In just three weeks, everything has changed. The popularity of the Women’s Premier League (WPL), both in India and across the globe, has demonstrated that the world is more than ready for the explosion of women’s cricket.
The WPL final epitomises all the qualities that have made this three-week long tournament quite so enrapturing. The Delhi Capitals and the Mumbai Indians have been the best sides throughout, boasting perhaps the two strongest line-ups of female cricketers assembled in the modern day.
The Capitals are led by Australian captain Meg Lanning, who is also the tournament’s leading run-scorer with 310 in eight innings, averaging 51.66 at a strike rate of 141.55. She partners explosive Indian 19-year-old Shafali Verma at the top of the order, who hit a brutal 76 off 28 balls against bottom side Gujarat Giants.
The Capitals also boast English prodigy Alice Capsey, who was the tournament’s 14th-highest scorer with the bat and 15th-highest wicket-taker at just 18. She joins veteran all-rounders Marizanne Kapp (South Africa) and Jess Jonassen (Australia) in the DC top six, alongside another young Indian star in Jemimah Rodrigues.
Thirty-three year old Indian bowler Shikha Pandey has been the Capitals’ highest wicket-taker, with ten in eight games putting her seventh among all players.
Yet none of the DC bowling attack compares to Mumbai, which houses four of the top five players with the ball, and five of the top ten. Previously unknown left-arm spinner Saika Ishaque could overtake England’s Sophie Ecclestone at the top of the rankings in the final, having picked up 15 wickets so far. That puts her just ahead of teammates Hayley Matthews and Amelia Kerr (both 13), as well as Issy Wong (12) and Natalie Sciver-Brunt (10).
How to watch the WPL final
The final will be available to view on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event from 2.50pm BST on Sunday 26 March.
Subscribers will also be able to stream the game using the NOW TV app and website.
Already well-known and hyped in England, 20-year-old Wong has propelled herself to the forefront of the cricketing conscience with some electric spells, including the tournament’s first and only hat-trick in the play-off. Mumbai had to face UP Warriorz for a place in the final, despite winning their first five games, while Delhi were given a bye having topped the league table.
Sciver-Brunt has been less of a surprise but no less of a star, leading the tournament’s MVP rankings due to some outstanding performances with both bat and ball. Her 72 not out from 38 balls in the play-off ensured Warriorz would never really get a chance to enter the chase.
The England all-rounder is joined by Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur and Australians Amelia Kerr and Grace Harris in a similarly exceptional starting XI to Delhi’s.
Indian fans will perhaps be disappointed by the underperformance of some of their domestic talent, including national team opener Smriti Mandhana, bowlers Deepti Sharma and Renuka Singh Thakur and all-rounder Richa Ghosh. Fifteen of the 20 Player of the Match awards went to the 40 overseas players, and just two Indians feature in the top ten run-scorers and wicket-takers.
Yet what it will provide is the financial backing and coaching support to transform Indian women’s cricket into a superpower akin to the recent Australian dominance. As more and more domestic players receive improved contracts year on year, the national game will only continue to grow.
With 50,000 fans expected to pack into a sold-out Brabourne stadium for this final, it is clear that the WPL has taken off in a similar vein to its male counterpart. As Australian bowler Megan Schutt wrote in The Guardian: “The other value of the WPL is equality. The WPL interview us the same way, hype us as much and cheer us as loud as the men’s competition.”
Of course, it wasn’t all perfect. The boundaries were clearly shorter than they should have been and some of the sides, as was to be expected for a first try, were imbalanced and poorly selected.
But it will be back next year, and for at least three years after that, with the five-year global broadcast deal coming in at nearly £700k per game. More teams will likely join along the way.
There’s no way back for the women’s game now.