A high-scoring shootout looms when Australia begin their three-match T20 series in South Africa on Friday.
The second part of the CommBank T20 series will hit the Junction Oval this weekend.
The series is evenly poised. Australia, England and India are level on points and will each face each other in the second round of matches. In the scheme of things, this series doesn’t really matter.
However, both from a cricket and an engagement perspective, it’s an important lead-up event to the biggest event of the cricketing summer, the Women’s World Cup.
This summer has been low-key for most cricket fans. Record attendances at the Boxing Day Test have been juxtaposed with disappointing crowds for most other matches.
Justin Langer’s brutally efficient Test side swept to victories against performances by Pakistan and New Zealand. It’s been pleasing, but not entertaining. The BBL has suffered a decrease in crowds and TV ratings, some suggesting that the quantity of cricket has been valued more than its quality.
The men’s ODI side has taken their talents to India and South Africa in the heart of the summer. With Test cricket over and the BBL coming to its conclusion, the women’s side now takes front and centre, along with their preparations for the upcoming World Cup.
11 years ago, Australia hosted the ODI Women’s World Cup. Australia underperformed, coming fourth, while the final saw only 2,300 people attend at the North Sydney Oval.
It’s fair to say that things have changed.
The momentum for women’s cricket has grown rapidly, creating real hype and anticipation for this year’s tournament. Although participation in the men’s game at a grassroots level has declined, female involvement grew 14 per cent from 2017, and over one-third of cricketers in Australia are female.
The WBBL was created in 2015, giving female cricketers a real stage to showcase their talents in the white-ball game, especially in 2019 with the newly created standalone season. Most significantly, female cricketers are being rewarded for their efforts.
The current pay deal saw a 47.7 million dollar pay rise, making our cricketers light years ahead of their rivals across the globe.
However, these are not the main reasons why female cricketers are getting more recognition for their efforts.
The main reason is that they keep winning.
Leading into this tri-series against India and England, Australia are unparalleled favourites for the World Cup. Australia has won 23 of their past 26 matches in the T20 format, in particular during the 2018 T20 World Cup.
Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy, and Beth Mooney are in the top five T20 batters in the world. Megan Schutt is the number one T20 bowler, while Ellyse Perry was crowned the ICC women’s cricketer of the year.
Exciting talents such as Phoebe Litchfield and Annabel Sutherland are knocking on the door of a team burgeoning with talent, giving the Australian team a world-leading depth of talent in both youth and experience.
Winning a World Cup is no foregone conclusion. This series has demonstrated that teams such as England and India should not be underestimated.
The English captain Heather Knight has been in incredible form, hitting back-to-back career-high knocks to guide her side to a super over victory over Australia. After a thrashing during last summer’s Ashes series, England has shifted to a more youthful squad, strongly motivated to rebound against Australia on their turf.
India, although lacking batting depth, showed promise at Manuka. They gritted out a tough win over England, chasing down 147, and put in a strong bowling performance before succumbing to an unsteady Australia.
The pressure and expectation of the women’s team to win the World Cup on home soil are immense. If Australia makes the final, it presents an opportunity to play in front of the biggest ever crowd for a women’s sporting event at the MCG on International Women’s Day.
To put it plainly, that’s a really big deal. The World Cup gives the women’s cricket team a real opportunity to establish themselves as a fixture in the nation’s sporting consciousness, capture new fans and showcase their skills to the globe.
They just have to win it first.