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‘Cannot wait forever’ – Mithali Raj wants women’s IPL from 2021

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Mithali Raj, Indian Women’s ODI captain, believes the BCCI should not “wait forever” to organise the women’s IPL, and wants the inaugural tournament to be held in 2021. Raj, currently the most experienced player in women’s cricket, said that the women’s IPL could initially be on a “smaller scale”.

“I personally feel they should start a women’s IPL by next year, even if it’s on a slightly smaller scale and with some changes in rules, such as, say, have five to six foreign players in the first edition instead of four as is the case with the men’s IPL,” Raj told ESPNcricinfo in an extensive chat.

Raj is the second formidable voice in Indian cricket to urge the BCCI to start the women’s IPL soon. Soon after India lost to Australia in the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup last month, Sunil Gavaskar had said it made “sense” to start the women’s IPL because that would only “earn” more young talent that could make India Women win global titles.

The BCCI acknowledged the growing popularity of women’s T20Is and had scheduled to have a four-team contest in this year’s Women’s T20 Challenge with seven matches compared to last year’s four. These were to run parallel to the men’s IPL playoffs, but the tournament has now been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly had said that a full-fledged women’s IPL was at least “four years away” when he took charge last October, mainly because India’s talent pool was thin.

Raj agreed with Ganguly but like Gavaskar, she believed that a women’s IPL would only boost the numbers. She also suggested some of the existing IPL franchises could own teams to facilitate the women’s tournament. “I agree we don’t have the depth in the domestic pool yet, but the key is to get the existing franchises to form teams, even if [only] five or six of them are keen to begin the process because in any case, the BCCI was going to have four teams [in the Women’s T20 Challenge].

“You cannot wait forever; you have to begin at some point, and gradually, year by year, you can keep evolving the league and then bring it down to four foreign players.”

To emphasise her point, Raj gave the example of 16-year-old sensation Shafali Verma, who was one of the most impressive batters in the recent T20 World Cup. Raj had led Verma at Velocity in last year’s Women’s T20 Challenge which the Haryana teenager used as a springboard to get the India cap in September later in 2019.

Raj said Verma was the “biggest takeaway” for India from the T20 World Cup and deserved a chance in ODIs too. “It’s not a bad idea to consider her for the ODIs. She is young but that should not be a criterion for not giving her opportunities in the ODI side.”

“Appalled at such news” – on sexual harassment allegations against Atul Bedade

Among the various topics Raj spoke about during the interview, she also weighed in on the sexual harassment allegations against former India batsman Atul Bedade, who was recently suspended as head coach of Baroda Women.

“It’s too early for me or anyone to comment on the matter or come to a conclusion until the truth is established,” Raj said. “It would not be right on my part or anyone else’s to judge someone based on an article, but as a woman athlete, I am surprised and appalled at such news emerging because when there’s so much progress taking place in cricket and other sports in terms of empowering women, when the administrators, the athletes, many of you in the media – we all are trying to get women’s sports up to a level, these things make you wonder ‘what is happening?'”

The full interview will be published on The Cricket Monthly on March 27.



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Pandemic halts Australian cricket’s wedding season

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Since time immemorial, April has been wedding season for Australia’s cricketers, after the end of the season and before winter’s chill takes full effect.

This year, however, the tally of delayed weddings provides yet another measure of the toll of the COVID19 pandemic, as best-laid plans are put off indefinitely, or at least until the end of next summer.

No fewer than eight Cricket Australia or state contracted players have chosen to delay their nuptials due to strict restrictions on public gatherings, which in Australia limit the size of weddings to five people in total – the two participants, the pastor or celebrant, and their witnesses.

Australian men’s wrist spinner Adam Zampa and women’s left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen are among the group, while Jackson Bird, Mitchell Swepson, Andrew Tye, D’Arcy Short, Katelyn Fryett and Alister McDermott are the others. All had scheduled their weddings for April or thereabouts, forcing postponements until such a time as they can enjoy their big days as originally planned.

