IT WAS A LONG TIME COMING, but it seems set for a long innings. After much deliberation and nudging from cricketers within and outside India, the BCCI finally launched the Women’s Premier League. The tournament, with five teams, has seen engaging cricket and great crowds―30,000 fans turned up to watch the Mumbai Indians Women take on the Royal Challengers Bangalore Women on a Tuesday afternoon at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on March 21.
The league has its own advertisers, the teams their own sponsors, and while it is not at the scale of the Indian Premier League, no one is complaining. Certainly not women cricketers past and present. In an exclusive interview, Meg Lanning, seven-time World Cup-winner and captain of Australia and Delhi Capitals Women, talks about her experience in the WPL, playing with young Indian cricketers and her thoughts on the future of the game.
Q/ How was your experience of connecting with young Indian players such as Titas Sadhu or Arundhati Reddy?
A/ (Smiles) It was quiet initially. I think everyone was a little bit shy and unsure about coming together, but over the past few weeks we have really gelled as a team. Everyone is really friendly, and looking to engage, learn and ask questions. That has helped our performances on the field. They have made my job easy as a leader.
Q/ How was the communication on field with the young Indian girls?
A/ That has been one of the challenges; to understand each one’s strengths, weaknesses and what role they can play. Coach Jonathan Batty and I have not seen much of them. You only see them in the nets and it can be difficult at times to know where they can fit in. We feel we have got a good handle on it now. We are particularly impressed with the young Indian girls―we feel we can bring a couple of them straight into the game and they would be totally fine. The squad put together for us was good and covered a lot of bases.
Q/ Thoughts on opening partner Shafali Verma?
A/ (Smiles) I think for the most part you have to let her be. She plays a game that nobody else plays. I think she will continue to learn and adjust, [and] that will allow her to bat longer. And be a lot more effective. She is a clean striker. To stand at the other end and watch her whack other teams around the park has been one of the highlights of the tournament.
Q/ Do the girls feel pressure coming into the final? Having played in and won finals yourself, what do you tell them?
A/ The main thing I will tell them is to embrace it and enjoy it because you might not get another opportunity. The idea is to [have] fun and have the freedom to express ourselves. No reason to change that heading into the final. The more simple you keep it in the final, the better it is.
Q/ Your take on the inaugural edition of the WPL?
A/ I think it has been very successful. Sometimes I feel you just have to start something and build from there. The Indian girls have been looking forward to this moment for a long time. [It] provides vast opportunities not just for players around the world, [but also those] here in India to showcase their skills and [pave the way for] young girls coming through. I have no doubt that this is just a start and the WPL will continue to grow over the next few years.
Q/ How do you see the WPL shaping up compared with other tournaments such as the Women’s Big Bash League?
A/ I think it will certainly rival the WBBL. Having the WBBL has set the standards and style for domestic leagues [for women]. That has been very important for the growth of the game within Australia and has given good opportunities to international players as well. I think it is a good thing that there is not just one such tournament out there. It plays a part in moving the game forward and in making it more professional.
Q/ As a veteran, how do you see such developments affecting your career?
A/ It is certainly very different now to when I first started playing for Australia. We played one or two series each year and we usually went to New Zealand because it was close by (laughs). We got paid a very small amount. I was studying full time and had just come out of school. A lot of girls were working full time and cricket was something that we were able to fit in around that. You fast forward to today, and we are playing all year both at home and abroad. I hope in the next 10 to 20 years, it is even better for the players coming through. I think it is very important that we do not stay still. There is a lot we can keep improving on [in women’s cricket]. It is certainly in a good spot now and is heading in the right direction.
Q/ Do you think other leagues will help bridge the gap between Australian women and the rest of the world?
A/ I do and I think it will speed this up.... We need to keep growing the game around the world; not just in Australia, India and England. Competitions like these will allow players to learn from some of the best in the world. It is a two-way street [and] we are learning from local Indian players, too. That is what makes these tournaments so much fun. Learning not just about cricket, but also different cultures and personalities.
Q/ Is there is too much emphasis on T20Is for women?
A/ We are in an interesting phase [as] T20 appears to be the main driver in the women’s game. It is shorter, sharp and exciting, and easy for fans to follow. But everything has its place. We have seen recent 50-over World Cups being really great tournaments. But I understand why we play so much T20 cricket.
Q/ Do you think Test cricket has to be preserved, too?
A/ I think as players we would love to play more Test cricket. It is tricky to fit into the schedule because we do play a lot of the short-format stuff. The fact that India want to play (Tests) versus England and that even South Africa are looking at it is great.... It is a bit tricky when you play one Test every couple of years (laughs). It is hard to get up to speed as to how to approach it. If there is more consistency [in scheduling Tests], I think you will see some really good Test cricket in the next five to 10 years.