© Getty Images

Veda Krishnamurthy, who is the brand ambassador of Belagavi Panthers, will lead the President’s XI. © Getty Images

In a major shot in the arm for women’s cricket, the Karnataka State Cricket Association will host a first-ever Twenty20 exhibition match featuring the top cricketers of the state on September 23 in Hubli.

The game, to be played between a KSCA President’s XI and a KSCA Secretary’s XI before the final of the Karnataka Premier League 2017, will feature Veda Krishnamurthy and Rajeshwari Gayakwad, stars of the Women’s World Cup 2017, along with Karuna Jain and Vanitha VR, also India internationals.

Veda, who is the brand ambassador of Belagavi Panthers, will lead the President’s XI, which will be coached by Mamatha Maben, the former India allrounder. The Secretary’s XI will be captained by Rakshitha Krishnappa, the Karnataka Women captain.

KSCA President’s XI:
Veda Krishnamurthy (capt), Karuna Jain, Akansha Kohli, Prathyoosha Kumar, Sahana Pawar, Pushpa Kiresur, Soymya M Gowda, Vrinda Dinesh, Chandu V, Shreyanka Patil, Adishree Chengappa, Simren Henry, Anagha Murali.

Coach: Mamatha Maben

KSCA Secretary’s XI:
Rakshitha Krishnappa (capt), Divya Gnananand, Vanitha VR, Sanjana Batni, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Vandana Mahajan, Rameshwari Gayakwad, Prathysha C, Debosmitha Dutta, Shubha Satish, Monica Patel, Aditi Rajesh, Shishira Gowda.

Coach: Kalpana Venkatachar

Vinay Mruthyunjaya, a member of the KPL governing council who is also the KSCA spokesperson, said this was the start of something big, adding that from next year, there might be more active participation from women cricketers in the KPL.

“This is just the start,” Mruthyunjaya told Wisden India. “We are definitely going to see more of this in future, and I am sure going ahead in the KPL, we are going to see more women cricketers being involved.”

Women’s cricket has been in the limelight since India’s successful World Cup campaign, where they reached the final, falling short by nine runs in a nerve-wracking contest against England. Mruthyunjaya said the time was right to offer a platform for the state’s women cricketers to showcase their talent.

“The women’s team has been playing so well, has been playing competitive cricket,” said Mruthyunjaya. “They were in the finals of the World Cup, so we thought we would encourage them to play T20 at state level also.”

Shantha Rangaswamy, the former India captain and the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Women from the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and Kalpana Venkatachar, also a former India player, are the visionaries behind this initiative.

“Ms Rangaswamy and Kalpana are the two main architects in putting things together,” said Mruthyunjaya. “They have been coordinating with the players and will ensure everything will go on well.”

Rangaswamy said with women’s cricket heading in the right direction, events such as these were extremely important.

“We have constantly been at it, and everywhere people are asking this, but how many have managed to succeed?” asked Rangaswamy. “All of us, the secretary (R Sudhakar Rao) and the president (Sanjay M Desai) had a meeting and the KSCA were kind enough to oblige our request.

© BCCI

Shantha Rangaswamy said with women’s cricket heading in the right direction, events such as these were extremely important. © BCCI

“This is just a precursor because they wanted something to showcase women’s cricket. Hopefully, this will pave the way for a regular KPL for women next year.

“Players from other states don’t play in the KPL, but we can find enough players for 4-5 teams. I think we should start off, that is the only way we will grow.”

Before the World Cup final, Mithali Raj, the Indian skipper, had said, “There might be a lot of changes back home if we go on to win the World Cup. Maybe, you never know, a women’s IPL (Indian Premier League) might be in the pipeline.”

Backing Raj’s claims, Rangaswamy emphasised that India was ready for a Women’s IPL and that it was up to the BCCI to take a stance and help take the game forward.

“I think our Indian women are ready for IPL,” remarked Rangaswamy. “Let us not look at sponsorship, let us not look at money. Initially, there are going to be stumbling blocks, but I am positive we can form five-six teams in the IPL, call foreign players on the same model as IPL for men, and take it from there.

“That will be really good, because it will increase spectator interest and help in widening the base. It will attract more girls to take to the game, and that I think is the priority.”

Rangaswamy said India should draw inspiration from how various leagues around the world such as the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia, and the Women’s Super League in England are helping unearth local talents.

“Did you ever think 40 years back that Indian women were ready for the game of cricket?” asked Rangaswamy. “The Doubting Thomases will always be there, but what is needed is leadership at the top to take the game forward to a logical conclusion.

“Whether we are ready or not, only time will tell. We have enough spice, all that is needed is help from the sponsors, and help from the media. I am positive this will have more than the desired levels of success.”

Mruthyunjaya said the KSCA were hopeful of getting the event broadcast live. “We don’t know as yet,” he said. “We will try to get in touch with Star Sports (the official broadcasters of the KPL) and try to see if a part of this game at least can be covered live.”