Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How will the WBBL impact the world?

Will the WBBL inspire girls across the world to take up sport? (photo courtesy

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:









This article first appeared on       

Friday, 4 December 2015

WBBL 2015 Preview

This article first appeared in my column ''Seamstress" for Wisden India

Come 5th December, all eyes in the women’s cricket community and beyond will turn to the southern hemisphere. The first ever Women’s Big bash League, or WBBL, will blast off, taking domestic women’s cricket into a new dimension. Cricket Australia can already take a bow, even before a ball is bowled. Judging by the buzz the tournament has  generated on social media platforms, they seem to have laid the foundations to create the world’s most lucrative, most followed and most competitive female T20 domestic league. 

The tournament will feature the same eight teams as the BBL, as CA has aligned the women’s teams with the existing men’s clubs. Players from Australia’s women’s cricket team, the Southern Stars have been spread out across the eight teams, to ensure a well balanced competition. With teams allowed to sign up to three foreign recruits and a maximum of five internationals, a number of the biggest names in women’s cricket have jumped on board. Here’s a quick look at some of the high profile players in each team:

· Adelaide Strikers :
Sarah Coyte, Sophie Devine (New Zealand), Shelley Nitschke, Megan Schutt, Sarah Taylor (England)

The strikers broke new ground when they lured former southern stars all rounder Shelly Nitschke out of retirement. With more than 100 international caps under her belt, her experience will be invaluable to the likes of in-form wicket keeper Sarah Taylor. 

· Brisbane Heat:
Jessica Jonassen,  Jodie Fields, Holly Ferling, Delissa Kimmince, Kate Cross (England), Lauren Winfield (England).

The Heat will feature former Southern Stars captain Jodie Fields, along with current internationals Ferling and Kimmince. Englishwoman Kate Cross is likely to lead their strong pace bowling unit. 

· Hobart Hurricanes:
Julie Hunter, Heather Knight (England), Hayley Matthews (West Indies), Amy Satterthwaite (New Zealand)

The hurricanes will have serious strength to their batting unit, with all three internationals likely to feature in the top four.  With mostly home grown Tasmanian talent forming the rest of their squad, the expectations from the international stars will be high. 

· Melbourne Renegades
Sarah Elliott, Dane Van Niekerk (South Africa), Danielle Wyatt (England), Rachel Priest (New Zealand)

Their two international all-rounders are both spinners, and they will be relying on Priest’s experience behind the wickets to make a serious mark. The Renegades will be led by super mom and Aussie Test opener Sarah Elliot.

· Melbourne Stars:
 Meg Lanning, Mignon DuPreez (South Africa), Morna Nielsen (New Zealand), Natalie Sciver (England).

The stars snagged the big fish, Aussie skipper and precocious batter Meg Lanning. At just 23, she has already stamped her authority on the world game by claiming a number of batting records. Leading the stars, she will have the services of South Africa skipper DuPreez, and a host of local talent from a strong Victoria Spirit side. 

· Perth Scorchers:
 Nicole Bolton, Suzie Bates (New Zealand), Katherine Brunt (England), Deandra Dottin (West Indies), Charlotte Edwards (England), Elyse Villani. 

The Scorchers will unleash some serious firepower in their both departments, with White Fern skipper Suzie Bates likely to open the innings with the bat, and fast bowler Brunt with the ball. Bates will be replaced by Deandra Dottin when she will be unavailable due to international duties. They will also benefit from the vast experience of England skipper Edwards, although Nicole Bolton will lead the side. 

· Sydney Sixers:
Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry, Lisa Sthalekar, Marizanne Kapp (South Africa), Sara McGlashan (New Zealand), Laura Marsh (England)

The sixers will feature the services of the world’s best all-rounder and dual international Perry. They have also coaxed out of retirement Lisa Sthalekar, a legend in the women’s game, and now a prominent commentator.  Joining them is White Fern McGlashan, who recently collected her 200th international cap. Alyssa Healy , now the first choice keeper for Australia, will don the gloves. 

· Sydney Thunder:
 Alex Blackwell, Stafanie Taylor( West Indes), Rene Farrell, Erin Osborne.

