#32) WBBL


How good has the fourth edition of the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) been?

As a staunch supporter of all things related to English cricket, this isn’t the easiest statement to make.

But there can be no question about it; when it comes to T20 tournaments, the Aussies have got it very right.

While some argue the men’s version has regressed – with some poor pitches, small crowds and an overall lack of quality at times – the same cannot be said for their female couterparts.

The on-pitch action has often been electrifying, in particular in the field – an area often criticised in the women’s game – with some stupendous catches and run outs.

No better was this highlighted than in this morning’s semi-finals, with both games decided on the final ball by world class fielding.

Firstly a brilliant run out from Alyssa Healy saw the Sydney Sixers tie their game with the Melbourne Renegades before claiming their spot in the final via a Super Over.

Then Haidee Birkett ensured Brisbane Heat have the chance to knock reigning champions the Sixers off their perch with a stunning catch on the boundary under immense pressure – if the ball had been just a metre either side of her it would have gone for six and the Heat would have lost.

Records have tumbled throughout the tournament too. Sophie Devine became the first player to hit a half-century and take five wickets in a game, while Grace Harris scythed her way a 42-ball hundred, the fastest the tournament has ever seen.

There have also been more runs and sixes scored than ever before.

However WBBL04 has been the Ellyse Perry show. Not only has the all-rounder become the first player – male or female – to pass 2,000 Big Bash runs, she’s also broken the record for the most runs in a WBBL season (744), passed 50 on eight occasions, bagged 10 wickets and taken eight catches.

And what’s been fantastic is that her incredible feats – as well as the efforts of the league’s other stars – have been broadcast live to thousands upon thousands of fans across the country.

The level of easily accessible coverage afforded to the WBBL is unprecedented in an era where the sport is often trapped behind a paywall, with 23/59 fixtures shown free-to-air on Seven Network and the rest streamed on Cricket Australia’s website.

It’s no surprise then that more and more girls and women across Australia are taking up the game, with figures showing that they make up both 30% of the country’s players while six out of ten new participants to the sport are female.

 

Australia is not alone in seeing superb growth in the numbers of women taking up the game, with similar figures being recorded in England following the national side’s incredible 2017 World Cup victory.

But what is different here is that the WBBL is an annual event, with fans knowing exactly who will be playing and when come the summer.

We do have our own version over here in the Kia Super League (KSL) but this seems to have plateaued of late, while the WBBL continues to grow and progress with each edition to the extent where it’s going to become a stand alone competition next season.

However while it’s still associated with the men’s competition, there are already lear differences between the way the two are run which have heavily contributed to the huge success of the WBBL.

Firstly is the scheduling. The organisers have recognised that, while the men’s version attracts fans every day of the week, the women’s game still isn’t at this level yet. Instead the majority of the matches have been hosted at the weekends, when the children are off school and their parents/grandparents have more time to take them to the games.

Secondly is the atmosphere projected at the games. While the men’s competition is known for its crash-bang-whallop style, Buckethead Armies and ACDC love affair, the WBBL is a much more Sunday-afternoon-picnic type of affair which many cricket fans actually prefer.

But personally – and perhaps most importantly – it’s the way the event is covered on social media which really makes it stand out from anything else.

Rather than relying on the governing body or the men’s competition to provide updates, the WBBL has its own accounts, with more than 75,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram combined.

In comparison, the KSL has no accounts of its own.

The way the tournament is portrayed on these channels too is also first class, with scores of videos showing the best of the action from each game available for women and girls not just in Australia but across the world (the men’s clips are often restricted to Australian viewers only).

This heroisation is crucial in the battle to get even more young girls playing cricket – they will be looking for role models to aspire to be like and this coverage of the tournament in a social space dominated by young people is the perfect way of going about this.

The WBBL is far from perfect – a busy international calendar has meant fewer overseas stars have appeared than normal this season while the smaller boundaries compared to the men are frustrating to see given the size of some of the sixes this year.

But when it comes to global T20 competitions designed to encourage more people take up the game, then this really is the act to follow.

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