Women's IPL would be 'amazing for the game' - Heather Knight

Ben Stokes has suggested associating women's sides with that of the men in franchise leagues, especially in the IPL

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj pose ahead of Women's T20 Challenge 2020, Sharjah, November 3, 2020

Will there be a fourth team in the 2021 Women's T20 Challenge?  •  BCCI

Heather Knight has echoed recent comments from Ben Stokes and Smriti Mandhana, calling for the formation of a women's IPL, saying it "would be amazing for the women's game".
Knight lifted the WBBL title with the Sydney Thunder in November and was twice a Kia Super League winner before the English T20 league was scrapped to make way for the Hundred. She agreed that an IPL equivalent would be timely, and praised Stokes for speaking out in support of women's cricket.
"It was awesome to see Stokesy talk about the women's IPL," she said. "The more allies we have in women's cricket, it really helps to change perceptions. It's great from Ben to say that and I totally agree, I think it would be amazing for the women's game to have an IPL.
"You've seen it in Australia with the Big Bash, and hopefully here with the Hundred having men's and women's competitions alongside each other, it's a really positive thing for the women's game and really helps to progress things. It was really nice to see Ben make those comments."
"I'm very hopeful there'll be a women's franchise side associated with every men's franchise side so we're able to grow the women's game even bigger. What better place to do it than out here in India?"
Ben Stokes
Speculation about whether the BCCI could launch a women's T20 league has circulated for some time, following the success of similar competitions in Australia and England. Speaking earlier this week ahead of the start of the men's IPL, Stokes, an overseas player for the Rajasthan Royals, said he was very hopeful of fully fledged women's franchises being established, too.
"Yes, I think the women's game, especially over the last four to five years, has gone from strength to strength and it's great how it is filtering into the men's game in terms of [parallel] competitions and things like that," he said on Red Bull's Decoding Athletes podcast. "I'm very hopeful there'll be a women's franchise side associated with every men's franchise side so we're able to grow the women's game even bigger. What better place to do it than out here in India?"
Since 2018, the BCCI has staged the Women's T20 Challenge to run alongside the men's IPL playoffs. Initially featuring two teams, it was expanded to three - Trailblazers, Supernovas and Velocity - in 2019 and 2020; last year, the plan was to add a fourth team, but the idea was scrapped as the BCCI decided to stick to the old format as the men's and women's events moved to the UAE because of the Covid-19 situation in India.
The Challenge event is due to be held again this year, with the possible addition of that fourth team, but no dates have been confirmed and its viability could yet be affected by the rising number of infections in India.
Mandhana, captain of the the Trailblazers, was also speaking on the Decoding Athletes podcast alongside Stokes and India men's batter KL Rahul, and said it was "the right time to start" a women's IPL in order to help the sport's growth.
"I think the kind of performance last three-four years… IPL is all about youngsters and if you look at the current Indian team, the average age is around 23-24," she said. "That shows that there are a lot of youngsters coming in so IPL is definitely going to boost women's cricket and give the confidence in youngsters which we've seen in men's cricket.
"People who are making their debut are playing 145-150kph [bowling] like it's a [regular] day at office, and you can't feel that they're nervous on their debut. So the IPL has had a huge impact in that and I feel the IPL will help women's cricket as well. It's the right time to start because if we really want to grow women's cricket, especially in India, it's the right time to start the women's IPL."
Although the Kia Super League is now defunct, with a regional T20 tournament being put into place this year, the ECB has pushed to give the women's Hundred a greater degree of parity with the men's competition. The opening night of its new format will see the Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals women's teams go head-to-head in a standalone fixture at The Oval, with all of the other games played as double-headers on the same grounds.
"When you switch on the Hundred as a young girl. you're going to see men's cricket and women's cricket put on the same pedestal, the same branding, matches at the same venue, etc. I think that's great and really important to do that, to change perceptions of getting people involved in cricket," Knight said. "If you're a young girl and you see people like you playing cricket at the highest level, that's going to encourage you that it's a sport for you.
"Little things like playing the first-ever game of the Hundred as a women's game is a really big step. It's going to be a huge summer and hopefully the competition goes really well."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick