As the Women’s Premier League (WPL) kicks off in Mumbai on Saturday, with Gujarat Giants and Mumbai Indians battling it out in the first game, it heralds new beginnings for many.
For Delhi Capitals batsman Sneha Deepthi, mother of a two-year-old, who is 26, it is an opportunity to return to professional sport. Then there’s Royal Challengers Bangalore’s bat girl Poonam Khimnar, 28, who remembers the opposition she faced from her parents for following cricket.
There’s also Australia legend and Delhi Capitals captain Meg Lanning, 32, who stepped away from the game after leading her team to gold at the Commonwealth Games in August last year. She spent her time traveling and even worked in a café, “making coffee and washing dishes”. She led Australia to the Women’s T20 World title last month – her fifth World Cup triumph, four in T20s and one in ODIs.
The 30-year-old will be played by Nat Skiver Bronte, from England, who recently took a break to “focus on her mental health and well-being” for the Mumbai Indians. She came back from her break as vice-captain of England for the T20 World Cup and finished as runner-up in the tournament.
These women are among the nearly 100 Indian and foreign players representing five franchise teams, with a combined net worth of Rs 4,670 crore, in an IPL-like league that has a broadcasting deal of Rs 951 crore.
Mumbai Indians captain Harmanpreet Kaur predicted that the WPL, from March 4-26, would change people’s lives and raise the bar for the game in the country. “We’ll also get some good talent and I’m sure the gap between the Indian and Australian sides will narrow,” said Kaur, who played a heroic stroke in India’s narrow semi-final loss to Australia in the World T20 Championship last month. .
“We’ve been slamming doors in for far too long… WPL is going to change a lot for women’s cricket. You’ll find many superstars coming out of it,” said Delhi chief batswoman Jemima Rodriguez, one of the 10 Indian women with deals worth more than crores.
There were a few parents who helped open the doors, too. In Rohtak from Haryana, Shafali Verma’s parents cut off her hair so that she can pose as a boy and play local tournaments. Chafali went on to become the youngest player, male or female, to play in India. Under her leadership, India won the U-19 Women’s World Cup.
At Delhi Capitals, Sneha may be the opening partner for Shafali, who made her debut in India in 2013 alongside Smriti Mandana, the league’s highest earner and RCB captain. Sneha’s cricket career never quite took off, and she got married at the age of 22. She has now successfully returned to the domestic circuit, has secured a WPL contract worth Rs 30 lakh, and wants to don India’s colors again.
In an emotional video posted on the Delhi Capitals website, Sneha talks about the anxiety of leaving her daughter at home. I started crying when I was leaving. I wondered if I should go at all. It was very hard for me, but my husband told me to go ahead… Minutes after I entered my hotel room, I called my husband to ask about it… In Telugu, she said, ‘baaga aadu’, which means ‘play well there'” she says in the video.
For some players, WPL is a time to remember – and lose – loved ones they are no longer with. “I cannot repeat how much I miss him,” Sneh Rana, 29, vice-captain of Gujarat Giants, said of her late father, even as she spoke of her family’s enthusiasm for her.
Team India and UP Warriorz teammate Devika Vaidya said she decided to give up the sport at the age of 21, when she lost her mother in 2019. The Covid-19 lockdown made her rethink her future. “I realized that my mom is always there — whether I’m playing, not playing, crying, laughing, winning matches — she’s always with me. Now that I accept that fact, it’s easier for me to deal with it.
Another Indian player, Renuka Singh Thakur, who works with Royal Challengers Bangalore, has a tattoo of a father playing with his daughter, which she inked in memory of her father, Kehar Singh Thakur, who passed away in 1999. “I inked this tattoo using the first salary I received from a game. Cricket. I missed him at every step of my life, whether it was my first day of school, my first state game, or my first international.”