When I left North Sydney Oval at the conclusion of WBBL03 opening weekend, I did so feeling buzzed for a massive summer of cricket ahead.
Following the conclusion of a successful Ashes series for the Australian Women’s Cricket team, the 8725 people that joined me through the gates during opening weekend had a real hunger for the women’s game and to cheer on players like Ellyse Perry, Elyse Villani, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachel Haynes, Kristen Beams and Alex Blackwell – all names which are popular and recognised in Australian sport.
It wasn’t just people watching at North Sydney Oval that demonstrated how much of an appetite there is to watch women’s cricket.
Over the weekend, more than one million people tuned in to watch on television, with the game between the Sydney Sixers and the Melbourne Stars peaking at 629,000 viewers on Channel Ten.
And the cricket certainly did not disappoint.
In the game between the Sydney Thunder and the Melbourne Renegades, the Thunder became the first WBBL team to score 200 runs. This total was later eclipsed by the Sixers in their game against the Stars, where the team made 242 thanks largely to Ashleigh Gardner who scored the fastest half-century and then century in WBBL history. Her hundred came off just 47 balls and included nine 4s and ten 6s.
All of this contributed to an opening weekend and a summer that started with a bang.
Unfortunately, the summer could not have ended in any more of a stark contrast – rather than going out with a bang, the WBBL ended with a fizzle and it had nothing to do with the quality of the cricket played between the Sixers and the Perth Scorchers in the final.
The Sixers were exceptional in the field and demonstrated again why they have been the dominant team this summer.
Let’s talk about Sarah Coyte, who in just her fourth game for the Sixers this summer (after being brought back to replace Marizanne Kapp, who returned to South Africa for international duty), took 3/17.
Even more remarkable about this story is that Coyte returns to the WBBL after taking some time away from the game to deal with anxiety and anorexia. She had difficulty sleeping in the lead-up to her opening game against the Strikers and has certainly not disappointed, being rightly recognised for her efforts by being named Player of the Match for the Final.
Or Erin Burns, who took 2/26 and throughout her summer demonstrated why she is one of the most effective and consistent fielders in the game.
What about the bravery of Piepa Cleary, who even with the Scorchers staring down a total that wouldn’t even eclipse 100, came in at the tail end of the innings to top score for the team, making 18 not out off 14 balls.
Then with bat in hand, the Sixers chased down the Scorchers total of 99 with ease particularly with Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry opening the batting.
Alyssa made 41 from 32 deliveries including five fours and one six, and Ellyse made 36 not out from 42 and hit the winning runs.
Cricket Australia has done an outstanding job in demonstrating that cricket is a sport for all. From the significant pay increases for our female cricketers (at a domestic and international level), to the availability of merchandise for the Australian Women’s Cricket team and our WBBL teams, to having games live on free-to-air television, it’s no surprise that the women’s game has continued to go from strength to strength.
It’s now time for Cricket Australia to take a big step and recognise that for WBBL04, double-headers for the finals series simply do not work.
Let’s begin with the inherent unfairness of the system as it stands.
In the men’s game, home-ground advantage in the finals is seen as a good incentive for teams to strive to finish at the top of the BBL ladder. No such incentive exists in the WBBL.
While the Adelaide Strikers BBL team had the opportunity to play in front of their home crowd, the Sydney Sixers (who finished top of the WBBL ladder) were denied this opportunity throughout the finals due to Big Bash scheduling.
The Sixers travelled to Adelaide for their first semi-final against the Strikers and then remained there for their final against the Scorchers.
Interestingly, Sydney have a very good record at the Adelaide Oval, having won all four games that they have played there, but that certainly does not negate the lack of home-ground advantage they had throughout the finals series.
Forget there being absolutely no incentive for teams to finish at the top of the WBBL ladder, but the fact that the game is played as a double-header in a place foreign to both teams means that a final, which should have been played in front of thousands of people (just like it was on opening weekend), was not.
It was great to see the game televised on Channel Ten. But unfortunately, it looked like it was being played in front of an empty stadium.
This is so unfair to the teams competing in the final. They deserve to play in front of a crowd – particularly when you consider how many international players featured in the two line-ups. Players like Natalie Sciver, Nicole Bolton, Katherine Brunt, Elyse Villani, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy and Ellyse Perry.
And as good as it is to have the game on television, it looks appalling for people to turn on and see no one in the stadium. An empty stadium lacks atmosphere and increases the incentive for people channel surfing to change the channel.
Additionally, it also deprives fans, so many of whom have followed the women’s game with dedication and passion throughout the summer, the opportunity to watch their team in a final.
I watched the final from the couch – had the game been played in Sydney, I would have joined several thousand of my friends out there to cheer on both teams competing.
Congratulations to the Sixers on becoming the first WBBL team to win back-to-back titles. An exceptional achievement and one which will see the WBBL trophy remain in Sydney for a third consecutive year.
But I challenge Cricket Australia to recognise how effective their support and promotion of women’s cricket has been to date and continue to give the women’s game the spotlight it deserves.
Play the WBBL04 final as a standalone game. I promise, the fans will follow if you lead the way.