There are others not in quite the same company, having recently become engaged and now in planning for weddings to take place at a yet to be decided date. These include Glenn Maxwell and Pat Cummins, who said that he would now be far more involved in wedding plans on account of not having any cricket immediately in front of him.

“First of all it means that I’ll have to be more involved with the plans because I am around more, which is good,” Cummins said. “No we’re lucky. Obviously just got engaged, so hopefully most of this would have blown over by the time our wedding comes around.

“I really feel for a couple of close mates here like Adam Zampa who had to delay their weddings. It’s really tough times. So nothing’s hopefully changed too much from our point of view with that. Obviously bigger things at play.”

Cummins’ fiancee Becky Boston is English, and he said his heart went out to all cricketers and families experiencing an even greater interruption than those to wedding plans – that of the start of the northern summer cricket season. He also noted the awful scenes in Italy and Spain, where coronavirus has taken a much harsher toll than that experienced so far in Australia.

“It’s awful seeing things like – Italy and Spain, but now America and the UK in recent days – it’s just crazy how quickly it’s developed,” Cummins said. “Obviously got a lot of family over in England at the moment, speaking to them regularly – first of all making sure they’re staying indoors. But they’re all- it just seems like what we’re doing here but on an even more intense scale.

“They’re really staying at home, trying to do all the right things. It’s obviously moving so quickly, so I think we’re scheduled to go over there in June I think it is. It’s still 3 months away, just have to wait and see. I know no call has been made on that either way, but I guess unless things improve, I can’t really see many tournaments going on anywhere in the world for a little while.

“So just sit back and wait. Obviously wish everyone in England the best, especially from a cricketer’s point of view, speaking to a few close mates who play county cricket over there – they’ve gone through the whole pre-season and geared up for the start of their summer and they’re staring down the barrel of potentially their whole summer of cricket being over. So obviously the health risk is a big one, but those guys basically have to put their careers on hold.”

Other nations, too, have seen wedding plans interrupted. In South Africa, the marriage of Lizelle Lee and Tanja Cronje was slated for April 10, but is now on hold.



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New Zealand: Men’s tours ‘most unlikely’, women won’t go to Sri Lanka

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced New Zealand Cricket to cancel the national women’s tour of Sri Lanka scheduled for later this month, while the long men’s team tour of Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and the West Indies in June-July appears “most unlikely”.

“Clearly, this situation is extremely disappointing for everyone involved in sport,” David White, NZC’s chief executive, said. “Given the bigger picture, and the terrible toll COVID-19 is taking worldwide, we need to look after not only our own people but the greater community good. Cricket in New Zealand has been fortunate in that we were very much at the end of our home summer programme when this crisis struck.”

There are also obvious question marks over the men’s tour of Bangladesh and their ‘A’ tour of India in August, but White said that it was too early to comment on them.

In measures to prevent a downsizing of the workforce and to ensure there are no pay cuts, NZC is also applying for the government wage-subsidy scheme. This helps support employers adversely affected by the pandemic so that they continue paying their staff during the lockdown.

“With the lockdown now in full force, we’re mindful of the difficulties facing our cricket community,” White said. “Our current focus is very much on ensuring the future sustainability of cricket in New Zealand.”

NZC to adopt four-day working week

NZC staff and management have agreed to exhaust their leave entitlements over the remainder of the financial year ending July 31 by switching to a four-day working week.

“We take our duty of care as an employer seriously and, at this juncture, want to avoid any changes to our employee headcount or remuneration levels,” White said. “However, we’ll continue to closely monitor the effects on the wider cricket family.”

NZC plans to be work closely with the stakeholders over the next few months to explore various feasible scenarios for the upcoming season. White said, “Although the future is uncertain, we’re determined to be well-prepared for whatever opportunities arise.”



