On Ground And Off, Women's Talent Drives The WPL
The first edition of the Women’s Premier league is revolutionising 20:20 franchise cricket by unlocking talent from around the world.
From heart-warming stories to novel talent scouting techniques, WPL is celebrating women in sport through innovative strategies.
From stadium experiences to social media interactions, this is a festival of sport, where women are the flag bearers of talent and entertainment — on the ground and off.
On 4 March at the DY Patil cricket stadium in Mumbai, Mandira Bedi anchored the launch of the country’s first franchise cricket league in India.
It was a fitting tribute to Bedi herself, who remains the first lady who broke through the glass ceiling of hosting and presenting cricket events and TV shows.
While discussions around the Women’s Premier League (WPL) have been doing rounds in the corridors of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) headquarters for months, it is only now that cricket enthusiasts have something solid to experience and create memories around.
A few weeks before the first match, we witnessed the first-ever woman auctioneer in the history of Indian franchise cricket in the form of Mallika Sagar, who had a roster of 409 players — both Indian and international — to sell.
Eventually, almost 90 of them were bought between five franchisees, namely Delhi Capitals, Gujarat Lions, Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore and UP Warriorz.
What followed was a social media frenzy between franchisees to collectively create hype and fan following in the days to follow.
Trained By The Best
While Mumbai Indians (MI) roped in legendary Indian fast bowler Jhulan Goswami as part of their coaching staff, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) signed up tennis ace Sania Mirza as their mentor.
While the former brings to the table real-world cricketing experience, Mirza’s role with RCB is slightly more diverse.
In a video interview with RCB’s high-profile captain and the costliest auction buy Smriti Mandana, Mirza said, “It’s exciting times for women in cricket. When I was growing up, nobody knew any other women sportsperson except for P T Usha. Today, we have come a long way and it is so heartwarming to see.”
Exhilarating Experience From Ground Zero
This sentiment is visible when one visits the stadium to witness a WPL encounter.
The sheer support from audiences on-ground and identifying their heroes even before match one, makes one believe that this isn’t the beginning of a revolution — we already are halfway there.
For instance, the match between RCB and Delhi Capitals (DC) at Brabourne Stadium saw live spectators cheering on Smriti and local girl Jemimah Rodrigues (playing for DC) in equal measure, and both of them acknowledging their support back to the audience.
“This is something I’ve not witnessed often in men’s cricket. I waved and screamed Jemimah’s name and she was sweet enough to wave back at me and clap. I feel so close to the players. This is so exciting,” said Sunaina Kashyap, a 24-year old fan.
This was echoed by the majority of spectators who were thrilled at the camaraderie between the players irrespective of which teams they belonged to.
Their connection to the spectators was at a level that has never been witnessed in classical men’s cricket.
Post that match, Jemimah has become a crowd favourite with her energy in the field as well as her impromptu dance moves between overs.
Long story short, if your heroes interact with you live, it takes fan-following to unimaginable levels.
Social media of course, does the rest, with every team creating intimate connects with their fans, like showcasing team Holi parties for everyone to see.
Jemimah Rodrigues was also part of a heart-touching initiative by the WPL, where dabbawalas in Mumbai donned exclusive pink caps and delivered 30,000 dabbas across the city in one day. A Twitter video here.
Jemimah was the recipient of a dabba with home cooked food, sent to her by her parents.
By connecting the league to the grassroots of Mumbai, WPL is doing everything possible to popularise women’s franchise cricket, from showcasing rags-to-riches stories, to making a large number of match tickets free for women.
Uncovering Hidden Talent
On 31 January, RCB put out a post in all of its social media channels requesting entries for a woman fast bowler who can bowl at a speed of 130 Kmph.
All you needed to do was to record a video and send it across to a mail ID. This was unheard of in the history of cricket.
When we dug deep, we found that the initiative was part of the team’s innovative scouting techniques that has helped them find good, fresh talent in the past.
One such technique is called hinterland scouting which is the brainchild of Malolan Rangarajan, assistant head coach and head of scouting, who has been leading the ambitious project for the franchise with the aim of unlocking special talent that is previously unheard of and unseen, using the power of artificial intelligence.
Looks like teams are indeed using unconventional techniques and even social media callouts to identify and groom cricketing talent.
Indeed, an opportunity for women who are passionate about the game to bypass protocol and get a wild card entry into the WPL.
Brands Driving Change
The viability of a cricket league depends heavily on brands putting money into it.
The WPL has made a good beginning on this front with the league being sponsored by Tata Power and a plethora of women centric brands (along with neutral ones) bringing the moolah in.
These include Mia by Tanishq, Lotus Herbal, Himalaya, Puma, Patanjali among others.
The WPL is proof that India is bang in the middle of a women’s cricketing revolution where the circle of talent, investment and fan support is complete, and ready to grow manifold in the years to follow.
A great way to celebrate this success of womanhood is embodied in the opening shloka of the WPL theme song, which offers salutations to the power of Shakti within all of us:
“Yaa Devi Sarva Bhuteshu
Shakti Ruupenna Samsthitaa
Namastasyai Namo Namah”
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