The inaugural Women's Premier League (WPL) kickstarted with the clash between the Mumbai Indians (MI) and the Gujarat Giants (GG) at the DY Patil Stadium on Saturday, March 4, 2023. The Harmanpreet Kaur-led MI registered a record 143-run victory to begin the tournament on a high.
The WPL was in the making for a while, especially after the rise of women's cricket in India, coupled with the success that the Indian Premier League (IPL) found from the word go in 2008. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) laid out the plans and incepted the league with five franchises, which sought immediate interest from parties, a majority of which already had a franchise in the IPL.
Following record bids and neck-to-neck action for the acquisition of franchises, it was up to the players to chime in. They did not hold back, with over 1000 female cricketers registering their names for the inaugural WPL auction. The timing also worked in their favor as the auction was right in the middle of the Women's T20 World Cup 2023 campaign in South Africa.
After the off-field activities were conducted, it was time for cricket to take center stage, and it did so with a memorable opening clash, which mirrored the IPL's first-ever contest, 15 years ago.
On that note, let’s take a look at three positives for women's cricket from the inaugural WPL 2023 match.
#1 Excellent turnout and reception by the fans at the venue
The opening match of the WPL saw an excellent turnout at the DY Patil Stadium, and could not be separated from the one that came to witness the action during IPL 2022. Apart from the numbers, the crowd made a vocal presence throughout the course of the contest, whether it be Harmanpreet Kaur's pyrotechnics or MI bowlers' carnage in the second innings.
According to reports, tickets for the upcoming clash between the Mumbai Indians and the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have already been sold out, which shows the importance of an existing fanbase as well as the potential women's cricket has in its grasp.
The BCCI has also announced that entry for women will be free across all matches in the tournament, which proves to be a huge incentive, especially for younger girls to watch the action and potentially get inspired to take up the sport.
#2 Representation of female match officials at the highest level
One of the several takeaways from the contest, apart from the high-octane action, was the presence of umpire Vrinda Rathi. Apart from her, match referee GS Lakshmi also made her presence felt.
Vrinda made her Ranji Trophy debut alongside Janani Narayanan and Gayatri Venugopalan in the recently concluded 2022-23 season. She was a scorer for the BCCI at the 2013 Women's World Cup after clearing the scorer's exam. Later on, the 32-year-old moved to umpiring and is currently in the developmental panel of ICC umpires.
Barring a comedic instance involving a wide at the fag end of the contest, the umpire did a near-perfect job in the outing. MI successfully reviewed the decision to overturn the wide delivery, an instance which drew smiles and laughs all around, including the umpire herself.
#3 Relatively unknown players announcing their arrival
While the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Nat Sciver-Burner claimed the headlines with their performances in the first innings, other relatively unknown players also made their presence felt in the inaugural clash.
Tanuja Kanwar, 25, earned the tag of being the first bowler to claim a wicket in WPL history. The left-arm spinner, who has represented the India 'A' Women's team in the past, dismissed Yastika Bhatia in the second over.
Fellow left-arm spinner Saika Ishaque was arguably the star with the ball for MI. The 27-year-old, having been a member of the Trailblazers and India 'A' Women's team, claimed figures of 4-11 and dismantled GG's middle-order to seal MI's mammoth win.
More such players who are under the radar are expected to emerge out of the WPL's first season, which is arguably one of the biggest positives that the competition could offer.
Will the inaugural WPL lead to bigger things for women's cricket in the near future? Let us know what you think.