Diversity a boon for women’s cricket as Indian cohort elevate WBBL quality | Megan Maurice

Smriti Mandhana’s record-equalling runs and Harmanpreet Kaur’s domination headlined India’s growing presence

To the casual fan, the inclusion of eight Indian players in the 2021 Women’s Big Bash League season may have looked like it was following The Nanny’s selection guidelines – they had style, they had flair, they were there. The multi-format series between Australia and India leading directly into the domestic competition allowed for a great influx of Indian players to stay behind and avoid extra quarantine requirements. As a bonus, these players were front of mind for the Australian public, having just watched them battle it out with Australia across ODIs, T20s and a rare Test match.

With the season drawing to a close, it is clear that what this group was able to bring was far more than convenience and recognisable names. While the majority of import players in the WBBL have traditionally been drawn from England, South Africa and New Zealand, this season has demonstrated what greater diversity can add to women’s cricket. From Smriti Mandhana’s record-equalling 114 runs for the Sydney Thunder to Harmanpreet Kaur’s domination of the competition, the Indian players have elevated the WBBL to a greater level than ever before.

It did not all come off – Shafali Verma was moved up and down the order at the Sydney Sixers as she tried to recapture the form she brings to opening the batting for India. And while Poonam Yadav had some good spells for the Brisbane Heat, she was not able to bring about the devastating collapses that threw her into the spotlight at the T20 World Cup in 2020. But the overall impact of this group on the competition was exciting and paved the way for the WBBL to expand its reach as it continues to grow.

While none of the eight Indian stars will feature in the final between the Perth Scorchers and Adelaide Strikers on Saturday, their presence has been immense. None more so than Kaur, who was named player of the tournament after the regular season. Not only was she impressive with the bat for the Melbourne Renegades throughout the regular season, with 399 runs at an average of 66.5 and a strike rate of 135.25, but she was also her side’s leading wicket-taker, taking 15 wickets across the season and proving a constant threat during the power play.

While no doubt disappointed the Renegades were not able to go all the way to the final this season, Kaur was happy with the season they put together and the way she performed.

“It was totally a team effort, I was just doing my job, what my team was requiring from me,” she says. “I have never thought about winning any award. But I was just doing my job, and I’m really happy I have achieved this.”

Smriti Mandhana was on song for the Sydney Thunder.
Smriti Mandhana was on song for the Sydney Thunder. Photograph: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

So too is she pleased with the number of Indian players in the competition this year and she believes they will take a lot from the season.

“I think when you play good domestic tournaments, that will definitely help you to be better in international cricket,” she says. “It was a great experience for all the Indian players. I’m really happy that we got this opportunity, and this will definitely improve our team.”

While Kaur has played in the WBBL previously – with the Sydney Thunder in 2016-17 and 2018-19 – it was a different experience being part of a large Indian cohort and to have an Indian teammate in Jemimah Rodrigues beside her throughout the tournament.

“I’m lucky she was with the Renegades and we played together,” Kaur said. “When we play international cricket, sometimes you don’t get that that much time to talk together. But this time we were together and it was so nice to have her.”

Kaur credits her incredible form in her best-ever WBBL season to that bond she shared with Rodrigues throughout the season.

“I think that is the reason I was more calm,” she said. “I was enjoying it more because I had a teammate from back home and I really enjoyed her company.”

The performance of these eight players will no doubt add fuel to the ever-growing fire of the demand for a Women’s Indian Premier League. While Kaur was careful not to overstep when asked about the growing demand, it is clear that the desire from the players is there.

“As cricketers, we always want to play as many games as much as possible,” she said. “So I think we have been looking at this for a long time. And I hope as soon as a Women’s IPL will start, we will also invite overseas players over there, so that they can also share their experience with our domestic players. I think this is something we are really waiting for.”

When that day will arrive is still unclear, but there is no doubt that increased opportunity for women in cricket is changing the game and the WBBL is reaping the rewards for its early investment.

Contributor

Megan Maurice

The GuardianTramp

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