PUNE: Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune, which is hosting all the matches of the Women’s T20 Challenge tournament, also hosted 13 Indian Premier League encounters this year. The stadium, located on the outskirts of Pune, was inaugurated in 2012 by the then International Cricket Council (ICC) president Sharad Pawar. Since then, it has hosted 2 Tests, 7 ODIs, 3 T20Is and 44 IPL matches.
The difference between the crowds during the IPL matches and the Women’s T20 Challenge tournament at the stadium also exemplifies the chasm between men’s and women’s cricket in India.
In this season of the IPL, the BCCI mandated all the venues hosting the matches to sell only 50% of tickets in view of the COVID-19 which is still lingering. The same mandate applies to the Women’s T20 Challenge games as well.
While the Day-Night matches of the Women’s tournament are attracting around 1800-2000 people to the ground, the number of spectators plummeted drastically to just 700 on Tuesday during the day match between Velocity and Supernovas. Though the quality of cricket on display is first-rate, with all teams pulling out all the stops and competing fiercely, there are only a smattering of people to applaud it.
On the other hand, the star-studded IPL matches drew more than 15,000 spectators in every match against the curtailed capacity of 21,000. In fact, during the weekend, the stadium was invariably packed to the brim.
The BCCI and the MCA tried to bring in crowds by significantly reducing ticket prices for the Women’s T20 Challenge tournament, but the impact was little. For this tournament, the ticket prices are ranging from only Rs 100 to 300. In comparison, prices for the IPL matches were between Rs 800 and Rs 3000.
The popularity of women’s cricket in India is still in the nascent stage. The live broadcasting of matches and the media coverage for women’s matches have increased in the last few years but only a handful of women cricketers have truly become ‘stars’.
The BCCI is toying with the idea of starting Women’s IPL next year. If that materializes, it will give a massive boost to the popularity of women’s cricket as IPL comes with glitzy packaging, frenzied marketing and oodles of pizzazz. This will bring to the fore a lot of young women cricketers and their inspiring tales; just like the IPL has done for men. More importantly, it will lend the spotlight to an array of female cricketers and compel more people to watch women’s cricket.
Though one shouldn’t expect an overnight miracle, IPL for women will certainly be a significant step in popularising women’s cricket in India and will also ensure a better paycheck, along with more plaudits, for female cricketers.