The women are ready for mini IPL

Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana will be in the spotlight as the tournament starts in Jaipur on Monday.

From left: Captains Mithali Raj (Velocity) Harmanpreet Kaur (Supernovas) and Smriti Mandhana (Traiblazers) at the press meet ahead of the BCCI's Women's T20 Challenge in Jaipur.   -  Rohit Jain Paras

Wearing the traditional Rajasthani headgear safa, the three women smiled into the cameras cheerfully.

Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana — easily among the world’s biggest stars in women’s cricket — spoke how much the BCCI’s Women’s T20 Challenge series meant to them.

Ahead of the four-match tournament that starts on Monday, Mithali, the highest scorer in international women’s cricket and the skipper of Velocity, said the series was a vast improvement from last year, when there was just one game. “It is a step ahead,” she said. “We have to begin with small steps. Maybe this could be a full-fledged league year.”

She added it was important for the players to perform well and make people come and watch the games. “Then it could encourage the BCCI or the franchises to come forward to start a proper league.

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“This offers an opportunity for our young players in domestic cricket to interact with some of the best in the world. When you get at least two games, you could field several youngsters, who could benefit from competing with overseas players,” she said.

Smriti, captain of Trailblazers, nodded in agreement. “It is also an ideal opportunity for seniors like us to play against our own younger players,” said the ICC’s No. 1 batter in the women’s game. “With the T20 World Cup just 10 months away, we could find out which players would perform well under pressure.”

Harmanpreet, Supernovas’ skipper and one of the world’s most destructive batters in women’s cricket, said she was pleased with the venue. “It has improved a lot since we last played here four or five years ago,” she said. “The wicket looked good for T20 cricket; we have seen teams making good scores in the IPL.”

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Apart from all the big names from Indian cricket, the series will also feature some of the finest players from the rest of the world. Stars from England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Bangladesh are here for the event, which concludes on May 11.

The Australian cricketers will be missing the action. They are not in the teams because of a communication breakdown between the BCCI and Cricket Australia, over a men’s ODI series, ironically enough.

“It is unfortunate that the Australian girls are not playing here,” said Mithali. “We would have loved to have them in this tournament.”