity factor, but we used to attract a lot of people. So that isn't a bad idea."
Worth thinking about.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo