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MEMORABLE LEAGUE STAGE PROMISES THRILLING GRAND FINALE FOR INAUGURAL WPL!

Everything that is first is considered special and remarkable and the inaugural season of the long-awaited WPL will go down as arguably one of the most remarkable events in cricketing history. The Delhi Capitals created history as they became the first finalists in the inaugural season of the Women’s Premier League when the league stage ended on Tuesday. The knockout stage will begin with the fancied Mumbai Indians and UP Warriorz locking horns in the Eliminator on Friday, March 24. The final day of league stage action had a lot at stake even though the three teams set to qualify for the playoffs were already confirmed. While Delhi Capitals (DC) and Mumbai Indians (MI) both won their final matches and notched up the same number of points, it was DC that went through to the finals with a higher net run rate.

The 20 games in the league stage provided a range of thrilling contests and superb individual performances. To begin with MI raced to an electrifying start as the Harmanpreet Kaur-led side won all of their first five games in convincing fashion. With Harman in top form, MI looked set to top the table.

But their shockingly onesided loss to DC and two defeats in a row showcased the glorious uncertainties of cricket. Mumbai Indians’ humiliating nine-wicket surrender to Delhi turned the tournament around on its head. While MI slipped up, DC and UP got into top gear. Both teams are captained by Aussie stars Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy.

But a major disappointment of the League has been RCB which was led by Smriti Mandhana who fetched the highest price in the WPL auction. They had a terrible start and Mandhana herself went through a horrible patch where she didn’t score a single 50 in the league. Royal Challengers lost their first 5 matches in a row and were the first team to be eliminated from the playoffs race.

The heartening factor has been the form of youngsters during the league stage. India’s under 19 captain, Shafali Verma, has been in excellent nick and has got a great opening partnership with Meg Lanning which has been a key to Delhi reaching the finals. Another young batter, the 20-year-old Kanika Ahuja, was the unexpected star in Royal Challengers’ maiden triumph after 5 losses in a row. She scored an attractive and aggressive 46 to help break RCB’s streak of five consecutive defeats in the WPL on 15 March as the Bengaluru side secured a hard-fought fivewicket win over UP Warriorz.

The other youngsters to shine bright were Yastika Bhatia who scored vital runs for Mumbai Indians and Harleen Deol for Gujarat Giants. Harleen had a top score of 67 in the league and is an allrounder too.

On the bowling side, Saika Ishaque of Mumbai Indians has been a great find. Her 12 wickets at an average of 8.58 runs in the first 5 games reflect her rapid rise in the WPL. A left arm-spinner from a humble background in Bengal, she took on a lot of responsibility and in all MI games, she bowled in the powerplay overs which is no easy task.

In terms of individual performances on the batting side, Meg Lanning with 310 runs tops the table. Sadly, there is no Indian among the top 5 scorers which has other international stars like Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Devine, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy. Not surprisingly, 6 of the top 10 batters are Australians. Among Indian girls, it’s Shafali Verma with 241 runs who has scored the maximum though her average of 34.42 is less than Harmanpreet who has scored 230 runs at an average of 46.00.

In the list of most wicket taking bowlers in WPL, Indian players figure much better. Sophie Ecclestone of UP Warriorz tops the table with 14 wickets while Kiwi leg-spinner Amelia Kerr is next. Among Indian girls, it is Saika Ishaque who tops with 13 wickets for Mumbai Indians and encouragingly, pacer Shikha Pandey and all-rounder Deepti Sharma are also among the Top Ten bowlers in the league stage.

It’s been a tournament with a large majority of games closely fought and there has been no dearth of individual heroics. The vibrant tone for the tournament was set in the opening match itself when Harmanpreet Kaur and Co put up an outstanding batting display to take Mumbai Indians to a huge 207/5 in 20 overs. The WPL has clearly captured the imagination of cricket fans across the globe. If the play-off games can sustain the quality and drama of the league stage, the Women’s Premier League is all set for a grand finale over the next few days!

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

SIDDHAARTH MAHAN The writer is a specialist on Sports and Cinema who works as an actor in the Hindi film industry

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