With one international signing yet to be disclosed, the Thunder squad already looks good. Led by veteran batter Alex Blackwell, who is also the Australian vice captain, they feature many members of the New South Wales Breakers squad who won the WNCL title for 10 consecutive years. And now joined by Windes captain Taylor, one of the best all-rounders in world cricket, they are set to make a big impression.

The WBBL will last for a month and a half, with games to be played on some of the most historic venues across Australia, including the SCG, the Adelaide Oval, and the WACA.  In her column for the Brisbane times, Southern Stars and Brisbane Heat fast bowler Holly Ferling  said, ”2015 has been the year of female athletes with many successes coming from female sporting teams and taking over the media coverage. In terms of women's sport, this is arguably the biggest step forward to commercialising and professionalising a women's domestic competition.
You definitely do not want to miss this.’’

By taking the decision to align the teams with the existing BBL, CA have given the women’s competition access to existing set ups, fan bases and rivalries. In turn, having been handed a new team to bring up from scratch, the franchises have all responded with a slew of initiatives, which are likely to amplify the effect of the WBBL. Here’s a look at some of them:

· The two Melbourne based franchises have gone a step further to raise the tempo of the rivalry between the two clubs. When the Renegades and Stars face off in January, they will be vying for the Lanning-Elliot Cup, christened after the two captains of the Melbourne based teams. 

· Most franchises have signed on dedicated sponsors for their women’s teams. In fact, both Sydney teams have the same sponsor (XVenture), and both Melbourne teams will also sport the same name on their shirts (VicHealth). 

· WBBL franchises have created their own pathways into their female squads. For instance, the Brisbane Heat launched the Heat Girls Cricket League to get more young girls involved in cricket, and thus nurture the grass root level talent. Coaching clinics in local clubs conducted by the franchises’ star players, have given young children a chance to connect with their role models, and deepen the fan-star bond.

· Former Australia all-rounder Lisa Sthalekar will appear in all the televised games of the WBBL, albeit behind the microphone. When not playing and training with the Sydney Sixers, she will be calling the BBL games as well. 

· The WBBL clubs will offer eight talented cricketers from associate and affiliate countries an opportunity to train for two weeks with the WBBL squads, as part of their rookie program.  They could even debut in the competition, if a contracted player is ruled out due to injury. 

Arguably the biggest takeaway that women’s cricket will gain from the WBBL is creating a high profile domestic cricket centrepiece, which will provide a clear pathway for young women in cricket. The Southern Stars have already established themselves among the best female sports teams in the country, and have provided young girls some fine role models. The WBBL will provide a platform where young girls can aspire to rub shoulders with their heroes, as well as a galaxy of other international stars. According to the CA website, Big Bash league boss Mike Mckenna said, "We're pretty keen to see how the broadcast goes and what it looks like on television but the most important thing is that it's inspiring girls to play cricket." "If we see recruitment numbers going up at clubs and school or girls playing at the park or the beach, that's what we're looking to see and that's what would constitute a successful first season," he goes on to add.  

 With eight of the 59 games being televised live as double headers with the respective BBL games, the WBBL promises to provide a wonderful exhibition of the women’s game. We must now wait till the 24th of January next year, to see who grabs the rights to call themselves the first, ever, WBBL champions. 

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

A TALE OF TWO CITIES : Adelaide vs Nagpur

Adelaide grabbed all the eyeballs, while Nagpur, the headlines.

Two three-day test matches unfolded over the last weekend, but it seemed that was about all the similarity they had. While one set the stage for the longest format of the game to enter a new era, the other was a throwback to times when spinners wreaked havoc in the subcontinent.  Both elicited different reactions: one mostly adoration, and the other, largely condemnation. The centre of attention in the first was the ball, and in the second, the pitch.

I’m talking of course, about the pink ball vs. the dust bowl. Adelaide vs. Nagpur. Both very different test matches.

Or were they?

Runs were hard to come by in both games. The 200 mark resisted achievement, like it had a magnet there that repelled teams under it, and pulled back teams that went passed it.  Only two half centuries punctuated the eight completed innings, both in the pink ball test. Strike rates languished sluggishly around the fifty-mark, rare for four teams filled with high quality batters. Bowlers had the upper hand in both games from ball one. Wickets were thrown away thanks to some poor decision making on both sides of the world. The side that bowled better won, on both occasions, as almost always is in test cricket.

Both were played on result oriented wickets. Both ended in three days.

Then why the public flaying of the Nagpur wicket on social media? Because it was too one sided, they said. Because it was not an even contest between bat and ball. Because it was un-entertaining.    

By that reasoning, the test at Perth, preceding the pink ball test, should have received an equal amount of flak. A venue that is considered to be a fast bowlers dream to served up a pitch that ended a fast bowler’s career. It was like turning up expecting to see Smaug, only to find oneself confronted by an imitation, a paper dragon. Runs were piled on in a seemingly facile manner. Records tumbled, and the turnstiles clicked over for all five days. For the most part, people were happy. With a draw. One that was so interesting it was compared to the rained out second test in Bangalore. Sure, a few people made some noises about the pitch. But no one was really complaining. After all, this is a batter’s game.

This is a rant. By a bowler, against the batter’s game. And more so against the ‘batter’s game mindset’. And here’s why:

Both Adelaide and Nagpur served up pitches that challenged the batters, irrespective of the condition of the ball. In Adelaide, a smattering of grass lay on the wicket, to make sure the pink ball felt comfortable on its debut. In Nagpur, the track reflected the water shortage in the region that has sadly driven so many farmers to suicide.

Admittedly, the Nagpur track had a great deal more to offer the consistent bowler than the Adelaide pitch. But is that to say it gave any one team an advantage? I feel it did not. Both teams could avail use of the same conditions on day one, and on day two.  Therefore it was a more sporting wicket than a green top that gives the team bowling first a huge head start as it gradually but inevitably flattens out every day.

It did challenge the batters from ball one. But does the community deplore the many ‘roads’ test matches across the world are played on, which give the bowlers nothing? Let’s not even get started about the condition of wickets in ODI cricket.  Aren’t those challenges, for the bowlers, and if they are, why is the international cricket community in outcry only against wickets that challenge batters? Can we not gain entertainment from such wickets too? Can we not say to ourselves, “Alright, this isn’t a 400 wicket, it’s a 150 one’’ and stand and applaud the team that gets 200?

Another attack made against the Nagpur track was that it produced a one sided match. It did, but was that the fault of the pitch?

India are infamous for being bad travellers. It is usually because the batters can’t cope with the foreign conditions and the bowlers aren’t as good as their counterparts at exploiting them.  That is exactly what happened to South Africa in Nagpur, in a more dramatic fashion than anyone could have imagined, making them the cynosure of the cricket world, and making the Nagpur pitch the villain. 

The fact of the matter was that the South African spinners weren’t consistent enough to take advantage of the purchase that the wicket offered, allowing the Indian batters to look better than they were. That Morne Morkel was their second highest wicket taker in the first innings is testament to that fact. Their batters on the other hand, were undone by a combination of brilliant spin bowling and bad shot selection. Murali Vijay, Wriddhiman Saha and JP Duminy  showed that one could bat on that track, one where getting to 40 was equal to scoring a hundred.

Adelaide on the other hand, was a game featuring two very evenly matched batting departments, and two bowling attacks equally adept at exploiting conditions that suited them. Bowlers on both sides picked up five-fors, and there too, bowling spells provided the defining moments of the match. Thus the audience there witnessed an even contest; a game that ebbed and flowed either way, in which both teams stood a chance of winning.

Every country has a right to prepare pitches that offer them advantage. I’m positive Kohli and co will not be complaining about pace and bounce when India tours Australia next year. And spare a thought for the curators. I know next to nothing about the art of pitch making, but I am certain it is an art, not an exact science. After the furore over CEO pitches in England, this recent recrudescence of result oriented wickets is a breath of fresh air.

So I venture that we abandon the ‘batter’s game mindset’ while rushing to judge these three day tests. With all the recent rule changes in ODI cricket, bowlers have had to learn to swim in the deep end for far too long. It’s good to see some smiles on their faces.

And let’s celebrate, not denigrate home advantage. In the Hunger Games, the Gamemakers created different environments each time the tributes entered the arena. But it was the tributes who were able to adapt, and outlast the competition that survived, even if the environment was a far cry from that of their own districts. So too it is in the sacrosanct arena of test cricket and so should it remain.