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Feature

Opening act: Blue is the warmest colour as Harmanpreet, Mumbai carry WPL torch

Fireworks, loud music, a near sellout crowd, and a special knock from a special player: the opening night had it all

Zenia D'cunha
05-Mar-2023
The first match of the long-awaited Women's Premier League (WPL) is at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, the venue that set the record for the highest crowd for a women's cricket match in India last December.
Walking up to the stadium from the main road, you can already feel the buzz. The buzz of the crowds lining up to enter, and the buzz of excitement to see what's in store.
If one had to paint a visual to describe this buzz, it would be blue.
Blue, the colour of the Mumbai Indians' jerseys worn by a large section of fans. Blue, of the Indian team's jerseys a few others, are wearing. A whole shade card of blue in the usual knock-off kits being sold on the streets, both men and women trying the Mumbai Indians one for size. They belong to different editions of the IPL, but it's the dress code of the day.
The team flags, horns, tri-colour memorabilia, face-painters and long queues that circle the outside of any cricket stadium on match days are omnipresent as well.
As far as signs of public interest go, this is a good one in Indian cricket.
Blue was probably also what Gujarat Giants were feeling after an all-round capitulation against Mumbai Indians.
But the crowd wouldn't mind, they had after all come for two main things and they got exactly that: A historic occasion and a Harmanpreet Kaur special.
"This is history in the making, it's the first-ever women's match like this and because it's in Mumbai and this is our team, it feels very good. I'm getting goosebumps already," one fan outside the stadium said. "It was decided, we had to come for the first match," another one said.
Most people entering the stadium had the same answer when asked the player they are most excited to watch at the WPL - Harmanpreet.
One superfan, conspicuous by his vintage Mumbai Indians jersey from the 2013 edition of the IPL - the year they won their first title - wanted Harmanpreet & Co to end a strange jinx.
"Mumbai Indians are known to lose their first match, it's actually a pretty good omen for them. But I hope that's not the case today, I want them to win."
They did win, and in a way fulfilled the many expectations. The Indian captain delivered a memorable knock to start the tournament on a high, smashing a boundary-studded, 22-ball 50 that helped Mumbai cross 200 in the first game.
It was the kind of innings that got the home crowd involved from the beginning - the gasps when she smacked the ball, the cheers when she effortlessly found the gaps, the roar for her shots and the acknowledgement after her dismissal, and the constant chants of her name.
With the inaugural WPL taking place entirely in just two venues, Mumbai are the only team to have a home crowd at all their matches and to start it with a bang is exactly what the tournament needed.
"We keep discussing how we want to enjoy this moment because we waited for this for a long time," Harmanpreet said about the atmosphere after the match.
"Personally, it was very special to me because whenever I played other leagues, [the crowd] went more towards the local players, but today the Punjabi singer came [AP Dhillon] and it felt like home. The Mumbai crowd was special for all of us, it felt like the whole family came together cheering for this big moment."
The others played their part too, the opening fireworks by Hayley Matthews, the handy cameo by Amelia Kerr, Pooja Vastrakar and Nat Sciver-Brunt keeping the boundaries coming, the dominant bowling in the powerplay. And the crowd loved every moment.
They may have come for the Indian players they know, but as the game progressed, the Mumbai crowd adopted the others also their own. Issy Wong, the fire-cracker fast bowler from England, got her own chant of 'Wong, Wong, Wong' as she started a run-up. All of 20 and not as well-known yet in the international circuit as yet, it was her spectacular first-ball six and second-ball wicket of Ashleigh Gardner (on a golden duck) that endeared her to the cricket-lovers watching.
Before the match began, the playing XIs of both teams were announced in the stadium with corresponding images on the big screen - a nice touch given how new all this is. One would hope this player introduction with photos continues through the WPL.
Not all was perfect, of course. The one-sided second innings saw the crowds thin out midway through the innings and the stands were almost empty by the end. Already, despite the sold-out sign while booking online, the stadium was not completely full and there were some walkouts after the opening ceremony too.
But even at the death overs, nearing 11 pm and long after the stadium announcer and music had stopped at the deadline, there was a sizable cheer when Harmanpreet was fielding at long-on boundary. It's the power of good, old-fashioned cricketing excellence.
"It was a different experience and I hope that we continue to get the kind of crowd support we got today," she said.
That may be difficult in the stadium on weekdays and when the home team is not involved, but what her knock has ensured is that WPL has begun well and will be followed.