BCCI set to launch five-team women's IPL in March 2023

The proposed plan involves a total of 22 matches, with a maximum of five overseas players in each XI

The long-awaited women’s IPL is set to become a reality next year with the BCCI planning a five-team tournament for March 2023, immediately after the Women’s T20 World Cup ends in South Africa on February 26.

The BCCI’s proposed plan involves a total of 22 matches, with each squad comprising 18 players with a maximum of six from overseas. No more than five overseas players can feature in a playing XI, with four from Full Member countries and one from an Associate nation.

As per the plan, which the BCCI sent on Thursday to state associations and which has been seen by ESPNcricinfo, each team will play the others twice during the league phase (20 matches), with the league topper heading straight to the final. The second finalist will be decided via an Eliminator between the second and third-ranked teams from the league phase. The BCCI is yet to finalise the schedule of the WIPL, but it will be wrapped up before the men’s IPL begins, which is likely to be at the end of March.

Whether the March window has been pencilled in for the long term remains to be seen, but the BCCI said in a paper on the WIPL that it has identified a “clear 25 days Women’s IPL window in the FTP cycle”. The inaugural WIPL is likely to clash with the inaugural season of the Women’s Pakistan Super League.

“It will be a challenge to play the WIPL in the home and away format, because with five to six teams it is not possible to have a match every day,” the BCCI said in its paper on the WIPL, which was sent to the states as part of the wider agenda for the board’s annual general meeting scheduled in Mumbai on October 18. “It is suggested that the tournament can be played in caravan style, where after finishing ten matches at one venue, the next ten matches to be played at the next venue. Therefore, ten matches each to be played across two venues in the 2023 WIPL season, ten each in the next two venues in the 2024 season, and for the 2025 season ten matches in the remaining one venue and the remaining ten in one of the venues from 2023 season.”

Where will the teams be from?
Unlike the Women’s T20 challenge, the precursor to the WIPL, where the teams were assembled randomly, the BCCI will sell the five franchises. However, unlike the men’s IPL, where franchises bid for teams in a particular city, the BCCI has chalked out two plans for the WIPL. The first one comprises selling teams across six zones spanning the country. A set of cities in each zone has been shortlisted and comprises: Dharamsala/Jammu (North zone), Pune/Rajkot (West), Indore/Nagpur/Raipur (Central), Ranchi/Cuttack (East), Kochi/Visakhapatnam (South) and Guwahati (North-East).

The second plan involves teams being sold but without a solid home base, with matches to be played at six shortlisted IPL venues: Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.

The BCCI will present the WIPL plan at the AGM next week but a final decision will be taken by the IPL Governing Council chairman – who that is will be decided at the upcoming AGM – along with the BCCI office bearers.

Exponential growth in participation – the reason behind WIPL
Women’s cricket in India became a big talking point ever since they reached the final of the ODI World Cup in 2017 at Lord’s, where they lost to England in front of a full house. In 2018, the BCCI launched the Women’s T20 Challenge, but it was restricted to just one match. Over the next three years, it expanded to a three-team competition. Voices across women’s cricket, both in India and globally, were critical of BCCI’s reluctance to launch a women’s IPL at the time.

The board and several state associations were originally concerned by the shallow player pool in women’s cricket, but those reservations have gradually receded now.

“With the rise in popularity of women’s cricket in the country mainly due to prominent performances by the Indian Senior Cricket team on world stage by qualifying for semi-finals in 2018 T20 World Cup, finals in 2020 T20 World Cup, securing silver medal in recently held 2022 Commonwealth games in Birmingham, we intend to conduct the Women’s IPL on similar lines with the Indian Premier League,” the BCCI said in its paper on WIPL.

The growth on the domestic front was massive with the paper listing “an overall increase of 111% in participation of players along various categories” in the eight-year period between 2014-22. A further breakdown listed the number increasing by 129% in the senior women’s category and a 92% increase in the Under-19 category.

The WIPL – and the proposed WPSL – will join the FairBreak Invitational, the Women’s Hundred, WCPL and WBBL as T20 leagues that bolster the popularity and growth of women’s cricket globally. The WIPL paper also noted that the BCCI had studied both the WBBL and the Women’s Hundred models before finalising its plan.

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