Bengaluru ready to jazz up women's cricket through WPL

Beth Mooney, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning, Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur pose with the WPL trophy BCCI

Grace Harris, the Australia and UP Warriorz batter, is on her fourth trip to India. She has barely seen anything beyond Mumbai's Marine Drive and the route along the expressway to the DY Patil Stadium. Bengaluru, which is hosting the second edition of WPL, is a welcome change.

Harris isn't the only one. Delhi Capitals captain Meg Lanning, a global superstar who scorched the international scene for 13 years, hadn't played any cricket in Bengaluru. On Thursday, the former Australia captain was at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium for the first time.

It's not like seasoned international players haven't been keen on playing elsewhere. Mumbai had until now been the go-to venue for women's cricket in recent years, because of logistical issues, Covid-19 pandemic, or crunched calendars. But with this year's WPL, the BCCI has finally extended the canvas with the tournament equally split - 11 games each - between Bengaluru and New Delhi.

"I have not been to Bangalore before, so it's nice to experience a new city," Lanning said at the inaugural press conference on Thursday. "I have personally thoroughly enjoyed it thus far and I know the other girls have as well.

"Like anywhere in India, they're cricket mad…love their cricket and support it extremely well and that will certainly play out as the games go here. I think it is great that the WPL is able to move around and be in different cities to expose the game to different fans and new fans, hopefully.

"I have only just sort of seen the stadium for the first time over the last couple of days, but it looks a pretty cool stadium. Hopefully, there are a lot of people here tomorrow night and throughout the tournament to experience the WPL. It is certainly a great spectacle."

Four of the five teams arrived in the city over ten days ago, camping at different hotels, and setting base at different training centers across the city. There have been no favours for even the supposed hosts, Royal Challengers Bangalore, who have had to at times travel an hour towards the outskirts to train at Just Cricket Academy near the international airport. That's because teams have been allotted training sessions equally at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Capitals trained at the Dravid-Padukone Centre of Excellence in north Bengaluru, while Mumbai Indians, the defending champions, preferred to practice at their private facility in Ghansoli in Navi Mumbai, where they trained on surfaces similar to the one they will encounter here. Mumbai were among the last to arrive, on Tuesday.

The vibe is picking up, and while it isn't anywhere close to what you get in Bengaluru, you'd expect the curiosity and interest to swell once the tournament kicks off. Unlike last year, where entry was only partially ticketed - women were allowed free entry - the entire tournament will be ticketed this year. The BCCI has ensured they've been priced economically to ensure bigger footfalls.

In comparison to IPL where ticket prices start in the range of INR 500 to 1000 and go north of INR 50,000, the prices for the WPL games are in the range of INR 100 to 499. The BCCI had initially opened just two stands at the Chinnaswamy for the first game, and while those stands got filled up quickly, they decided to open a few more later on.

The venue, though, was buzzing with finishing touches applied to the grand stage that is set to host Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan and his crew of actors for a glitzy opening ceremony.

The halogen lights put up across the seats were glittering in full glory, the sound system was blaring out music in full blast, the dance troupe was putting in their final touches at rehearsals, and the tournament branding splattered across the venue felt new and polished. Shahrukh Khan also rehearsed for a good two hours alongside other actors before walking over to each of the two teams, Capitals and Mumbai, who were practising in the backdrop.

The real buzz will perhaps be felt on Saturday when RCB open their campaign against UP Warriorz. Bengaluru has always been a cricket-crazy city, and their loyalty to RCB in the IPL is unparalleled. The one thing that's been missing though is women's cricket. That changes now, and Bengaluru as always is ready for it.