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Feature

What has the WPL changed for women's cricket in India?

Takeaways: Fringe players make a mark, Mandhana doesn't, fans have their say... there is change in the air all right

The WPL threw up a variety of intangibles that players will benefit from  •  Getty Images

The WPL threw up a variety of intangibles that players will benefit from  •  Getty Images

After three weeks of the inaugural WPL, which culminated with Mumbai Indians winning the title, the ESPNcricinfo crew that lived the experience picked out their takeaways from the season.
More than just the cricket
India's women cricketers now know what it is like to play with a fan base in place, or how it feels to play in front of packed stands, or have your social media notifications blowing up. This wasn't new for the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur or Smriti Mandhana, but certainly a different experience for the D Hemalathas and the Shreyanka Patils.
India's domestic structure is still a little old school, where coaches are taught to go by a rule book that players follow. So it was refreshing to see not-too-experienced players challenged by top-level coaches or elite players.
Someone like Jammu & Kashmir's Jasia Akhtar learnt to deal with success and failure from Meg Lanning. Anjali Sarvani improved the mechanics of her bowling action thanks to Ashley Noffke.
From Alyssa Healy saying she was at the WPL to develop Indian talent, to World-Cup winning captain Heather Knight picking Richa Ghosh as the team-mate she wanted to get to know, the WPL threw up a variety of intangibles that players will benefit from.
By Sruthi Ravindranath
Fringe players make a splash
Shreyanka Patil, on debut, walked out with Royal Challengers Bangalore six down against a rampaging Mumbai Indians, and crunched a pull for four first ball. She found the boundary three more times in an enterprising 15-ball stay.
In the next game, against Gujarat Giants, she didn't shy from tossing it up in her first over to an all-guns-blazing Sophia Dunkley and prised out her first WPL wicket; later, she bowled a nerveless 20th over where she accounted for Harleen Deol - the game's top scorer - and conceded just nine runs.
In the reverse fixture against Giants, she got the ball for the first time with the scoreboard reading 135 for 2 after 16 overs, and Laura Wolvaardt and Ashleigh Gardner in full flow. She dismissed both and gave away only 17 from her two overs.
Two days later, Parshavi Chopra - just 16 and playing only her second game - too was tasked with bowling the 17th and 19th overs with D Hemalatha and Gardner threatening to take Giants towards 200. Unafraid to flight the ball, Chopra got both of them out - with Gardner fooled by a legspinner's dream delivery.
Hemalatha herself, through the tournament, was handed the thankless role for a specialist batter, almost exclusively walking out either with her top order having collapsed or with less than five overs remaining. Sample some of her scores: 29* off 23, 21* off 13, 16 off 7, 16* off 6. The one time she entered at a better stage, with Gujarat 50 for 3 in six overs in their last outing, against UP Warriorz, she smashed 57 off 33.
Three players, at different stages of their careers, with different storylines. The common thread? None of them was too well known to the wider audience. Given difficult roles, they showed signs of blossoming. And they weren't alone. Long may it continue.
By Yash Jha
A learning experience for Mandhana
Mandhana had a most forgettable WPL. Five losses to start the campaign as captain of Royal Challengers, finishing nearly at the bottom of the table, and for a change, struggling to get into a free-flowing rhythm at the top. That is one of the purposes of tournaments like the WPL: provide such learning experiences even for some of the established names.
Apart from in domestic cricket, Mandhana had led India and Trailblazers in the past. But not like this. The WPL was a different deal because it gave her the captaincy for an entire tournament. It came with a lot more limelight and pressure compared to the Women's T20 Challenge and might have put some price-tag pressure on her (she was the most expensive player at the auction). It may have also put her under constant scrutiny as captain and player, like every time she batted against an offspinner. She was also, for the first time, leading several stars in her team, such as Sophie Devine and world champions Ellyse Perry and Heather Knight.
At the end of it, Mandhana will likely emerge as a much stronger player and captain, and could be more at ease in high-pressure situations to serve Indian cricket in the future. She is just 26, after all.
By Vishal Dikshit
Fans embrace the WPL, and how!
When the WPL began, there was a bit of uncertainty about in-stadium attendance.
The hope was that free entry for women and nominal ticket prices on the whole would sell out tickets, but that was no guarantee of footfalls. To expect Mumbaikars to travel to far-flung venues daily for women's cricket was an ask irrespective of ticket rates.
By Sunday, March 26, it felt like Brabourne Stadium didn't have enough seats. But what stood out most was the diversity of the fans. Though predominantly male, there was a good mix.
There were men in the old Mumbai Indians men's jerseys, middle-aged women purchasing knock-off kits outside the venues, parents with little children headed to the venues in trains and buses, young girls in their club-cricket uniforms, housewives who play recreationally, students who have travelled from neighbouring towns like Pune and Kolhapur, and even stragglers in the hope of an unwanted, or unbought, ticket.
The atmosphere the fans created was rare for women's cricket in India and it was special to see packed stands even on weekdays. There were traditional Mumbai stadium chants and new, innovative ones. In Royal Challengers games, you would know where Ellyse Perry was fielding just by the cheer in that section. Delhi Capitals' Shafali Verma was as good as a home player.
So there is an audience. And the BCCI has been able to build on their pilot project of ticketing attendances during the India vs Australia series in December. Now for the next step.
By Zenia D'Cunha
2013 to 2023 - the change couldn't be starker
It's a little embarrassing to think of it now, but for long, cricket boards the world over marketed the women's game like a buy-one-get-one-free scheme with the men's game.
During the 2013 Women's World Cup, the ICC sent out nearly 10,000 invites to as many as 50 schools in Mumbai for the opening game, held at Brabourne, and when not even 2000 seats were occupied, it left the ICC and the BCCI red-faced.
A decade later, the contrast is stark. Both WPL venues - Brabourne and DY Patil Stadium - were sold to capacity several times over. Sure, women were awarded the privilege of watching games for free, but that the BCCI earned from gate receipts, even if it may cobble up to be a minuscule portion of their overall WPL earnings, was a heartening sign.
It was also equally heartening to see media attendance reach unprecedented levels. There have been several instances over the past decade where thin attendances have forced organisers to instruct players to look left and right while answering questions from the same source, making it appear as if they were fielding questions from different corners of the room. But this time, when it was announced loud and clear that only one question would be allowed per journalist, it was bittersweet.
By Shashank Kishore
Women umpires get a taste of the big time too
Like it was for the players, the WPL was also a platform for less-experienced umpires to get a taste of cricket played under intense scrutiny. There were a number of women umpires in action, too - N Janani and Vrinda Rathi stood in the final. Of them, Rathi was part of the Commonwealth Games last year too.
The level-up was not all hunky-dory. There were some errors that led to an increased level of scrutiny on the officials. But all said, the experience they gained is a good start which the BCCI should try and build on by having them officiate more regularly, perhaps even in senior men's domestic matches, in the Ranji Trophy and other big-ticket competitions.
By S Sudarshanan