Mumbai thrash Gujarat as Bollywood sprinkles stardust on WPL opener

Mumbai Indians' Isabelle Wong (L) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Gujarat Giants' Ashleigh Gardner during the 2023 Women's Premier League (WPL) match between Gujarat Giants and Mumbai Indians at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on March 4, 2023AFP

Mumbai Indians thrashed Gujarat Giants by 143 runs in the opening match of the inaugural Women’s Premier League at a packed house in Mumbai on Saturday.

The tournament witnessed a star-studded musical performance by Bollywood actors amid thundering cheers by fans gathered for the first-ever cricket franchise league in what experts have billed a game-changing moment for women’s sport.

The WPL has earned India’s cricket board a shade under $700 million in franchise and media rights, making it the second-most valuable domestic women’s sport competition globally after US professional basketball.

Mumbai Indians' and Gujarat Giants' players greet each other at the end of their WPL match

Batting first, Mumbai Indians skipper Harmanpreet Kaur smashed 14 fours in her 65 off 30 balls to take her team to 207 for five in 20 overs before her bowlers sent Gujarat Giants reeling to a paltry 64 for nine in 15.1 overs.

“We kept things simple and clear. Told players to play natural,” player-of-the-match Kaur said at the post-match ceremony.

“Obviously it’s a big day for women’s cricket but it was all about backing yourself.”

Mumbai Indians' captain Harmanpreet Kaur plays a shot

Giants batsman Dayalan Hemalatha top scored for her team with an unbeaten 29 off 23 balls, with two sixes and one four.

Tail-ender Monica Patel was the second highest scorer with 10 before Mumbai bowler Saika Ishaque clean bowled her to seal victory.

Ishaque returned figures of 4-11 in 3.1 overs. Nat Sciver-Brunt and Amelia Kerr took two wickets each and Issy Wong bagged one for seven runs.

Three Giants batters fell without scoring, while skipper Beth Mooney retired hurt also on nought after she injured her left knee in the first over.

Mooney injured

The Australian was immediately attended by medics on the pitch and later taken off the field and driven away in a waiting ambulance.

Gujarat Giants' captain Beth Mooney (C) walks back to the pavilion after getting a cramp

Earlier, Mumbai began the campaign in style with opener Hayley Matthews from the West Indies smashing four sixes and three fours to score 47 off 31 balls after Mooney won the toss and elected to field.

New Zealander Amelia Kerr remained unbeaten on 45 off 24 balls, with six fours and one six.

Giants spinner Sneh Rana picked up two crucial wickets for 43, including Kaur’s, with Georgia Wareham, Tanuja Kanwar and Ashleigh Gardner bagging one each.

The WPL has found a boisterous support base in the cricket-mad nation and generated hundreds of millions of dollars even before the first ball was bowled on Saturday.

The five-team franchise league has been designed on the lines of cash-rich popular men’s Indian Premier League.

Teenage fan Anshu Singh told AFP from the stands that she was excited at the prospect of a successful women’s tournament to match the lucrative IPL in the years ahead.

“We are very grateful to see women playing cricket at a very big level,” she added.

Excited fans wearing Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Giants jerseys lined up outside the stadium and chanted team slogans hours before the match began.

Bollywood stars dazzle

Bollywood stars Kiara Advani and Kriti Sanon opened the new league in front of a jubilant crowd that nearly packed out a 55,000-capacity stadium in India’s business hub Mumbai.

Bollywood actress Kiara Advani performs during the opening ceremony of 2023 Women's Premier League

Some players will earn more for the three-week tournament than they normally would in an entire year and Kaur said the league would benefit both cricketers and the sport.

“The young girls who have not got enough chances, for them it is a great platform where they can express themselves,” she told reporters on Friday.

James Savage of the Deloitte Sports Business Group told AFP this week that the WPL was an unprecedented investment that reflected the “huge growth potential” of women’s cricket.