Lisa Sthalekar feels the BCCI should have launched a full-fledged IPL-style women's league "probably yesterday". While the Indian board has been heading in the "right direction" vis-à-vis women's cricket, it has been "quite slow" to move on a women's IPL, Sthalekar stressed, and "the fact that the India contracted players don't know when they're playing next, that's a massive concern".
"The reason why Australian cricket has been going so well in the women's game is because we've invested in it." Sthalekar, former Australia captain and commentator, said during a digital workshop about women in news and sport. "I still remember the first year we [Women's Big Bash League] went to eight teams. We had only six teams in state cricket so we extended it by two."
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Much of the BCCI's reluctance to roll out an IPL-style women's league has historically been down to the perceived lack of depth in the domestic pool of players. While the WBBL, currently is in its sixth season, has gone from strength to strength and assumed standalone status last year, the Indian board is yet to expand the Women's T20 Challenge (WT20C), which began in 2018 as a one-off exhibition match and has since involved three teams contesting in a total of four games.
"I heard the argument in India that we don't have the depth - we [Australia] didn't think we had the depth at that time. Maybe things were a bit weaker to start with. Now look what's happening. More and more girls pick up bat and the ball. We're seeing quality teams where we're already in the 42nd match of the season and we don't know who's going to make the final. It says that you [have] got to take a bit of a gamble but when is the right time to do anything? Probably yesterday."
The Indian women's team, meanwhile, was expected to ride the wave of increased interest and viewership in the wake of a runners-up finish at the T20 World Cup in Australia earlier this year, and a four-team WT20C seemed to be on the cards. But the Covid-19 pandemic not only put paid to those plans, it led to cancellation of several bilateral series. As such, India have not played any international cricket since the T20 World Cup final against Australia on March 8 and could next take the field only early next year, if the proposed tour of Australia goes ahead.
"If we're going to talk about Alyssa Healy and Mitchell Starc, why can't we talk about Delissa Kimmince and Laura Harris? It should be part of the normal conversation"
"I think they (BCCI) are moving in the right direction but everyone's quite slow to actually form women's IPL, to provide enough matches," Sthalekar said. "I know the pandemic and what the situation is like in India, but the fact that the India contracted players don't know when they're playing next, that's a massive concern. They've just played a T20 World Cup final. They're going to fall behind. I feel they're the biggest untapped market and if they get it right the Indian women are going to dominate."
Innovations at the BBL - 'I'm not a fan'
The latest Big Bash League innovations - Power Surge, X-Factor and Bash Boost - have divided opinion sharply, and Sthalekar was clear that she was "not a fan" of them, and highlighted that the women's game did not need any such innovations.
"I don't think we need to be so innovative. I've just come back from the IPL [after a commentary stint]. We had a double-Super Over, we had a weekend full of Super Overs. I mean, you're going to get one-sided affairs every now and then. The T20 game was to purely bring in a new audience, predominantly younger families and females, let's be honest. Now you're bringing in all these rules. Why are we making it more complicated than what it needs to be? I'm not a fan," she argued. "As for the WBBL, we're starting to see big enough scores. As long as the pitches and the decks have pace and bounce, we are going to see decent scores.
"The Women's T20 challenge, unfortunately it was a short turnaround and had low, slow wickets, hardly those girls training and it wasn't the best advertisement for the game. I think in the WBBL, we've got it right. We can probably change rules slightly but they won't change it because they keep the rules similar to international cricket, which I think is the right thing to do."
Why can't we talk about Kimmince and Harris?
At ESPNcricinfo, we have been discussing the subject of same-sex relationships in cricket, and the fact that women cricketers have traditionally been more comfortable coming out when compared to their male counterparts. Sthalekar stressed that the conversation around homosexuality needed to be normalised within the sport, much more than has been the case.
"There certainly seems to be more acceptance in women's sport to be comfortable sharing that. Again, I think Australia's leading the way. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done around the world. It needs to be seen as okay," she said. "If you watch the coverage, we don't make a big deal out of it. It is what it is, and we just move on.
"We talk about it because if we're going to talk about Alyssa Healy and Mitchell Starc why can't we talk about Delissa Kimmince and Laura Harris? It should be part of the normal conversation."
Lisa Sthalekar was speaking at Women in News and Sport digital workshop, funded by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade