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Women's Premier League auction set to send women's T20 cricket into new stratosphere

The trophy of the Women's T20 Challenge in India. (Twitter: IPL)

A new era dawns on women's cricket tonight.

No, we're not referring to the T20 World Cup in Cape Town. Instead, our attention has well and truly been captured by the inaugural Women's Premier League (WPL) auction happening more than 8,000 kilometres away in India.

From 8pm AEDT on Monday night, fans from all around the globe are set to tune in to the auction being held in Mumbai, where 409 players will go under the hammer.

More than 1,500 players applied to be shortlisted for the draft and 28 Australians made the cut.

However, some are expected to miss out, as there are 90 spots available across the five foundation teams – the Mumbai Indians, Delhi Capitals, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Gujarat Giants and Lucknow Warriors – and just 30 of these will be allocated to overseas players.

Each side is permitted to field up to four overseas players in their eleven and some may even field five if one of those players is from an associate nation.

But for the players that are selected, the money could be life changing.

More than $800 million was spent across the franchises to secure their teams, while the five-year broadcasting rights were sold to Viacom for $167 million.

Australia's entire 15-player T20 World Cup squad is on the WPL auction list. (Getty: Jan Kruger)

Six Australians – Ash Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning, Jess Jonassen and Darcie Brown – have entered themselves at the maximum reserve price for the equivalent of $86,500.

The six Australians in the next reserve down, worth $69,400, are Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Megan Schutt, Alana King, Phoebe Litchfield and Amanda-Jade Wellington.

The bulk of the Australian pack is priced at $52,000.

These hopefuls are Annabel Sutherland, Elyse Villani, Erin Burns, Nicola Carey, Lauren Cheatle, Sarah Coyte, Hannah Darlington, Grace Harris, Heather Graham, Georgia Wareham, Stella Campbell, Holly Ferling, Kim Garth and Anesu Mushangwe.

Adelaide Strikers rookie and WBBL08 champion Mushangwe is actually a Zimbabwean cricketer, living in South Australia on a residency visa and endorsed by Cricket Australia to enter the draft.

Beth Mooney recently won her second Belinda Clark award at the 2023 Australia Cricket Awards. (AAP: Steven Markham)

And finally, the only two Australian players listed (other than Mushangwe) that have not been internationally capped, are Laura Harris and Tess Flintoff, who will be up for grabs at the base reserve price of $17,300.

As expected there has been plenty of debate over these players' worth and whether some of the talent has been entered correctly.

Speaking on the ABC's Beamsy and Britt podcast, former Australian legspinner Kristen Beams argued that Beth Mooney should have been bumped up into the top tier, while Brisbane Heat power hitter Laura Harris was likely to be one of the most in-demand players despite her base reserve price.

Laura Harris is well-known among WBBL fans as a hard-hitting batter. (Getty: Sarah Reed)

"Beth Mooney in the second tier, you've got to be kidding me," Beams said.

"She should be in the top tier. I don't know who is advising her, but Moons you should definitely be up there, I can't see how she would be anywhere but the top.

"The second one for me, is that I think Laura Harris is an absolute steal.

"Harris would be an incredibly good chance of not only getting picked up but being the player that multiple teams compete for.

"She's a real fit-for-purpose player, and having someone in that middle order that can score big runs off very few balls is going to be a real advantage.

"When you think about the prime players, most of them will be in the top three or four in the order, so I reckon there's a gap for a middle-order hitter and someone like Laura Harris could be the player that everyone needs."

Beamsy and Britt podcast - All you need to know about the WPL Auction

There was also some confusion surrounding who made the shortlist and who didn't, with some players in the twilight of their careers making the cut and other prominent WBBL stars missing out.

This suggests that international caps, fame and marketability seem to have been favoured, rather than genuine analysis regarding their recent performances or potential.

On this note, Beams alluded to the rushed nature of the inaugural season and said she suspected this will all be evened out by the coach's selections; particularly those that have intel on Australian players – such as Rachael Haynes and Charlotte Edwards.

Recently retired Australian vice-captain Haynes is expected to take a tactical approach to selecting her Gujarat Giants team. (AAP: Jeremy Ward)

"I feel like there's two parts to it," she said.

"In some ways, the actual operations of the WPL in this season are a little rushed, so I think that we see things have been thrown together quite quickly; there are some fast moving parts.

"I think what we'll see over the following years, is that the coaches or list managers of WPL teams will actually fly around and watch domestic competitions, so that they can identify players who would be in and around that $17,300 figure tier.

"They'll be looking for that little gem that you can find in a domestic competition that won't cost you a lot but can make all the difference to your side.

"Is marketability a part of it in this first year? Yeah absolutely. I don't think we should ever be surprised in T20 cricket when profile plays a key role.

"Whether those players picked based on that factor will go on to be selected is another question altogether, but I do think in creating a league, that you want it to create profile."

Sophie Devine expressed her concerns over players' mental welfare in the fallout of the upcoming WPL auction. (Getty: Sarah Reed)

The other interesting aspect of the WPL Auction is that it will be the first real time a monetary value is so publicly attached to a player's name.

New Zealand captain, Sophie Devine, had some concerns about that.

Speaking at the T20 World Cup captain's call ahead of the start of the tournament last week, she said:

"It's going to be awkward. Some people are going to get picked up, some won't, and you're going to get a value attached to what you're worth, which as human beings isn't the nicest thing, but it's also a job and it's what we've put our names in for."

Devine herself will be one of the players first off the rank, classed in the number one marquee category with the maximum reserve price, but she did make a good point about mental health and player welfare.

The priority of cricketers' mental health has been a big topic lately, after high profile players like Meg Lanning have needed to take a break from the game. (Getty Images: Alex Davidson)

As a director on the board of the Australian Cricketer's Association (ACA), Beams said they were very aware of their need to support disappointed players but that the extra scrutiny that would come with the profile of the WPL was part of the next step in the professionalisation of the women's game.

"The reality is that this happens anyway, but it usually just happens behind closed doors ... How much does Sophie Devine earn for playing WBBL, how much does Meg Lanning earn versus Alyssa Healy? These are things we're not privy to.

"I get it, no one wants the monetary value to take over what you mean as a human being, but at the same time, that's the next step in the professionalisation of the game.

"It's a really important moment to make sure that we have the right support around our players because there's a whole new mental aspect that comes with that kind of money at play, it'll lead to a whole lot more pressure and media scrutiny around performance."

You can watch the WPL Auction in Australia on Fox Sports or streaming service Yupp TV. The Beamsy and Britt podcast can be found here or via the ABC Listen app under the Best of ABC Sport feed.

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