Mithali Raj, captain of the India Women's team, believes winning the World T20 in March-April could change the game in the country. Raj, speaking ahead of the limited-overs series in Australia, also revealed that she and Jhulan Goswami, the senior-most members of the squad, were approached to play for Adelaide Strikers in the inaugural edition of the Women's Big Bash League, but had to turn down the offer because of the domestic commitments.
"The T20 World Cup will be important in popularising the game. If we do well in it, it will definitely give birth to the women's IPL," Raj said at a press conference in Mumbai. "It's not a bad idea. Every second person asks me when the IPL will have a women's edition. I hope it's sooner rather than later."
Women's cricket in India seems to have taken a turn for the better in recent times. Central contracts were formally announced in November, with Raj being one of eleven women cricketers to receive a fixed yearly remuneration. Earlier this month, the Lodha Committee report called for a greater presence of women in the BCCI's power structure, with representation in key decision-making bodies.
Citing the example of the World T20, where the semifinals and finals are played just before the men's game, Raj said the women's game in India needed better marketing if it had to attract the kind of popularity the sport enjoys in Australia and England.
"If you'd asked me this question three or four years back, I wouldn't have known," she said. "But this is an ideal time to promote women's cricket through the IPL, because people are aware of it (professional T20 leagues). A lot is happening for women's cricket at this point, with the contract system in place. The World T20 will be very important in terms of popularising the game more. The girls have responded well during the T20 games and one-dayers."
Raj, who will lead India in three T20Is and three ODIs during their two-week tour of Australia starting with a warm-up fixture against Governor General's XI in Sydney on January 22, hoped the exposure against the reigning World T20 champions would toughen her side. Interestingly, Raj is just one of four players - Goswami, Punam Raut, Harmanpreet Kaur and Thirush Kamini being the others - to have played international cricket in Australia.
"Except two or three players, we do not have big experience, but the young side has worked together for the last two years. I am hopeful the young team will give their best on the tour," she said. "We will be touring Australia for the first time since 2009. Though the wickets there will be different, with a lot of bounce, it will help us in preparing for the World T20. As a player, before playing the T20 World Cup, it is important to play in batting-friendly wickets and playing is Australia is the best option. The girls will get good exposure ahead of the big tournament."
With just two wins in nine matches, India are placed seventh out of eight teams in the ICC Women's World Championship table. That means, the upcoming three ODIs in Australia are vital if India are to finish in the top four and earn a direct entry into the 2017 Women's World Cup. Raj said, while the focus was on T20s, they weren't losing sight of what they needed to do in the longer format.
"The ODIs are also important as we won the last series against New Zealand but lost out a spot in the women's World Cup on points. We need to be in the top four to qualify for the 2017 World Cup."
India kick off their tour of Australia, their first overseas assignment since the England tour in 2014, with a T20I double header on January 26, with the women's game preceding the men's match. The three T20Is will be followed by three ODIs.