During the 2015 Women’s Ashes series, I saw someone tweet that the lunch break would be twenty minutes longer than usual so that the players had time to fix their hair.
Perhaps it was tongue-in-cheek but it was offensive nevertheless.
When Perth Now, an online news site based in Western Australia, reported that the Australian women players would miss out on a pay rise from a $70 million windfall Cricket Australia had landed, a lot of the reader comments on the piece were along the lines that women cricketers don’t generate any money so they don’t deserve any. One commenter actually said that women just like continually bleat about anything they can find to complain about.
In October, some friends and I watched a women’s 50-over game at the WACA. It was a steaming hot day, perfect Perth cricket weather, and yet we found ourselves five of around thirty spectators. Judging from the conversation around us, most of the others were friends or relatives of the players.
Two of my friends are members and regular attendees at the ground. They told us that when a woman’s T20 is on after the men’s game, the concessions close before it starts and the stands empty. Once they were even challenged by ground staff as to why they weren’t leaving, and had to explain that there was a second game on that evening. What chance does women’s cricket have if even ground staff don’t know the matches are taking place?
The fact is that women’s cricket divides people. In a few cases, it stems from sexism in sport, and as a female sports journalist I’ve experienced this first hand so don’t try to tell me it isn’t there, but mostly I think people just don’t get to see it very often. It’s poorly promoted, to the extent that even ground employees aren’t aware of games, and rarely given television or radio time.
Evidence that people do want to watch women’s cricket is in this year’s women’s ashes. The series was well promoted and it generated record crowds. Sky invested money and time into coverage of the series and saw some positive results.
Enter Cricket Australia. On Saturday, the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League kicks off in Melbourne. And this is not just a support act; the eight women’s teams are aligned with the eight men’s teams and their sponsors, meaning a solid financial base and, hopefully, automatic support from those who already follow the men’s version of the team.
At the launch of the WBBL in Sydney in July, CEO of Cricket Australia James Sutherland said: “We see T20 as the premium format of the women’s game and the WBBL is an exciting concept that will increase the promotion and exposure of women’s cricket.
“We want cricket to be the number one sport for girls and women in Australia and we believe that the WBBL can assist this goal by creating an inspiring visible pathway for the next generation of players, fans and volunteers.
“The WBBL will build on this foundation and will create a clear participation pathway for girls and their families, who are already engaged with cricket through the BBL.”
The governing body of Australian cricket has invested AU$600,000 into wages for the players and eight of the matches will broadcast free to air in Australia. In the UK, ITV4 is looking into showing some of the matches.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald after the WBBL launch in July, Australian cricketing legend and well-known advocate of professional women’s sport Ellyse Perry said:
“To set up what will probably be the premier women’s cricket competition in the world, to have it here in Australia and to see how much emphasis has been placed on it and how much has been invested into it is really wonderful.
“It’s exciting for the way forward, not just for women’s cricket, but for women’s sport.”
The competition starts on December fifth and is made up of the same eight teams across six states as the men’s competition. Seven English players are currently signed up to the tournament, which is creating some excitement.
England player and Sky Sports Columnist Kate Cross, has signed to play this winter with Brisbane Heat. Speaking to Sky in September, Cross joined Perry in expressing her excitement for women’s cricket:
“I’m very excited about signing for Brisbane Heat and am really looking forward to playing in the first ever Women’s Big Bash League.
“We are currently enjoying unprecedented times for women’s cricket, with increasing levels of professionalism, improving standards and a constantly growing profile.”
This is a fantastic time in women’s sport and hopefully it will change the views of those who give it no credence. There’s no doubt some of its critics are right when they say women’s cricket generates little money, but that will never change if governing bodies don’t invest in it. Well done to Cricket Australia for giving it a good push. Let’s hope this is the beginning of something big.
Along with Cross, six other England players will appear in the WBBL. Lauren Winfield will join Cross at Brisbane Heat, while Charlotte Edwards and Katherine Brunt will go West to appear for the Scorchers alongside former England player Nicky Shaw. Heather Knight has signed for Hobart Hurricanes, Sarah Taylor will play for Adelaide Strikers and Danielle Wyatt has signed for one of the two Melbourne side, the Renegades.