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Women's Premier League: A new dawn for India's Gen-Next

Gujarat Giants will take on Mumbai Indians in the tournament-opener

wpl-sonam-yadav-afp Sonam Yadav attends a net practice at a ground in Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh. The 15-year-old is set to play in Women's Premier League | AFP

India's women cricketers will not only get the much-needed exposure to take their game to the next level but also enjoy the perks of a cash-rich tournament when the Women's Premier League (WPL) ushers in a new dawn for the sport in the country.

The 21-match tournament will commence on Saturday with Gujarat Giants taking on India captain Harmanpreet Kaur-led Mumbai Indians in the tournament-opener.

The WPL will not just be about the creme-de-la-creme of world cricket with huge pay packets and reputations to play for but also for someone like Sneha Deepthi, who would like to prove that motherhood hasn't robbed her of the passion to play elite sport.

A certain hard-hitting Jasia Akhtar from Jammu and Kashmir will be eager to send the ball soaring into the stands and expect that people from her state will take her name alongside Umran Malik.

For the Kaurs, Jemimah Rodrigues, and the Shafali Vermas, the pressure and arclights of a high octane tournament will prepare them for those tight games in global tournaments, which they have been struggling to close in their favour.

The inaugural edition of the T20 league - some would argue was long overdue - will feature a total of five teams and 87 players, with girls as young as a little above 15 set to ply their trade with and against some the best in the world.

The competition consists of an overall 21 matches, including two knockout games, and will be played across two venues in Mumbai, with the iconic Brabourne Stadium being the other.

WPL has created a compelling buzz in the world of cricket, with the five franchises being sold for a grand total of Rs 4,669 crore, which includes Adani Group's purchase of the Gujarat franchise for a whopping INR 1,289 crore.

The player auction witnessed a total of Rs 59.5 crore spent by the five franchises, not only providing the players with a further boost to their financial being, but also ensuring a promising road ahead to young girls.

India's star batter Smriti Mandhana was the most expensive buy at the auction held in Mumbai - Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) bought her for INR 3.4 crore and expectedly named her the captain.

The franchise, which has always put its trust on big names of the cricket world but yet to win a title in the men's league, added Sophie Devine and Ellyse Perry to continue the tradition.

The second costliest team in the league at Rs 912.99 crore, Mumbai Indians will embark on their WPL 2023 journey hoping to emulate the unprecedented heights and glory achieved by their men's counterparts, who have won a record five IPL titles.

The incumbent India captain Kaur has been bestowed with the responsibility of a star-studded MI team, which has a powerhouse squad comprising England's Nat Sciver-Brunt and pacer Issy Wong, New Zealand's Amelia Kerr, South Africa's T20 World Cup finalist Chloe Tryon, West Indies captain Hayley Matthews and Australia's Heather Graham.

Kaur, the only player to feature in 150 T20Is, has captained India to knockouts round in the last three T20 World Cups which includes the final of the 2020 edition.

Kaur would hope that the competition will help India bridge the gap with Australia and England.

"I think this is a great platform for all Indian players because we have been missing this tournament for a long time," she had said during a virtual media interaction on Wednesday.

"Definitely for Australia and England, the WBBL and Hundred have worked very well and after those tournaments they've got so much young talent.

"After the WPL we are also going to get some good talent and I'm sure the difference you're talking about (between India and Australia sides) we'd love to cut down. When you see good talent coming up, you're definitely going to make a good team after the WPL," she added.

Gujarat Giants, captained by champion Australian batter Beth Mooney, consists of Indian stars Harleen Deol, Sneh Rana - also the team's vice-captain - and the experienced Sushma Verma.

They also have a healthy bank of overseas stars such as recent T20 World Cup winners from Australia, Ashleigh Gardner and Georgia Wareham, West Indies' Deandra Dottin and England's Sophia Dunkley, who will be key to their campaign in this WPL edition.

Former India captain Mithali Raj is also an indomitable figure in the Gujarat Giants' camp in capacity of the team's mentor and adviser. She expressed her happiness at the promise which WPL brings.

"I'm just happy that it has come to a point where women's cricket now is a sustainable sport on its own for young girls in India. Not just in India, even club cricketers abroad in two-three years' time, maybe even they would probably want to be part of a set-up like this," Mithali said.

UP Warriorz grabbed Australia's aggressive wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy in he auction and later announced her as captain, with India star Deepti Sharma the second-most expensive Indian player at Rs 2.6 crore - as her deputy.

With a strong squad, the UP Warriorz will hope to make a strong dent from their first game onwards.

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