How Mandira, Chak De! India Sowed The Seeds Of Women’s Premier League Years Ago

The Big W for Women is here and it’s here to stay!
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Players during a match between Delhbi Capitals and Mumbai Indians (Source: Women's Premier League website)</p></div>
Players during a match between Delhbi Capitals and Mumbai Indians (Source: Women's Premier League website)

It's nearly two weeks since the long-awaited Women’s Premier League finally kicked off. The first game between the Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Giants was historic, but history was made before a single ball was bowled.

Jan. 25, 2023 and the numbers Rs 4,670 crore, $572 million are figures we have seen in multiple articles already—a historic valuation for an exclusive Women’s T20 cricket league. The fact that women’s cricket is where it is, is the result of doggedness on the part of the women to make it happen for themselves.

Former India Captain Diana Edulji once narrated a famous incident of a former cricket administrator who said "If I had my way, I wouldn’t let women’s cricket happen.”

Fast forward to March 4, the day of the first game, when Mandira Bedi hosted the first-ever opening ceremony. This was a full-circle moment in its own right. Bedi broke barriers in her own way when she became the first woman with no sporting background to host a prime-time cricket show in India.

But women's cricket and its fan base love her for another reason. In the early 2000s, the Indian women’s cricket team was not under the remit of the BCCI yet. Operating under the Women’s Cricket Association Of India, it didn’t have the glitz and glamour it now attracts. And the players played major tournaments with little to no resources.

Mandira Bedi went to the Brabourne Stadium when India played New Zealand and was invited by the team for a chat. Getting to know how the management was surviving tour to tour and how people were willing to put up their houses for sale and break their savings to make this happen, Mandira decided to do an ad for a jewelry brand, waiving her fee and asking the brand to sponsor the women's cricket team instead.

'Mandira, This One Is For You'

Recently, I watched the Netflix docu-series “The Romantics,” a tribute to the journey of Yashraj Productions in India. While it was a lovely ode to Indian cinema, one scene that stood out for me was an incident narrated by Jaideep Sahni, the writer of one of India’s best sports movies “Chak De! India.”  

India had just won a major women’s hockey tournament and Jaideep spotted this in a tiny newspaper article. He says until this point he didn’t even know India had a women’s hockey team. While researching, he was so appalled at the state of affairs of the team that he went to everyone he knew to come on board as sponsors, but got little or no response. He eventually made his now cult film and its theme song went on to become an anthem for Indian fans across sports.

Off the field, showing a mirror to Indian hockey had a domino effect. That film helped improve Indian women’s hockey to the level where it is now through massive administrative changes.

Women’s cricket around this time was not too different. When the team went to South Africa for the World Cup, the difference in facilities for the top sides like England, Australia and New Zealand, and teams like India were drastic. The Indian team was given a dormitory to share and not even a fan. It took the intervention of then secretary of WCAI Shubangi Kulkarni and Team Manager Trupti Bhattacharya to take it up with the governing body ICC to get them one fan per double sharing room.

As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The women finished second in the table ahead of giants like England and New Zealand and played the final against the mighty Aussies and lost, but domino #2 had fallen.

The women came back home to a massive felicitation ceremony and the WCAI had convinced the BCCI that there is merit in the women’s game and thus the merging of the boards happened.

Shubangi Kulkarni is still a successful cricket administrator continuing to further the game for her peers and Trupti Bhattacharya is now a team manager for the Mumbai Indians Women team in the WPL.

'Shubangi And Trupti: This One Is For You'

Building on these foundations, over the last decade Indian women’s cricket has started seeing success :

  • Regulars in the knockout stages of the World Cups (across formats)

  • Silver medalists at the Commonwealth Games

  • Massive impact on and off the field in global leagues like “The Hundred” (England) and the Big Bash League (Australia).

  • A great core of players that have become bankable names on and off the field

It’s like the men’s cricket era of the mid-2000s — excellent players, terrific potential - needing that one mega event to elevate the game to the next level and bring us a major tournament win.

In Comes The WPL

As a fan, you feel this is the long-awaited moment that will propel Indian women’s cricket to its full potential.

The tournament has all the right building blocks that, if handled well, will help key stakeholders to soar:

Viewership is on the up: In the recent T20 World Cup game between India and Pakistan, the average minute audience reached 28 million. This is a 91% increase, making it the second most-watched women’s T20 game ever, behind only the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020.

The next big star is here: Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur are the two bona fide megastars validated by their auction prices, but as a stakeholder you are already looking to build around the next generation. Players like Jemimah Rodrigues, 19-year-olds Shafali Varma or Richa Ghosh who are emerging superstars with massive potential.

The Ravindra Jadeja X Shane Warne formula: Franchise cricket has taught us that a young player improves by association with stars on and off the field. Take for example 16-year-old Indian cricketer Parshavi Chopra who represented India in the U-19 World Cup. Her captain is Australian icon Allysa Healy. This could be the WPL equivalent of Jadeja and Warne.

Legacy: The representation of legacy franchises like the Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bengaluru, and Delhi Capitals was vital for the brand to capitalise on an existing fan base. The second new franchises Gujarat Giants and UP Warriorz are owned by seasoned sports investors who own successful franchises in Kabbadi amongst other sports.

The first round of games has shown us that there is going to be backing from teams, broadcasters and administrators to add to the IPL and make another mega money league in India. In one of the recent matches, the commentary team asked Indian bowler Saika Ishaque of Mumbai Indians if she expected her returns after she had just picked up the Purple cap for the leading wicket taker :

"Mai bowler hoon toh wicket lene hi aayi hoon” (I’m a bowler and I’m here to take wickets) she said nonchalantly, believing in herself just like her peers and predecessors did.

The Big W for Women is here and it’s here to stay!

Sai Adithya is a sports professional and works as a content and strategy consultant for Mavens 360.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.


Sai Adithya is a sports professional and works as a con...more
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