Friday, 4 December 2015

Women's Big Bash - 59 T20 games in 50 days!

Tomorrow the inaugural Women's Big Bash (WBBL 01) kicks off with the Melbourne Stars and the Brisbane Heat playing two T20 games against each other at the Junction Oval in Melbourne. There will follow another 55 games in the next seven weeks as the eight teams - Adelaide Strikers, Brisbane Heat, Hobart Hurricanes, Melbourne Renegades, Melbourne Stars, Perth Scorchers, Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder - try to reach the semi-finals on 21st and 22nd January and then the final on Sunday 24th January.

It is the biggest thing to happen in women's cricket, since...well...ever. 

All the players are being paid to play (albeit only $3,000 - $10,000 (about £1,500 - £5,000)) and in addition to all of Australia's home-grown stars - Perry, Lanning, Healy, Blackwell, Schutt, Coyte, Bolton, Villani et al, the tournament has attracted some foreign imports, keen to be part of the most competitive T20 competition there is. England has provided nine players - Brunt, Cross, Edwards, Knight, Marsh, Sciver, Taylor, Winfield, and Wyatt, New Zealand six - Bates, Devine, McGlashan, Nielsen, Priest, and Satterthwaite. The West Indies have provided Dottin, Taylor, King and young Hayley Matthews, and South Africa du Preez, van Niekerk and Kapp.

The tournament has its own sponsor - rebel - the leading retailer of sporting and leisure equipment and clothing in Australia, and eight of the games will be televised on free-to-air television in Australia, including the semi-finals and the final.

The tournament has also attracted a few other stars. Former tennis player Ash Barty has switched to cricket to play for the Brisbane Heat. Her switch has attracted a lot of media attention, but whether her cricketing skills will stand up to the test is questionable. The WBBL has also enticed two former Aussie favourites out of retirement - 39 year old Shelley Nitschke for the Adelaide Strikers and 36 year old Lisa Sthalekar for the Sydney Sixers. It will be interesting to see how they cope with a game that has moved on very fast since they retired.

As well as the big international names some of the players to look out for are :-

Amanda-Jade Wellington (Adelaide Strikers) - Named this morning in the Striker's squad this young leg-spinner could be a match winner.

Beth Mooney (Brisbane Heat) - Plied her trade with Yorkshire in England last season and looked a classy left-hand opening bat, who hit the ball straight beautifully. She is made for the first six overs of a T20.

Delissa Kimmince (Brisbane Heat) - Should have been on the plane to England with the Southern Stars for the Ashes tour, but got a lower back injury, which ruled her out and allowed her team-mate Grace Harris (Brisbane Heat) a chance to show what she can do. Like Harris, Kimmince hits the ball....hard.

Lauren Cheatle (Sydney Thunder)  - The 17 year old left-arm quick had a good first WNCL campaign with NSW and could trouble a few top order batsmen. Under the experienced wing of Alex Blackwell she could be a useful weapon.

Rachel Priest (Melbourne Renegades) - she is a well-capped New Zealand international, but she is in a purple patch at the moment and could score big for the Renegades, who may have to rely heavily on their internationals to get them some runs.

Hayley Matthews (Hobart Hurricanes) - the 17 year old West Indian obviously impressed the Aussies when she toured there with the Windies in 2014. She has yet to fulfill that early potential she showed, but maybe the faster Aussie wickets will again suit her confident batting style.

Cricket Australia have said that they are not that bothered about the numbers that turn up to the games, which are free, unless they are double-headers with the men. Ironically I think they would have got potentially more spectators if they had charged just a small sum for tickets, say $5 or $10. The mere act of paying something for your ticket makes you value the experience more and mean you are more likely to attend. CA's mantra is that it is all about inspiring girls to play cricket, and they seem to think that the eight games on television are far more important than the other 51 games being played. Given the fantastic crowds that came to the Ashes games in England last year, then they might be missing a trick. At sensible prices people will come.

This is a big test for women's cricket in Australia. 59 games in 50 days is a lot. Hopefully the games that are on television will be good games, and crowds will go and watch their local franchise. They are of course piggy-backing on the back of the men's BBL (which has the same teams), which is firmly established in the Aussie psyche. That gives them some instant credibility, but it is potentially a two-edged sword in that the girls may be compared to their hard-hitting male counterparts. Women's T20 is not a slog-fest.

I commend CA for the money and effort that they have put into the tournament and the commitment of the franchises to the women's teams, but I can't help feeling that they may have bitten off more than they (and the Aussie general public) can chew. Rather than moving down from seven state teams they have moved up to eight franchises, diluting their own resources. The 20 odd internationals fill the gap to some extent, but many of them played in the WT20 last year too, before the Big Bash was born. I can't help thinking that single franchises in Melbourne and Sydney, rather than two in each, would have made for a better competition.

In England the ECB will be looking on with interest as they plan their own Women's Cricket Super League T20 tournament for next season. The plan there is for six teams and games played in a two week window. The six team format will also be the premier 50 over competition the year after.

But enough of this negativity. The Aussies have done a great job of hyping up the interest in the tournament and the mere fact that the girls in each team will get to play 14 top quality T20 games in seven weeks will allow them to hone their T20 skills ahead of the T20 World Cup in March 2016.

I have to say I wish I was out there to watch it.


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