Speaking at a press conference ahead of the worldwide premiere of Beyond the Boundary, the ICC’s documentary on the 2020 women’s T20 World Cup, Australian cricketer-turned-commentator Lisa Sthalekar weighed in on many key questions around the women’s game: the postponement of the 2021 50-over World Cup, the dates’ clash between the WBBL and the Women’s T20 Challenge, and more.
On the 2021 women’s 50-over World Cup being deferred by a year, and 2022 possibly seeing three major events – the T20 World Cup, the ODI World Cup and the Commonwealth Games
As for the postponement, I was a little bit surprised, probably like everyone else given the fact that it was in New Zealand. I can understand the lack of cricket that teams would have had, but they would have all been on the same boat. We probably got to cast our mind back that we needed three qualifying teams come into the World Cup. The qualifying tournament, I think, was more the headache because they haven’t been able to play any cricket in the build-up to the qualifying tournament.
ALSO READ: What’s next for India women?
I can see both sides to it: [it is] really disappointing it wasn’t there; you felt that after the T20 World Cup final at the MCG, you needed another event within a 12-month period to recapture all of those people who fell in love with the game. But if you look at teams like, say, Ireland, or Bangladesh, or the USA, who are in the qualifiers – how much cricket have they had [recently]? A lot of them are in lockdown, a lot of them haven’t yet been able to get to a training centre to roll their arm over; they are all doing fitness in their own houses. I guess we all got to be fair, but no one knows how long this is going to go on for, so at some point, you don’t want to lose all of the momentum. At some point, everyone’s got to bite the bullet and make do with whatever we can get in the situation we’re put in.
“It is just this year that it’s really unfortunate and I can see the two sides of the coin: the disappointment of the international players not being part of the T20 Challenge who may be in the WBBL and I can also see it for the young Indian domestic cricketer wanting to mix with the Indian women’s side and see how they go under lights, in front of the camera, and try to start their career at the highest level”
As for the feasibility of the three major events, it’s going to be an interesting scheduling period – workload management for the players will be crucial. It’s a year you want to be a part of, don’t you? Two World Cups and a Commonwealth Games – that would never happen again in a cricket lifespan.
On the clash in the scheduling of the Women’s T20 Challenge and the WBBL
You’ve got to look at this situation as quite unique and different. The IPL [along the sidelines of which the T20 Challenge traditionally runs] is not supposed to be held at this time, so it wouldn’t normally clash. Having been part of and covered the T20 Challenge, the first game was two years ago, and it was played at 2pm in the Mumbai heat. Nobody watched it, no one came, no one was thinking about it – it was a one-off game. They got things right last year when they held it during the finals (the playoffs of the IPL); viewers of the IPL [in India] get habituated turning the TV on at 7pm, so when there was a break [during the playoffs], they put the women’s games on. The viewership [was high] as was the crowd attendance because it wasn’t in the heat of the day, so we got around 15,000 people attending in Jaipur. You can feel that the powers that be may have found a formula that works predominantly more for Indian domestic cricket at that time because all eyes are looking at the IPL; it’s the biggest vehicle for visibility. So I can understand why they wanted to continue to hold it [the T20 Challenge] during that window.
The unfortunate part is there’s already a WBBL competition taking place. They could have done two things: they could have gone with what they’re doing or the second thing is they could have bit the bullet and tried to find six or eight teams and hold it in December after the WBBL, potentially flying over the internationals. The issue for me is it [the T20 Challenge] is not necessarily the best product because you’re going to miss out on Australian players and potentially some international players [from other countries], so the product won’t be as good as it could be. But selfishly, from an Indian domestic point of view, it’s giving those players a chance to play more cricket and potentially opening up a few more nodes for players on the fringe, who might get a chance. And that will, hopefully, allow the BCCI to see there is enough depth for the board to have a full-fledged women’s IPL-style competition next year and then everyone can join in at the proper time, in April-May.
On the BCCI calling off the Indian women’s tour of England
Logistically, given where the pandemic is in India and some players being situated in big hotspots, the operational side of things would have been a little bit difficult. That being said, sometimes any amount of money can overcome that.
What I am pleased about is with the IPL being launched; for a period there was no talk about the women’s exhibition matches, which was really scary. Thankfully, there will be some matches, although the number of teams reduced from what was originally proposed. It’s important for the women’s game across the globe to domestically get their cricket up and running. It can’t just purely be about international players; if domestic competitions can plan a way to play some regular cricket, it means those [domestic-level] players are going to keep proving that the women’s game is still going in the right direction for the vast majority and not just the small minority.
On striking a balance between giving more Indian women players exposure and globalising the T20 Challenge
In this pandemic, you’ve just got to find ways to try and get cricket on the park. You’ve got to give players the opportunity to play. For instance, the WBBL will go ahead – the format, how long it is, I am not 100% sure, but they’ll get an opportunity to play. Domestic competitions are really important for the growth of women’s cricket, not just international cricket. So the fact that you’ve got the opportunity for these women’s exhibition matches [T20 Challenge], they’ve got to play it, they need to play it.
Given the amount of changes at the BCCI, with Saba Karim [general manager – cricket operations] no longer there, I am sure there was a feeling among the Indian players about who’s looking after us, what cricket is to come after the England tour, all of our staff at the BCCI is gone, and now what’s next? At least this gives them a chance to focus on what is I think an October camp, a series against Sri Lanka, the women’s T20 exhibition matches and then a series against the West Indies. At least there’s some cricket there for them to focus on and drive towards, which I think is very important right now.
“I hope people within the national boards are starting to find or think of ways to reinvent cricket. Remember, women’s cricket has always been a leader in that: we’ve always been willing to take on new rules, new conditions, to try and make sure the game keeps going in the right direction”
Once we are out of this pandemic, this is where the ICC and the Women’s Committee can come into it, the national boards should start to have separate windows for these domestic competitions. The great thing about women’s cricket is the calendar is not jam-packed; we have enough room to play international series and in other months domestic competitions to ensure that you get the best players there and the best product and keep growing the game. I genuinely believe we will get to that place whenever we get back to normality.
It is just this year that it’s really unfortunate and I can see the two sides of the coin: the disappointment of the international players not being part of the T20 Challenge who may be in the WBBL and I can also see it for the young Indian domestic cricketer wanting to mix with the Indian women’s side and see how they go under lights, in front of the camera, and try to start their career at the highest level.
On sustaining the women’s game in countries without a robust domestic structure
The ICC Women’s Championship gave structure to the other four teams that were playing one-day internationals. For instance, I never got to play against Sri Lanka or South Africa outside of the world Cup; that’s been one of the developments within the game because they’re now playing regular cricket. So the South African side is challenging the best teams in the world and even Sri Lanka, on their day, can beat a side they’re coming up against. There is a major concern about countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even South Africa to a certain extent because their domestic structure and competitions aren’t very strong.
Given we have had a fair bit of time during the pandemic and the lockdown, I hope people within the national boards are starting to find or think of ways to reinvent cricket. Remember, women’s cricket has always been a leader in that: we’ve always been willing to take on new rules, new conditions, to try and make sure the game keeps going in the right direction. So in the countries where there hasn’t been a proper domestic structure for the women’s game but a reasonably good structure for the men’s game, I’d like to think they have used these four months wisely for the women’s games. Do you do Super Fours or regionals or age-groups or mascots? This is where you need someone to be inventive and give them the license to do that. They need to do the work now otherwise all of this momentum would have been lost in this pandemic.