Women’s IPL is not going to happen in another two or three years or even five years. And, there are reasons.
The second ODI between Australia and India in Mackay recently had a controversial end. By now, everyone knows Jhulan Goswami bowled a waist-high no-ball, which was supposed to be the last ball of the match. But, when the no-ball was called eventually, in a total moment of madness, Australia still needed two runs from one ball. All three results were possible. If Australia didn't get a run, India would win. If they get one run, the match will be tied and a super over will follow. And if they get two or more runs, Australia will win. Two of those three outcomes would've been satisfactory for India.
Nicola Carey nudges Jhulan's delivery expertly right between mid-wicket and mid-on. But there are no fielders in those two positions. There's a square leg and there’s a cow corner, which is basically a fielder between deep mid-wicket and long-on. Jemimah Rodrigues runs to the ball, collects it, and throws it back to Jhulan. By the time the ball arrives at the non-striker's end, the Aussie girls run two.
Now, if you look at the shot which Carey played, it was quite beautifully placed towards a region where there was one fielder. It was timed well enough to make sure she can get back and run two. There wasn't an attempt to pick a gap and get a boundary. That is because she was aiming to run two. She knew she could easily do that if she barely managed to get the ball past the 25-yard circle. She along with her partner Beth Mooney, by this point, had run two's eight times in the last four overs. Twice before in that same over. Yes, you read that right.
In the last five overs, Australia needed 46 runs. They got all those runs with just two fours. Now, if you rewind to that last ball of their innings, you will see a field setting that will baffle you. With two needed from the last ball, the only way India would have won or tied was if they got a dot or restrict Australia to a single. Yet, Mithali Raj set a field with cow corner, deep mid-wicket, square leg. On the leg side, in front of the square, there was one fielder inside the circle. Elementary mistake.
All Carey had to do was not hit the square leg fielder and obviously, she wasn't going to do that after being caught there just a ball ago. All she needed to do is get it outside the circle and possibly she knows there isn't a single Indian fielder who can run quickly and get shy at the stumps. The ideal scenario for India in that situation would’ve been if India had all their fielders inside the circle. Carey was anyway not going over the top and in a situation like this, she wouldn't have. But, that is a gamble you take in the last ball of the match.
Now, one can say Mithali got it wrong. Maybe, it was the chaos of that moment. Remember, the Indian players had already started celebrating when they were told that it was a no-ball. It is not easy to go from that to know the match is not over and you have not ended Australia's 25-match winning streak. It takes a lot of nerves and experience to keep your head calm at that moment. Mithali is an experienced player and so is Jhulan. But neither of these two players have got in such a pressure situation like this in quite some time where they are defending.
If you just go and watch the last 10 overs of both the teams in that game, you will understand, these two teams are playing two different sports. There is one team that plays a T20 league with a double round-robin format with top-level professionals in the game. The other team doesn't get a game for a year after making it to the final of the T20 World Cup. Against most other teams, this Indian team can look world-class, but it is when they come against Australia, England, New Zealand, and lately South Africa, there is a difference noticed.
Let's come straight to the point, out of those four countries, Australia and England have a women's league. New Zealand has a T20 competition while the current South African women's team is probably the best cricket team they have in the country. It is also not surprising that the Indian team has now lost the ODI series against three of those four countries in the past six months.
As soon as the Indian team lost this heart-breaking game in Mackay after doing so much right for most of the game, Twitter cried for a Women's Indian Premier League. Now, you can say that the BCCI or the richest board in the cricket world is not interested in that. But, that is a lazy explanation. It is easy to point fingers at Sourav Ganguly, Jay Shah, and others, but there's no point. Women's IPL is not going to happen in another two or three years or even five years. Let me explain.
How do the BBL and the Hundred work?
Cricket Australia launched the Women’s Big Bash League in the 2015–16 season. Eight teams were revealed, the same teams which had been taking part in the Men's Big Bash League since the 2011–12 season. It is easier for CA to launch a women's league compared to the BCCI. Not because there is a market in Australia. There is one in India as well, but who are going to be the teams?
By now, you may know that in both Australia and now in England, for a men's team in the league, there is a women's team as well. There's a Sydney Sixers men's and women's team and likewise, there is a men's and women's team of London Spirits. But, the BCCI can't just show up and ask Mumbai Indians to make a women's team.
Unlike BCCI's IPL, Big Bash League and the Hundred doesn't have teams that are owned by an individual or a company. CA and the state cricket boards own and run the teams in the BBL while England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) runs the teams in the Hundred as a representation of some county clubs. Reports suggest that ECB and CA are not looking for a private investor to buy the teams.
Challenges with Women’s IPL teams
Now, if the BCCI were to go and have a women's IPL, there are two ways to get the teams sorted and both have their own challenges. One, they could go and ask the existing stakeholders to have a women's team. Now that means, the board would want to get some extra fees from the owners to have a women's team as well.
