We have the talent for a 6-team Women's IPL, says Sudha Shah

G Viswanath

Sudha Shah, a former India player and coach of the national team, has followed the development of women’s cricket for many years. She believes the State Associations have to promote interschool competitions and that the time is ripe for the women’s IPL.

Photo: PTI/Sudha Shah(Getty Images)

Sudha Shah, a former India player and coach of the national team, has followed the development of women’s cricket for many years. She believes the State Associations have to promote interschool competitions and that the time is ripe for the women’s IPL.

How would you sum up Mithali Raj’s career; she played Test cricket, ODIs and Twenty20 over a period of 22 years plus? And scored a lot of runs, dominating ODI cricket ?

Mithali Raj | Photo:BCCI

An era in women's cricket ended on June 8th 2022, an era dominated by Mithali, who by sheer dint of hard work, diligence, determination and mental strength, put India on top. Starting her career when she was a shy teenager, she shot to fame very early in her career with her consistent, elegant, stylish batting and high scores. With her trademark floppy hat, she was very dedicated and continued working hard on her game and fitness. What I admired was her approach to batting; she just continued to bat in her own way, no matter if wickets were falling at the other end. Having lasted so many years says a lot about the kind of player she was; she set high standards for herself and has been the leading light in women's cricket.

Mithali’s style of play (that began in the late 1999s) is completely different from the way Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana and Jemima Rodrigues play, and now the likes of Shafali Verma, Harleen Deol and Richa Ghosh are even more aggressive. Would you say there are more eyeballs for women’s cricket now?

When Mithali began playing for India, there were more Test matches and ODIs, and she blossomed in that background. The strike rate was never given that much importance as much as occupying the crease, which she did with aplomb. India's women cricketers played their first Twenty20 in 2006, and from then onwards, she had to change gears while the likes of Harmans, Smritis, Jemimas and Shafalis grew in the Twenty20 mould by playing aggressive cricket.

Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur, Mithali Raj | Photo: https:|twitter.com|IPL

The 2017 women's cricket World Cup was televised, and things started looking up for them as they played really well, and people started following the game more. And today, with all of them performing well, women's cricket is truly on its way up.

In as much as the batting department has changed dramatically because the likes of Harman, Smriti and others play attractive cricket, the bowling department has not really advanced. But there is variety?

I think with the advent of Twenty20, the pitches are more batter friendly, and they have dominated the game most of the time. The different strokes that have surfaced and with the field restrictions, it is difficult for the bowlers. Yes, there has been variety in bowling with the slow bouncers, wide-ish Yorkers, and carrom balls to name a few. But I personally feel the game is loaded towards batters.

There are more opportunities now that women’s cricket is under the BCCI for 15 years. There are central contracts too.

After the BCCI took over women's cricket, the girls have had access to better grounds, better travelling, technical support and better remuneration. They've been given contracts and are financially much stronger than the earlier cricketers who spent a lot from their own pockets and had to take care of everything on and off the field. Right from doing train reservations etc, yesteryear cricketers had to strive hard. Despite the financial constraints, the WCAI did manage to keep women's cricket alive, but the girls now are better off.

Do you think the BCCI members (States) have to become proactive and find ways to bring more girls to play the game? More players are required to increase the talent and thereby the quality of talent?

Cricket at the grassroots should be given more importance. We have been insisting on school cricket, and the onus is on the State Associations to take the initiative. There are a lot more girls playing the sport these days. At last year's selection trials, we had nearly 400 girls, and frankly, there's no dearth of talent. In the South, we had U-16 matches till Covid struck, and the matches are quite competitive. India 'A' tours to help.

Diana Edulji, as part of the COA, got the contract system going for the women’s team. That was a big breakthrough?

It's such a relief for the players to be able to concentrate on their game and have the means and opportunities to hone their skills. The contract system has been a boon for the women cricketers, and now the responsibility of performing is on the players.

Does India have 80-100 quality players for the WIPL? For 4 to 6 teams?

Of course, we have a lot of talent in our country for a 6-team WIPL; the girls should be given opportunities and I am confident it will be a big success and the exposure and experience they will gain will help India develop a big pool of players for the future. At the recent Women's T20 matches the scores were higher than the previous years and it's evident that the girls are ready and raring to go.

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