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Women's games during IPL 2019: what's the best way forward?

Jhulan Goswami, Lisa Sthalekar, Mel Jones and Tushar Arothe share their ideas

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Supernovas' Harmanpreet Kaur and Trailblazers' Smriti Mandhana at the toss of the Women's T20 Challenge with Anjum Chopra  •  BCCI

Supernovas' Harmanpreet Kaur and Trailblazers' Smriti Mandhana at the toss of the Women's T20 Challenge with Anjum Chopra  •  BCCI

The BCCI has plans to host a series of women's matches during the upcoming IPL season, as opposed to the one-off game played in 2018. As the BCCI firms up its plans, ESPNcricinfo spoke with some of the leading names in the women's game for pointers on what the best format might be, how the games should be promoted, and much else.

How many teams should be in action?

Jhulan Goswami (India ODI player): There are enough domestic players for four or five teams because in the Elite Group itself [in the inter-state domestic tournaments], every team has three-four good players. And four-five teams will also let you include more domestic players because at the end of the day, the objective is to strengthen Indian women's cricket at the grass-roots level, right? To include more girls to take up cricket professionally. So unless there's a big motivation ahead of them, I don't see them taking that route.
Why not check with the IPL franchises if they are willing to start a women's team of their own. If four teams are willing, we should be starting a women's IPL with four teams, and involve the best foreign players and our local and international Indian cricketers.
Lisa Sthalekar (Former Australia captain, broadcaster): If they are going to keep it to two teams, then I'll play a series of three-to-five matches and make the squad as big as you want, and expose the young Indian domestic players to international stars.
The aim should be to align it with the IPL franchises somehow, and you've got to make the franchises buy into it, so the stadiums have the same colour, same vibe. One of the reasons why BBL-WBBL have been successful is because whatever you see on TV is what you see on the ground. The dressing up of the game is the same, and that's great from a fan-engagement point of view because there's nothing different between how the two leagues are carried out.
Tushar Arothe (Former India women head coach): I am okay with having two quality teams or even three because I think there are good spinners and wicketkeepers in the domestic circuit to start off with three teams, but not enough for a full-fledged six- or eight-team league. I would love to see more Smritis, Harmans, Jhulans and Mithalis in the Indian team, and that can happen when you have more girls playing cricket, for which these exhibition games are going to be very important.
Mel Jones (Former Australia player, broadcaster): The first year, if it has to take place in the heat of the day in Mumbai with the IPL going on, getting that kind of traction may not be easy. Having a couple of teams can help focus on what can really help the women's game grow. Or, if you have three teams, and split the current Indian squad into three sides and have some of the next-best young guns and probably a couple more senior players outside of the squad as well.
The only other way you could have double-headers is if you have weekend games, where the men can play the 4 o'clock game, while the women's game can start at 7pm, as it happened in the 2010 World T20 final
When WBBL started, because they had five years of Big Bash behind it, there was a clear structure path Cricket Australia followed, with the Women in Cricket strategy. Until the BCCI have a similar idea about where they want to take women's domestic cricket in India, perhaps they may be looking to create an okay product so that the best of women's cricket is put up on display.

How many overseas players should each team have?

Goswami: Having four-five overseas players means you can accommodate more uncapped players alongside the current India players.
Sthalekar: Instead of cutting it up the same way as the men's IPL, the women's teams in these exhibition games could have a couple more overseas players, to ensure it is more competitive and exciting, it could be flexible. Five players in a two-team structure.
Arothe: I'd say five is good as it was last year.
Jones: Four overseas players in each squad, if you have three teams, but doesn't mean all have to play in the XI in each game.

Where should the matches be played?

Jones: I think there's great potential to build a connection with the local community. A lot of it might be about putting out an expression of interest; to place it out there and see who really wants it. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of cities go, "This would be fantastic to have." Then you start to build long-term relationships with these cities.
Goswami: Take these games out of the metros and try to connect with the smaller towns. If we are playing in stadiums with 30,000 capacity, you'll barely be able to make it appear full. They better take the games to state associations which do not have IPL teams at the moment, like Vadodara, Lucknow, Vizag and Ranchi, to name a few.
Arothe: Ideally, it should be organised in two-three legs if there are three teams. Say, you take the eight league games to two cities - big or small - and the final elsewhere, over a period of two weeks. That will give your uncapped players substantial time to learn and interact with the foreign players or even those in the current Indian squad. But ensuring the smaller cities are given as much or more preference as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, etc will play a big part in how these games are received.

When to play - afternoon or evening?

Jones: If you're trying to get the regular IPL-watchers to follow these games, you'll have to keep their mindset in mind - they're all working in the day on weekdays - and do evening games. If you want to model it after the WBBL, their whole marketing campaign is about family, that means weekend games, family-friendly time, and engaging local schools. So there's good opportunity to look at it as something to drive women's empowerment or inspiring the next generation of boys and girls in India.
Goswami: If there are 2pm starts in April-May summer like last year's game, I won't expect too many people to come in. Either do it on the weekends with 5pm starts, or host them on IPL match eve.

Double-headers: yay or nay?

Goswami: I don't think double-headers are or will be encouraged in our country anytime soon.
Sthalekar: To have double-headers in the afternoon, in that time of the year, it's not nice to be out and watching cricket. The only other way you could have double-headers is if you have weekend games, where the men can play the 4 o'clock game, while the women's game can start at 7pm, as it happened in the 2010 World T20 final. What happens is the crowd in the stadium is already there. In the WBBL, too, there was a game in Perth where women played after the men, and there were 17,000 of the 30,000 people from the men's game watching the women's.

How should the games be promoted?

Goswami: Bring in Bollywood and regional movie stars, famous ex-cricketers, just like the IPL did when it started. Hyderabad had involved their local stars, and Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Preity Zinta, Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar were all there. Why not try to do the same?
Jones: When you have a Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni introduce these players as such and such or the teams, people will automatically want to know more about them and start following these games. So you're in a way piggybacking on the association to give the competition a leg-up.
Arothe: Last year, so many came to watch the India-Australia ODIs because there was a separate event management company that had been employed to publicise these games. Do you remember how many hoardings were put up across the streets? And there were results for everyone to see.
Sthalekar: If you buy a ticket for a men's IPL game, it should certainly have a mention of the women's game - whether it's before or after - like in a concert. The supporting act is always mentioned. We should all be educated on what's happening on that day.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo