|Will the WBBL inspire girls across the world to take up sport? (photo courtesy cricket.com.au)|
When Cricket Australia announced in February that their women’s domestic T20 competition would be replaced by the new Women’s Big Bash League, they could not have timed the decision more perfectly. Little did they know it, but 2015 was about to become a groundbreaking year for Australian women’s sport. The Diamonds, their female netball team secured the World Championship, and the Opals, their women’s basketball team clinched their spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics. And then their women’s cricket team, the Southern Stars, emphatically won back the Ashes on English soil, with some ruthless, one-sided wins.
It meant that Cricket Australia could ride a wave of interest in women’s sport going in to the 2015-16 domestic season, as they launched the WBBL last weekend. And they made all the right moves to make sure that they cashed in. Arguably the biggest, was to align the WBBL teams with existing BBL teams, and thus raising the profile of their brand even before the product had started to take shape.
To do a quick number dance, the WBBL will encompass 59 matches, featuring eight teams, spread over 51 days, with games mostly organised around weekends. Each team can recruit five internationals, including not more than three overseas players. 21 international stars will be participating in the competition, from four countries: England, New Zealand, South Africa, and the West Indes. All players will be paid to play, with retainers in the range of AUD 3000 to 10000 (INR 1,46,000 to 4,86,000). Eight matches will be played as double headers with the BBL, and will be televised.
By ensuring that eight of the 59 games –including the final - will be televised on free-to-air television, Cricket Australia have secured mass viewership for their flagship domestic competition. The televised games will offer the players an exceptional opportunity to showcase their skills on the biggest stage, and could potentially be a game changing advertisement for women’s cricket world wide.
"There's no doubt Australia knows what it's doing when it comes to women's cricket," said England opening bowler Kate Cross according to the Cricket Australia website..
"We've got a stage to showcase our product and as you know we don't get a lot of airtime," she added. "I think it's something that's been needed, I think it's something that's been a long time coming and Australia's put it all together... it's going to be a great competition."
However, the WBBL has meant that the best of Aussie talent would be divided into eight teams, as opposed to the seven that play in their usual domestic competition. There were fears that this would dilute the talent pool further, and thus lower the standard of cricket played. This could also have been why some retired internationals have been coaxed into making returns to the WBBL, notably prominent commentator Lisa Sthalekar and star all-rounder Shelly Nitschke. But going by the first round of WBBL games, these fears seem to have been allayed. The influx of more than 20 of the best players from around the world has helped too.
One addition that could have made the WBBL even more attractive is the participation of Indian players. It was reported that the WBBL powers-that-be were keen on securing Indian participation, but like in the BBL, the BCCI seems to have given their financial bedfellows the cold shoulder. Especially with India women also due to tour Australia immediately after the WBBL concludes, it smacks of a golden opportunity missed. As England’s captain and Scorchers recruit Charlotte Edwards put it, "As an international cricketer you want to play in the best competitions in the world and I believe that is (one of those).”
If the first few games were anything to go by, the tournament promises some mouth-watering contests. Both Australian and overseas talent has shone through, and there have already been high scoring games, and a last ball cliff hanger. The scores have been at par with average scores in women’s T20 internationals. Crowd attendance at the matches has been healthy, and is likely to increase for the double headers. But the litmus test will be the viewership of the televised games. Yet, Cricket Australia’s Big Bash League boss Mike McKenna said, “To be perfectly honest, we're not that concerned about attendance figures.” He insists that the prime objective of the WBBL is to inspire more girls and young women to take up the game.
“Ever since the IPL started, people kept saying we should have a similar league for women,” said N. Niranjana, India women’s pace bowler . “Great that Australia have gone ahead with the WBBL after the BBL. It will inspire so many girls to take up the sport, not just in Australia, but around the world because of the presence of overseas players.”
“It’s also a great opportunity for the grass root talent to impress the selectors and the world, just like so many lesser known Indian players stood out in the IPL,” she added.
For many in India and the world, even the biggest stars of women’s cricket are lesser known than the least famous IPL player. Perhaps one reason, was because women’s cricket hitherto did not have a vehicle that was attractive enough –in substance and appearance- to drive into the imagination of viewers around the world. Thanks to the WBBL, that may soon change. When (not if) Meg Lanning and Stafanie Taylor do become household names, it is very likely that the WBBL will have played a big role in that happening.
The teams and players to watch:
ADELAIDE STRIKERS :
SOPHI DEVINE (NEW ZEALAND), SARAH TAYLOR (ENGLAND), SARAH COYTE.
BRISBANE HEAT :
HOLLY FERLING, JESS JONASSEN, GRACE HARRIS
HOBART HURRICANES :
HEATHER KNIGHT (ENGLAND), HALEY MATTHEWS (WEST INDES), AMY SATTERTHWAITE (NEW ZEALAND)
MELBOURNE RENEGADES :
DANNI WYATT (ENGLAND), RACHAEL PRIEST (NEW ZEALAND)
MELBOURNE STARS :
MEG LANNING, MIGNON DUPREEZ (SOUTH AFRICA), NATALIE SCIVER (ENGLAND)
PERTH SCORCHERS :
CHARLOTTE EDWARDS (ENGLAND), SUZIE BATES (NEW ZEALAND), NICOLE BOLTON.
SYDNEY SIXERS :
ELLYSE PERRY, LISA STHALEKAR, ALYSSA HEALY.
SYDNEY THUNDER :
ALEX BLACKWELL, STAFANIE TAYLOR.
This article first appeared on Firstpost.com