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Opinion

Cricket with a capital C: Time for the WBBL to ACT

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Roar Rookie
7th December, 2021
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As the turgid engine of the BBL fires up, the dust has just about settled on WBBL07 – a competition that was capped by an immense final week, a befitting end to its best-yet season.

The image of a Maddie Penna distraught at being unable to pull off a final-over heist for the Adelaide Strikers is as memorable a moment as I can recall in recent domestic-cricket history.

She should not be too hard on herself, it was only thanks to her ability to find and clear the rope they were able to get close.

To work backwards through that last week, the Strikers arrived in Perth confident of toppling the home side, but riding high off their dual semi-final wins.

They rolled the Melbourne Renegades for 83 just two days prior, the total run down in 10.5 overs thanks largely to a 74-run partnership between Dane Van Niekerk and Katie Mack, the latter finishing unbeaten on 31.

During the eliminator prior to that, Mack crunched her fifth half-century in seven games to make light work of another small target. The Brisbane Heat had scored a below-par 114, and it was only thanks to Nicola Hancock that they were saved from outright humiliation. Her thoughtful slugging dragged their total over 100, and when she opened the Strikers’ innings with a maiden she offered her team the slightest glimpse of hope.

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The Stars launched into the finals in the final match of the regular season, against the Melbourne Stars. Mack made her highest score for the tournament (89*) and Penna scored a rapid, unbeaten half-century in a game they would ultimately lose despite a mammoth total.

That win was a fitting end to the fantastic career of the Stars’ Erin Osborne, who announced her retirement earlier in the day. Osborne, a true champion, played over 100 games for Australia across all formats and many, many more domestically.

What links Katie Mack, Nicola Hancock, Maddie Penna and Erin Osborne? They are all contracted players to the ACT Meteors, one of the seven teams to compete in the Women’s National Cricket League (WNCL).

Melbourne Stars player Katie Mack in 2018.

Katie Mack of the Melbourne Stars. (AAP Image/Kelly Barnes)

The Meteors, the ACT’s only domestic cricket team, have been in the WNCL since 2009 and have been a fixture since 1978. There are ten Meteors with current WBBL contracts: Angela Reakes (Sixers), Carly Leeson (Renegades), Matilda Lugg (Sixers), Chloe Rafferty (Hurricanes), Zoe Cooke (Heat), and Olivia Porter (Thunder).

Yet, despite this contribution, the Meteors are rarely even mentioned outside of the ACT. On the announcement of Osborne’s retirement, one commentator mentioned her career transition into coaching.

“Oh yeah,” replied the co-commentator, “that’s down in Canberra, isn’t it?”

The key, and not insignificant, component missing from that exchange were that Osborne lives, coaches and plays in the ACT most of the year, and that she is a participant in the 2020-21 Athlete Accelerate Program, developed by the AIS and Sport Australia, which aims to help women develop careers in sport – a program that also includes Casey Dellacqua and Sally Pearson.

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It seems unfair that, even acknowledging my local bias, Cricket ACT is not awarded greater recognition: the Meteors are Cricket ACT’s highest representative team and as such it has had a focus on female pathways far longer than Cricket Australia itself.

Without Sheffield Shield, Marsh Cup or BBL representation, Cricket ACT is unable to leverage funding, resources, facilities and media exposure into the ever-growing female game in a way that is possible for the six biggest state associations.

A prominent figure at Cricket ACT told me that what the Meteors have established and achieved with comparatively small financial means should be celebrated as a barometer of how far the women’s game has and can develop without any shoulders to lean on.

After ten years, the BBL has barely countenanced any conversation around expansion, despite significant expansions in other sport during the same period.

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The time is right for the WBBL to consider a departure from the men’s game, and move to include an ACT-based franchise as soon as possible.

In Manuka Oval, Canberra boasts a world-class ground that is widely praised yet chronically underused. Nearby, Phillip Oval currently hosts the WNCL games and is undergoing a major renovation to attach a high-performance gym and viewing platform to the existing net facilities.

Talent isn’t an issue, either. Cricket ACT are confident enough in their own programs that they have just launched their first dedicated women’s first grade premier cricket competition, including a team from every premier cricket club in the territory. The performance of the Meteors over several WNCL and WBBL seasons shows their players are not only up to the job, but that they deserve the kind of stability other associations are able to offer.

Tellingly, Canberra United in the A-League Women and the Capitals in the WNBL are both female teams without a male counterpart. This shows that it is possible, certainly, but more importantly that Canberra specifically has the expertise, know-how and experience to deliver it.

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