Remember the name: It’s IPL Women’s T20 Challenge

I’ve worked as a broadcaster with a number of foreign media houses, commentating on cricket. My stint usually begins with an uncomfortable conversation. I muster up the courage to ask those I’m working with to get my name right.

“Snay-haal?” they ask, their tongues heavy with Australian or English accents.

“Sné-hull”, I reply slowly, asking them to repeat after me a few times.

Getting names right is important to me; whether it’s me pronouncing player names when I have the mic in hand, or hearing my own. So I want to get another name straight.

Repeat after me: It’s the IPL Women’s T20 Challenge, not the Women’s IPL.

I’ve seen these two terms used interchangeably on social media. As the IPL Women’s T20 Challenge kicks off today, let’s talk a bit about why it’s important that we not confuse them.

The T20 Challenge is a commercial experiment in the guise of a cricket tournament. It started out with a one match, two-team affair. A last-ball thriller ensued, a positive initial result.

Last year it grew to three teams and four matches and this is what happened: Some great performances, high viewership numbers, unprecedented stadium attendances, a new star discovered and absorbing cricket overall. The experiment could not have hoped for better results. This year, it was announced that it would expand to four teams.

Then Covid hit, and we are back to three. The experiment is back to a stage it has already passed through.

The thing about experiments is, they can be seen as expendable. Indeed, there were reports that suggested that these Women’s exhibition matches would shut shop for a year. They proved unfounded, but the situation is not without precedent: In 2016, the Pro Kabaddi League experimented with a three team, women’s exhibition tournament. The overall response was positive, there were even talks of a full-fledged women’s League.

In 2017, the PKL expanded, but the women’s games went away.

The Women’s IPL is – as of now – a hypothesis. We don’t know when it will happen. We don’t know how many teams there will be. We don’t know whether it will be played alongside the men’s IPL or in a separate window. We don’t know if it will feature teams aligned to the existing IPL men’s teams. We don’t know, because it doesn’t exist yet. And this somewhat painful fact should be pointed out to anyone who confuses the two.

Sure, we should celebrate the fact that we’re playing the IPL Women’s T20 Challenge. Retweet the inspirational posts showing Mithali Raj giving a team talk. Amplify the endearing clips of overseas players showing off their Hindi skills. Drool over the prospect of Smriti Mandhana opening the batting with Deandra Dottin. Even without many of the top overseas players, and despite no play in the last six months, I’m confident of the quality of cricket that will be on show this week.

But we should always remember that the Women’s IPL does not exist yet. The talent is there: Shafali Verma, discovered in the last edition, went on to be the No. 1 ranked batter in the World nine months later. The belief is there: multiple high-profile players have spoken about how we can have a scaled down tournament, with four to six teams. But right now we don’t have a Women’s IPL. We have an experimental, poorer cousin.

The team names Trailblazers, Velocity, and Supernovas are nice. But let’s not get too invested in them, even if they’ve been around for three years now. They are placeholders.

I recently co-authored a report on women’s cricket in India, analysing the state of the sport in our country, and making recommendations. That report was based on a survey of more than 350 domestic women’s cricketers. When asked whether a future Women’s IPL should have teams aligned to the existing men’s franchises, the overwhelming majority said yes. But a significant minority said that there should be separate teams. I believe that this minority is wrong. The Women’s Big Bash has shown the advantages of having men’s and women’s teams aligned. The women’s Hundred is following suit. India cannot be left behind.

For the first time, an Indian women’s cricket property has an independent sponsor, with Jio securing the title rights for the tournament. Though the value of the deal remains undisclosed, the fact that it’s been made at all says something significant: Indian women’s cricket is a potential revenue earning property. A property that will give long term returns with the right investments in the next five years.

So as we enjoy the Women’s T20 Challenge, let’s muster up the courage to ask for the right version of it.

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