Will it happen? Will it not? Will it be a three-team competition? Or will we have an extra team compete this season?
That stage is done. The Women's T20 Challenge is FINALLY underway. The three teams from last year – Supernovas, Trailblazers and Velocity – led by the same captains in Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj respectively, will compete in the four-match competition that is set to be held at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. That is despite the chorus for a separate full-fledged competition for women, especially after their success in the last few years – be it in the Women’s World Cup in 2017 when they finished runners-up or met with the same fate in the T20 World Cup earlier this year.
Much the like the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Women’s T20 Challenge will be played in front of empty stadiums under a bio-secure environment. The strange or interesting thing, as you look at it, is that the players have spent more time being under quarantines – first in Mumbai and then in the UAE – than they would perhaps spend training and playing, given that it’s only once that each team plays the other before making the final.
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The competition itself has largely been in the shadows of the IPL for the last two years. But the news that sponsors have to separately bid for the Women’s T20 Challenge this year, the result of which saw Jio bag the title sponsorship, shows that the BCCI is slowly taking steps to give a different identity to the women’s competition. Having a standalone tournament for women is a tried, tested and successful model, given the way last two T20 World Cups have taken place, and the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) has been held.
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Moving focus to the players, a clash with the WBBL has meant that the cream of the overseas players miss out on the Indian tournament, because the signings for the Australian competition were almost towards the fag end with the dates for the Women’s T20 Challenge were announced. The absentees, as a result, were all of the Australian stars and most of England, South Africa and New Zealand, as are Stafanie Taylor and Hayley Matthews from West Indies. It’s to be noted that Australians are missing in action in the Women’s T20 Challenge for the second year running, given they missed the 2019 edition because of a dispute between Cricket Australia and the BCCI.
However, this has meant a lot of firsts in the Women’s T20 Challenge, right from the veteran Shashikala Siriwardene, who retired from international cricket after the T20 World Cup, 2020 to South Africa’s maiden participation via Ayabonga Khaka and Sune Luus to West Indies’ allrounder Deandra Dottin and a surprise pick in Thailand’s Natakkan Chantham. Apart from these, many young Indian players in Murali Anagha, Meghna Singh (late replacement for Mansi Joshi), Kashvee Gautam, Simran Dil Bahadur also get a look in.
Kaur’s Supernovas open the tournament facing Raj’s Velocity, who have a rough schedule as they face Trailblazers inside 24 hours. The 45 players, 12 overseas included, have a chance to kickstart preparations and put their hands up for what looks like a crucial next year for women’s cricket in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup, that was postponed to 2022, Women’s T20 World Cup and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham all in 2022. While the young Shafali Verma was a product of the Women’s T20 Challenge 2019, someone else has a chance to be so from the 2020 edition.
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Twitter on Monday (November 2) released special emojis that appear when someone tweets with #Harmanpreet, #Smriti, #Mithali or #WomensT20Challenge. For a competition that has largely gone unnoticed, such gestures are worth lauding.
About the venue, Sharjah has seen a lot of scores over 200 in the IPL. However, with the last IPL game scheduled to be held at the venue on Tuesday (November 3), it will be interesting to see how the track behaves for the four matches of the Women’s T20 Challenge. Will they be high-scoring matches? Will the track aid spin? Will batters have a gala time?