Smriti Mandhana tops women’s T20 league auction with Rs 3.4 cr

IT WAS a day when cricket became as much a lucrative career option for women as it is for men around the world. Monday’s player auction for the T20 Women’s Premier League (WPL) made top women cricketers millionaires overnight and brought hope for those on the fringe.

India’s left-handed opener Smriti Mandhana attracted the highest winning bid — Rs 3.4 crore — an amount higher than what was paid by IPL franchises for elite men’s cricketers like Ajinkya Rahane, Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan, England’s Adil Rashid and Australia’s Adam Zampa.

Mandhana later put the significance of the day in perspective. “Over the last 10 years, we have been watching auctions for men… It’s such a big movement for women’s cricket. I think this is history. I think the whole thing is exciting and I am saying it’s an exciting time ahead,” she said.

India captain Harmanpreet Kaur went for Rs 1.8 crore, while international stars such as Australians Ashleigh Gardner (Rs 3.2 crore), Ellyse Perry (Rs 1.7 crore), Beth Mooney (Rs 2 crore) and Meg Lanning (Rs 1.1 crore), and England’s Natalie Sciver-Brunt (Rs 3.2 crore), also went for big amounts.

There was a windfall in store, too, for Shafali Verma (Rs 2 crore), the captain of India’s victorious U-19 World Cup side, Jemimah Rodrigues (Rs 2.2 crore) and Richa Ghosh (Rs 1.9 crore).

For several of them, this was a reward for the hardship they endured to reach this level.

In 2013, Richa’s father had to take out a loan to buy her a bat before her U-19 trials. “Money was an issue. I didn’t know anyone in Kolkata, so I used to look for cheaper hotels where we would stay. Our daily routine was to leave the hotel at 7 am and come back in the evening. The ground was our home in Kolkata,” Richa’s father, Manabendra Ghosh, said.

Meanwhile, India pacer Pooja Vastrakar’s father has already put in place plans for the Rs 1.9 crore his daughter earned at the auction. Before leaving for the ongoing World T20 in South Africa, Pooja had bought him a Rs 15-lakh car. The 72-year-old wasn’t too pleased. “She wastes a lot of money. I want her to open a fixed deposit account with all the money,” Bandhan Ram said from Shahdol in West Bengal.

India was never thought to be short of talent in women’s cricket, but it needed a stage like the WPL to broaden the talent base and turn the country into a powerhouse. The recent Under-19 World Cup title has provided a peek into what is possible, and the WPL with its financial windfall is likely to give another shot in the arm to the process.

And although there are domestic leagues in other countries — like the Big Bash League in Australia and The Hundred in England — a full-fledged women’s league in India was always considered to be a game-changer. The five WPL franchises were bought for a total of Rs 466.9 crore and the television rights were sold for Rs 951 crore in a five-year deal. Only America’s basketball and soccer leagues for women have bigger broadcast deals.

The IPL, which has been running for the last 15 years, is the most high-profile and lucrative domestic league in the world with a window created especially for it in the international calendar. It is the yardstick with which every other league around the world measures itself, though the contest is only for second place. The WPL, too, is expected to have the same status in women’s cricket.

Most of the entities that have thrown their hat in the WPL ring own corresponding IPL teams as well, so will generate synergy and bring vital technical, managerial and financial knowhow to the women’s game. It will only benefit the WPL teams and players.

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