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IPL payday in limbo, Cummins eyes Australian summer

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Pat Cummins‘ AU$3.17 million contract with Kolkata Knight Riders may be enough reason for him to want this year’s IPL to go ahead. But the Australian vice-captain has admitted that international cricket should take priority over the world’s richest domestic league should health and travel restrictions from the COVID19 pandemic be relaxed in time to allow the calendar to resume later this year.

Australia is due to host the men’s Twenty20 World Cup in October and November, before a lucrative Indian tour that follows. Cricket Australia (CA) have reportedly drawn up scenarios for the 2020-21 season that feature losses of 25%, 50% or 100% of projected revenue, while also seeking a $200 million line of credit from banks to be used if required.

These plans suggest not only the possibility of Cummins’ IPL deal being placed on hold by global events, but also a significant pay reduction for the players under their revenue share model with CA.

“There are so many scenarios. It always seems to change. I guess the lucky thing is we have time on our hands here in Australia with cricket,” Cummins said. “The World Cup is still six months away, at least seven months away, and the big Indian tour is still 8-9 months away. So lots of things can change. Imminently, obviously the IPL, the Bangladesh tour and the one-dayers over in England are the ones that we are probably more focused on at the moment.

“I guess the lucky thing is, coming off so much cricket, we feel like it won’t take too long to get up to speed again. So just trying to tick things over at the moment. Yeah, be really open-minded that things might change and they might change pretty quickly so just being aware of it, I think this year’s going to look very different to what we’ve seen before.

“Obviously, we got some word through last week about contracts to say with so many unknowns, the CA are just going to delay that by a couple of weeks than what they’d normally do. It was three years ago that in our MOU negotiations players wanted to make it clear that we wanted to be partners in the game, and sharing in the upsides and exactly the same as in moments like these. We’ll take some of that pain if things don’t quite go right.”

As for how the crammed intentional calendar can be adjusted for the time being lost, Cummins was clear that something would likely have to give. Though he has plenty of desire to fulfill his IPL deal, Cummins said the T20 World Cup and looming Test series towards the back end of the world championship would need to take priority.

“The T20 World Cup is something we’ve spoken about for the best part of two or three years,” he said. “Here in Australia to play a home World Cup, we know the ODI World Cup in 2015, that was absolutely a career highlight for me and I wasn’t even playing. I’d love to see that go ahead. That’s the big tournament this year for international cricket.

“I’d love for that to happen in a perfect world and if I was to be really greedy, I’d love for the IPL to happen as well. But just wait and see…Test cricket, that’s the pinnacle for cricket. Hopefully we can play as much of that as possible but there’s so many more much bigger things at play. It’s all out of our hands.”

“In our MOU negotiations, players wanted to be partners in the game. So we’ll take some of that pain (even if it means paycuts) if things don’t quite go right.”

Pat Cummins

Cummins has maintained daily contact with Knight Riders as all IPL clubs wait for further clarification after the tournament was initially delayed until April 15 by the BCCI. That decision predated a national state of lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus, with strict international travel restrictions also imposed.

“They obviously haven’t cancelled it or anything like that yet. It’s still a bit of a holding pattern, so we’re in contact with our teams every few days,” Cummins said. “And obviously everyone is still really keen for it to go ahead, but the priority is to minimise risk of it spreading and everything else.

“Everybody is still really confident and hopeful it’ll be played at some stage. But obviously it’s going to be pretty tight, I think the [Indian] travel ban is in place until April 14 so I don’t expect anything too soon to happen. I mean obviously the preference would be to be over there playing, but I think the silver lining is we do get a bit of a break.

“We’re lucky in cricket, that it’s right at the end of the season. We’ve played basically our whole season out, except for the last couple of games, and we’re always looking for those small breaks to refresh. So at the moment we’re just trying to – that’s been the emphasis from the coaches and the staff, this is kind of our rest period anyway – if we weren’t going to IPL.

“So just trying to have a bit of a refresher at the moment then obviously we’ll play it by ear in terms of what’s ahead. But it almost feels like the start of an off-season at the moment, albeit we’re all training by ourselves at home rather than going to the team gym.”



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