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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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Rachel Priest loses New Zealand central contract

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Rachel Priest has been omitted from New Zealand’s central contract list, while keeper-batter Natalie Dodd and seamer Jess Kerr have been awarded their first deals.

Priest, 34, won back her national contract last year after impressing for Western Storm in the Kia Super League and Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash, having been dropped by former head coach Haidee Tiffin after the 2017 World Cup in England, who cited fitness issues for her omission.

ALSO READ: Rachel Priest travels and plays cricket everywhere (but it’s not her choice)

But after a return of 60 runs in four T20 World Cup innings and no half-centuries since her recall, she has not been offered a contract for the 2020-21 season.

Priest’s fellow keeper-batter Bernadine Bezuidenhout has also made way, after being left out of the T20 World Cup squad, with Dodd – who debuted in 2010 and last played international cricket in 2018 – winning her first full deal following a year on a development contract.

Kerr, whose younger sister Amelia has been a New Zealand regular for nearly four years, has also been offered a national contract for the first time on the back of her tournament-record 20 wickets in last season’s Super Smash, which helped Wellington Blaze to the title. She was part of the squad for the T20 World Cup, playing in New Zealand’s opening game against Sri Lanka.

Bob Carter, New Zealand’s head coach, said that Kerr and Dodd’s contracts were “an acknowledgement of hard work and perseverance”.

“I’m happy the majority of our group can remain stable as we look for continual improvement and application from our players,” Carter said. “We have an experienced core of White Ferns and want to ensure our younger, less experienced players have the chance to learn from them over the next 12 months.”

New Zealand contract list, 2020-21: Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, Natalie Dodd, Lauren Down, Maddy Green, Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Leigh Kasperek, Amelia Kerr, Jess Kerr, Rosemary Mair, Katey Martin, Katie Perkins, Anna Peterson, Hannah Rowe, Amy Satterthwaite, Lea Tahuhu.



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South Africa cricketers could resume training next week after government nod

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Subject to government approval, South Africa’s national and franchise cricketers could be back in training from next week, and may be involved in an exhibition event at the end of the month. The country moved to Level 3 of the five-stage lockdown today, which allows non-contact professional sports training and matches to take place, after consultation and approval from the sports ministry.

That means national sporting bodies are required to present the ministry with their return-to-train and return-to-play protocols which should include details around social distancing. Cricket South Africa (CSA) hope to submit their plans this week, with a view to resuming training next week.

In its first stage, the return-to-training plan will see franchise cricketers training at their home grounds, in accordance with set guidelines. That includes a prohibition on the use of saliva on the ball as well as regulations around the use of changing rooms – which will not be allowed – and the number of players and support staff who will train at the same time.

ALSO READ: South Africa’s June tour of Sri Lanka postponed

At a later stage, CSA will look into whether it is possible to obtain permits to allow for players to travel across provincial borders for camps and eventually matches. Currently, South Africans cannot move between provinces for any reason other than a funeral or the transportation of children between parents or to schools and even those trips require a permit. Inter-provincial travel will be allowed at Level 2 of the lockdown, but there is no indication of when that will be.

However, CSA still hope to be able to put on some live action at the end of June. An insider told ESPNcricinfo that the plan is to put on “something which we have not seen before,” which rules out a T20 festival or any other kind of franchise competition. CSA intend to reveal more in the next few weeks.

South Africa are not in a rush to return to training or playing as they enter the winter period. Their next assignment is a two-Test and five-match T20 series in West Indies in July-August, which is set to be postponed with West Indies due to be in England until the end of July. CSA and Cricket West Indies remain in talks about when to schedule the series and are considering all options, including playing it in South Africa later in the year.

South Africa are also due to host India for three T20s at the end of August and are looking at creating a bio-secure bubble for the series, which will take place behind closed doors. That series is particularly important for CSA finances, as it will help bolster their bank balance, amid forecasted losses of R645 million (approx. US $36.9 million) over the next four years. With South Africa’s Covid-19 cases expected to peak around July, it is possible the India series will have to take place later in the summer but CSA are confident it can happen before the end of the financial year in February 2021.



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Kagiso Rabada – My wicket celebrations stem from ‘passion’

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Kagiso Rabada believes that his enthusiastic wicket-taking celebrations, which have led him to fall foul of the ICC’s code of conduct several times, stem from “passion”, but he has suggested he is looking for ways to express himself differently. Speaking from lockdown, Rabada indicated he has been using some of his time to consult with mentors after what he called a “disappointing” past summer.

“It’s passion, but everyone has their opinion and they are entitled to their own opinion,” Rabada said. “I have identified things that I needed to identify and I will address them with the people that are closest to me and who I feel should be helping me address it.”

Who those people are, Rabada did not get into, but it’s likely at least one of them is his father Dr Mpho Rabada, who is involved in everything from supporting his son from the sidelines to getting his musical side-hustle. Rabada senior released a single in February, the day before Rabada played what would be his last game for South Africa – a T20I against Australia – before cricket came to a worldwide standstill. A groin strain ruled him out of the subsequent ODI series and South Africa’s aborted series in India, leaving him to reflect on the season as a tough one.

“The past season was a disappointment,” Rabada said. “Even though I see that my stats are okay, I just felt really rusty and a bit out of place.”

The 2019-20 season, in which South Africa lost Test series away to India and at home against England, was Rabada’s leanest to date in the longest format. He played six Tests, and took 21 wickets at 32.85 – it was the first time he had finished a season with an average above 30. He would have played a seventh Test but was suspended from South Africa’s final fixture against England in Johannesburg after picking up a demerit point for screaming in Joe Root’s face after dismissing him in Port Elizabeth. Rabada already had three other points to his name, thus forcing him to spend a Test on the bench.

It was not the first time Rabada had been forced out of a match because of a code-of-conduct breach. In July 2017, he had to miss the second Test against England at Trent Bridge and in March 2018 he was due to sit out both the third and fourth Tests against Australia after a shoulder brush with Steve Smith but CSA hired a top-level advocate to head up Rabada’s appeal.

Rabada’s transgression was downgraded from a Level 2 offence to a Level 1 violation, but he acknowledged he needed to change his behaviour. However, Faf du Plessis, until recently the Test captain, has consistently said South Africa don’t want Rabada to lose his aggression. South Africa’s coaching staff have echoed du Plessis’ thoughts, but voices from abroad, notably the commentator Michael Holding, who shares a close relationship with Rabada, have taken the counter approach and hoped Rabada reins himself in.

Rabada is careful not to read to much into outside opinion. “Everyone will always criticise you in some way. It’s important that you don’t take what people say to heart,” Rabada said. “You will always have a lot of critics. Not everyone will agree with what you do. As long as you are true to yourself you can grow. What other people say about you shouldn’t affect you at all.”

The insular nature of the lockdown period means that Rabada has had more than enough time to shut out the noise, fully recover from his groin niggle, and even branch out into non-cricket-related projects. “I am really glad I can get a rest, not in the way that it has come but I am really enjoying my time,” he said. “It’s allowed me to think about what I really want and makes it easier to set goals.”

Together with this friend Cameron Scott, Rabada has started a podcast called The Viral Wellness, which aims to raise awareness about issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic. The pair have also worked on creating a Healthy at Home handbook, to help people cope with the challenge of being under lockdown. Rabada is also looking at ways to help those who are in need of financial assistance at this time. “A lot of people in the country are economically challenged,” he said.” “South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, so it’s good to lend a helping hand, especially now.”



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