LONDON – Former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss forecast on Wednesday that the Indian Premier League would eclipse the United States’ National Football League to become “the biggest domestic sporting event in the world” as he praised it for sparking one of the sport’s “great steps forward”.
He also said the recent creation of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) would accelerate the growth of the female game in spectacular fashion.
A highly lucrative franchise T20 event, backed by wealthy business figures and entertainment stars, the IPL has also led to the creation of similar competitions, such as Australia’s Big Bash and the Caribbean Premier League.
In the process, players on the global T20 circuit earn a good living without having to represent their countries.
This has led to fears about the future of international cricket, in particular five-day Tests.
But Strauss said issues of “overkill” had existed before the advent of the IPL in 2008 and were still evident at international and county levels.
Strauss, delivering the Cowdrey lecture at Lord’s, urged his audience to embrace the IPL despite fears the game had “sold its soul”.
“As the Indian economy grows, it is expected that, by the time it reaches parity with the size of the USA in 2040, the value of the IPL is likely to be six times what it is today – this is going to be the biggest domestic sporting tournament in the world, bar none,” Strauss said.
“If you allow yourself to keep bound up in the thesis that the purpose of the game is to bring diverse people together, whether playing or watching, and to allow cricket to educate and connect, then surely the rise of franchise cricket is one of the great steps forward.“
Turning to the new five-team WPL, Strauss said it would accelerate the growth of women’s cricket.
“Women’s cricket is truly standing on its own two feet and is likely to be in the top three sports for earning potential for any young girl with talent and an ambition to play sport professionally,” the 45-year-old former opener said.
India women’s captain Harmanpreet Kaur called the league a “game changer” for women’s cricket in the country, building on the growing enthusiasm for the female game among Indian fans.
That enthusiasm was evident in the home T20 Series against Australia in December, which the tourists won 4-1.
The opener at the DY Patil Stadium drew over 25,000 spectators, while more than 47,000 turned up for the second match at the same venue on the outskirts of Mumbai.
Although Australia are the dominant force in women’s cricket, India already have a solid base and won the inaugural Under-19 T20 World Cup in South Africa on Sunday.
“It’s just the beginning,” skipper Shafali Verma said, after they beat England in the final in Potchefstroom. “Women’s cricket may not become more popular than men’s cricket in India, but we certainly can hope to match them.”