Work, learn, play: when the best in women’s T20 mix and mingle

India


Ten months on from that scintillating World Cup semi-final performance, Harmanpreet Kaur has satisfied one of her long-held desires: to bat alongside one of her “favourite players” – Australia captain Meg Lanning.

Ten months on from India fluffing their lines in a thrilling World Cup final, Smriti Mandhana‘s self-proclaimed “boring” teetotal habits has found her an admirer in England batsman Danielle Wyatt.

Ten months on from helping make either match-up possible for India at the World Cup, Veda Krishnamurthy has won over New Zealand allrounders Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine with “awesome chats”.

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Not for the first time has Harmanpreet, Mandhana or Krishnamurthy rubbed shoulders with non-India internationals; at the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia it’s been the norm since 2016. But for them – or any of their 17 India team-mates – to train at the Wankhede Stadium alongside ten top overseas players, to move to Bhangra numbers on team-bus rides, to discuss “life and cricket” during a welcome dinner at the iconic Taj hotel in Mumbai… Their journey these past few days has already become as momentous as their destination: the first ever Women’s T20 Challenge, set up as a double-header with the men’s IPL Qualifier 1.

“When I went to Big Bash, all of them used to ask, ‘When is IPL starting?’ and I had no answer for them,” Mandhana, one of the captains in the one-off exhibition match, recalls on the eve of game.

But now, as she prepares to lead Bates and her New Zealand team-mate Lea Tahuhu, Australian duo Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney, and England offspinner Danielle Hazell, Mandhana could possibly venture a tentative answer: not too long from now.

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Ten years ago, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy had been watching Brendon McCullum “start the IPL with a bang“, live at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Then part of an age-group New South Wales cricket tour, the now best friends will be facing off at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday.

“Looking at world figures for major sporting tournaments, the IPL’s right up there in terms of crowd numbers along with NFL and Superbowl,” Perry said after training with her team, the IPL Supernovas, at the Brabourne Stadium. “From a female perspective that’s what we want to do: bring in more fans to the game, people who like watching the women’s game, appreciate the skill and nuances of the game, and also get to have their own heroes in different teams.”

That, Perry believes, is the “real goal” for women’s cricket, and the match showcasing the best in women’s T20 at the IPL is a “huge landmark” in planning for the same.

For Healy, who jokes about having “a bit too much of a personality” for her Trailblazers captain Mandhana to handle, the camaraderie that has blossomed in the two days’ of interaction between players is as important.

“Obviously, going to the IPL and seeing all the boys learning off one another is really important for the game of cricket in general, and I don’t think women’s cricket has had that for very long,” Healy says. “There’s the Big Bash and [England’s] Kia Super League, but for us to be able to come over here and mingle with the Indian players especially and learn how to play better in their conditions, it’s only going to improve women’s cricket all around the world.”

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Suzie Bates is aware of the threats that await her in the future, both near and not so near. “I have played a lot of cricket against Jhulan Goswami, but over the past two days, I’ve had a few battles with [legspinner] Poonam Yadav in the nets. So [India T20I vice-captain] Smriti has already warned me the next time India play New Zealand, I’ll have to deal with a lot of overs from Poonam.’

While chuckling at the prospect, Bates takes a moment to emphasise how alive she is to the immediate challenges at hand, especially from her New Zealand team-mate allrounder Sophie Devine.

“They [Trailblazers] have really solid batting line-up. Meg Lanning, the way Danni Wyatt’s been batting, and Mithali Raj is a great ambassador for the game. I do enjoy having Sophie Devine in my team, but having her in the opposition is not going to be too much fun.”

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In the closing moments of the nets session at the Brabourne Stadium, Devine walks up to the India quick-bowling allrounder and her Supernovas team-mate Pooja Vastrakar. A brief, animated chat later, Vastrakar ends her session with a string of lofted strokes over an imaginary infield and a few flamboyant strokes down the ground.

Putting aside these obvious benefits of such young India internationals meeting and mixing with the best in the women’s game, there are more advantages to be had by the next tier of players too. One of the four back-up players for India’s forthcoming Asia Cup, young quick bowler Sukanya Parida, isn’t part of either squads for Tuesday’s match. That, however, she refuses to count as a missed opportunity. “Why should it when you can bowl in the nets with someone like Devine?”

And pick up tips on swinging the ball both ways, while you’re at it, of course.

“That’s the cool thing,” Devine says of her interactions with the Indian players. “You can learn things from people who may not belong to your own team. It’s two-way traffic and I think to be able to share the knowledge this way… that’s what grows the game.”



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