The third season of the Women's T20 Challenge is set to begin on November 4, with defending champions Supernovas taking on Velocity in Sharjah. Here's everything you need to know about the tournament.
When and where will the Women's T20 challenge take place?
This tournament, like previous editions, will take place during the IPL playoffs. The three teams - Supernovas, Velocity and Trailblazers - are set to play three matches between November 4 and 9 in Sharjah, with the final scheduled on November 9 at the same venue. Three matches start at 7.30 IST (6pm local time). The only day game will be the second one, which will begin at 3.30pm IST (2pm local time), on November 5. Like the eight IPL franchises, the women's contingent also underwent a mandatory six-day quarantine at the team hotel in addition to being tested at regular intervals. They were allowed to train only after that.
Why is this year's edition important?
Though short, this tournament is significant for women's cricket. The T20 World Cup earlier this year was a huge success and was expected to have a knock-on effect for the women's game around the globe. Last year's T20 Challenge was in Jaipur and had a good crowd turnout. However, the coronavirus pandemic meant everything came to a standstill. The India Women's team hasn't played any competitive cricket since the T20 World Cup final against Australia on March 8, and it increasingly began to look like the players wouldn't have any top-flight cricket for the remainder of the year. This tournament, then, could be one of the few competitive games they play.
For the longest time, it was also unclear if the tournament was on until the BCCI confirmed the squads in October. This could have probably been a bigger event - the BCCI said in February it would involve four teams - had it not been for the pandemic. Mithali Raj, one of the three captains, welcomed the tournament, despite its clash with Australia's WBBL, calling it a "relief".
The T20 Challenge is a platform for talented players to make a mark and spend time with non-India internationals. Teenager Shafali Verma was among the brightest players in last year's tournament; it got her a maiden T20I call-up for the series against South Africa later that year and she has continued to impress since.
A title sponsor
For the first time ever, the tournament will have an exclusive sponsor, with Jio bagging the rights. Getting a title sponsor could hint at the BCCI possibly exploring the branding potential of the tournament. If successful, it could mean bigger things to come.
How does the clash with the WBBL affect the T20 Challenge?
The WBBL, which began on October 25, features several of the game's top players from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa; all of them will miss the WT20 Challenger. Players from Australia - the largest overseas contingent in the one-off exhibition match in 2018 - and South Africa had missed the 2019 edition too. However, Bangladesh, West Indies, Sri Lanka and England players will feature this season. Seven of the 12 overseas players will feature in the tournament for the first time.
What are the three teams like, how do they stack up against each other?
Two-time champions Supernovas have a strong Indian batting line-up led by Kaur, with Jemimah Rodrigues, who was Player of the Series in 2019, offspinner Anuja Patil and wicketkeeper-batter Taniya Bhatia. Their spinners Poonam Yadav and Radha Yadav are among the top 10 in the T20 bowling charts. Their overseas contingent has Sri Lankan captain Chamari Atapattu and former captain Shashikala Siriwardene, experienced West Indies seam bowler Shekera Selman and the South Africa quick Ayabonga Khaka.
Last year's runners-up Velocity are a mix of youth and experience. Captain Raj aside, they have the likes of middle-order batter Veda Krishnamurthy, wicketkeeper-batter Sushma Verma and pace-bowling allrounder Shikha Pandey, all India caps. They will team up with South Africa's Sune Luus, New Zealand's Leigh Kasperek, England's Danni Wyatt and Bangladesh's Jahanara Alam. The uncapped Meghna Joshi has been named a replacement for India pacer Mansi Joshi, who had tested positive for Covid-19. They also have Verma and 21-year-old uncapped offspinner Sushree Dibyadarshini.
Mandhana's Trailblazers have England's Sophie Ecclestone, the No. 1-ranked T20I bowler, West Indies allrounder Deandra Dottin, Bangladesh captain Salma Khatun, and India fast bowler Jhulan Goswami in their ranks. They also have Thailand batter Nattakan Chantam, who made an impression with her strokeplay during her team's maiden T20 World Cup appearance in Australia earlier this year. The Indian contingent includes allrounder Deepti Sharma, opener Punam Raut and youngsters Harleen Deol and Richa Ghosh.
Supernovas vs Velocity, November 4
Velocity vs Trailblazers, November 5
Trailblazers vs Supernovas, November 7
Final, November 9
The second game is the only one which takes place on an IPL match day, with the first Qualifier set to take place on November 5 between the Mumbai Indians and the Delhi Capitals. That is why this will be the only day game in the Women's T20 Challenge.
Who are the uncapped India players to look out for?
Kashvee Gautam (Trailblazers): The 17-year-old Chandigarh pacer made headlines after she picked up all ten wickets - including a hat-trick - in an innings in the Women's U-19 One-Day Trophy earlier this year. Having done well in U-19 and U-23 tournaments before, this is her first appearance in the T20 Challenge.
Ayushi Soni (Supernovas): The 20-year-old Delhi allrounder captained a successful India B side at the U-23 Challenger Trophy last year.
Sushree Dibyadarshini (Velocity): The offspinner made a mark on her T20 Challenge debut last year when she snuffed out West Indies' Stafanie Taylor in her second over and finished with figures of 3-1-14-1. The 23-year-old features regularly for India A.
Can we expect big scores?
The Sharjah pitch was a batting paradise for teams in the first half of IPL 2020, which saw totals in excess of 200. However, there was a marked slowing down of the surface as the tournament went on.
How much are the players being paid?
ESPNcricinfo understands that the match fee of a section of overseas players is estimated to be around USD 2500 per player per game, and a daily allowance of around INR 5000 INR (USD 67 approx.). All Indians, uncapped or otherwise, were understood to have been paid a base amount of at least INR 1 lakh last year as match fee, but the numbers for this year are not known.