Now, think about this from a business point of view, the Kolkata Knight Riders owners are doing just fine with the men's team. To have a women's team, they need to pay an extra fee to the BCCI, hire staff to manage the team, and spend money on everything else. Basically, massive investments which might not get them immediate returns.
This will mean that the number of profits and investment ratio for running a franchise each year will definitely go down. For instance, if they are spending about 50 crores to manage a men's team and getting 100 crores out of it, now they would need to spend extra 25 crores for getting an extra profit of say 30 crores. That doesn't sound like a great business deal, does it?
Now, the second solution for the BCCI is to sell the women's franchise teams separately. But the issue with that is quite simple; In a space that is consumed by running the men's cricket commercially, a league for women’s will find it difficult to chunk money as simply as the man’s sport. Think about it, the IPL was a gamble of several millions of rupees.
There was no assurity whether it would earn back all the money and make some on its way. But, it did. The investment of $25 million in 2007 for the IPL looked quite small when it became worth $4.1 billion by 2010. The success of the IPL is somewhere deeply rooted and symbiotically connected with the growth of the country as a commercial hub.
Existing madness of the riches, that is the men’s IPL
IPL is not successful because we have the best players playing, instead, it is the other way round. There are potentially a billion people watching and engaging with this league. This brings commercial opportunities. Each and every startup including Byjus, Cred, Zomato, Swiggy, Coin Switch Kuber, and many others, who have got foreign investments coming, spent heavily on their marketing during the IPL.
Why do you think that the Cred ad with Rahul Dravid was released on the day of the opening game of IPL 2021? Why did Virat Kohli tweet about it on that evening? And, why did Rohit Sharma tweet about Venkatesh Prasad's cred ad? Why did Neeraj Chopra's ad released on the day when IPL 2021 resumed? If you think all of these events are not part of a giant marketing space that IPL has created, you haven't been paying close attention to how BCCI runs one of the biggest sports league in the world.
Now, if there was going to be a women's IPL, it would have to compete with the biggest sports league in the world, let alone the biggest cricket league. It would have to make a market for itself, in the existing madness of the riches, that is the men's IPL. Now, think about the BCCI, who manage to go to the market and put up six teams for sale. As an investor would you rather buy a team in the men's edition or women's? Being absolutely sure that you will make much more money if you had a men's team.
The fact that it could lead to us having two separate franchises in the same city is an issue as well. You can't make the fans connect with Kolkata Queens and Kolkata Knight Riders at the same time. You may succeed, but it is not a profitable deal. The business and working and everything else around it makes little to no sense.
The future isn’t too bright for Women’s IPL
Now, let's talk about what BCCI has done for the Women's IPL. They started a women's T20 challenge, barring the cost of it, with a record FOUR matches, with three teams. That was supposed to be expanded to a four-team tournament, a development that never happened due to the pandemic. BCCI President Sourav Ganguly said that it was not possible to have an eight-team tournament because of the lack of a talent pool in India. Guess what the excuse is going to be next year? They don't have enough pool for 10 teams.
If it was already going to be difficult for the BCCI to convince eight stakeholders to buy another separate team with very minimal returns, they made it more difficult for themselves by adding a couple more teams. If this doesn't suggest that the BCCI is not interested in having a women's T20 league, let me ask you why do they allow the women players to go for other leagues but not the men's? Doesn't that look odd?
This is the case because the men already have a great league where they can hone their skills, while BCCI knows and somewhere maybe feels guilty that it has created an atmosphere where it is almost impossible for them to have a women's T20 league. It is quite ironic that the men's IPL looks like the biggest roadblock in front of the women's IPL.
If the BCCI were to have an IPL for the women, it would have to bear all the cost of the initial phase which they are not ready to. CA could do that because they owned everything, it was an investment for them which could potentially make them a lot of money. And, ECB launched the men's and women's tournaments together which never put them in a place the BCCI is in terms of creating a league.
BCCI is fully aware that even if it succeeded in creating a women's league, there are issues that it will face. We might see a four-team Women's T20 challenge next year. But, even if we were to have a full-fledged women's IPL, where do you think we can fit in the calendar? For BCCI, the broadcasting money is possibly everything. They want to have enough (men's) cricket playing on TV and mobile screens all around the year. The only real space they found for a women's T20 competition was between two playoff games of the men's IPL.
The loss against Australia was heart-breaking in Mackay. Had the Indian team kept their nerves on that evening, they might have come home beating Australia's best-ever ODI team in their home conditions 2–1. But, that wasn't to be. It is the athleticism, tactics, and style of play that make them fall short. In six months, they will play in the World Cup.
They will surely make it to the top four but lose to Australia or England in the knockout stages like it has been the case for some time now. For once, it is not the players who can't win trophies, it's the failure of the world's richest cricket board to not risk some of the men's revenue into improving women's cricket. In the past, IPL's rise has been linked with the T20 leagues not working elsewhere. But, if you look closely, it is potentially stopping the growth of the women’s counterparts.