The inaugural edition of the Women's Premier League, India's top-flight domestic 20-over cricket tournament, got off to a rousing start last week. Many see the new league as a game-changer for women's cricket in a country that is mad about the game.
There were five franchises in the auction for the inaugural women's tournament, and they sold for a total of €534 million. The first five seasons of TV and digital rights were bought by Viacom 18 for €108 million.
That makes the WPL the second most expensive women's sports league in the world after the Women's National Basketball Association in the United States.
Indian international batter Smriti Mandhana negotiated a €390,000 contract as she joined Bangalore's Royal Challengers, while England all-rounder Nat Sciver-Brunt went to Mumbai Indians for nearly €360,000.
According to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) over 1,500 candidates registered for 90 playing places, including 30 reserved for internationals.
“In the past, Indian players had limited opportunities to play against international teams and were often overshadowed by their male counterparts. This tourney will help raise the profile of women's cricket globally,” cricketer Madan Kumar told RFI.
“The WPL has helped to level the playing field and provide equal opportunities for female cricketers in India.”
Just a few months ago, the WPL seemed to be a promise on paper.
However, the BCCI quickly got its act together and struck a massive media rights deal ensuring that investors came in to procure the five franchises.
Time to put women on the map
With a reported net worth of €2.5 billion, the BCCI is the richest cricketing board in the world. The directors decided it was important toi launch the WPL at a time of growing global interest in women's cricket.
“The league will give players from India and abroad a chance to learn and grow together. It will pave the way for development at the grassroots level with the inclusion of more women cricketers,” BCCI President Roger Binny said in a statement.
Many expect the WPL to give women's cricket a wider platform to draw in audiences and sponsors, and allow sportswomen to earn more.
The three-week tournament will involve 22 games, including 20 in the league stage and two knockout phases, all played in Mumbai for the first season.
The first game saw the Gujarat Giants playing the Mumbai Indians.
The three other franchises in the inaugural competition are the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the Delhi Capitals and the Utar Pradesh Warriorz.
The WPL is the successor to the Women's T20 Challenge, which ran between 2018 and 2022.
Road to recognition
That now-defunct competition was criticised for having only three teams and organising just four matches, with fans calling for a proper women's professional league to be launched.
Many other cricket-playing nations such as Australia and England have dominated women's cricket as their cricket boards invested in building a world-beating talent pipeline.
Australia, have won six of the eight Women's T20 World Cup titles so far contested.
Though women's cricket in India has won laurels in the past, it has not been able to make an impact when it mattered the most, especially during crunch matches.
The WPL could well catapult the sport into a new division, as well as drawing cricketers looking for a viable career choice.
"I think it's a gamechanger for all of us because we are going to experience this pressure for the first time,” said India captain Harmanpreet Kaur, after she was bought by Mumbai Indians.
“I am very excited. This will entirely change women's cricket, not only in India but in world cricket.”