Monday, 25 January 2016

WBBL Shakedown

The ticker-tape has been cleared up and the MCG has fallen silent after the final of the inaugural WBBL reached an exciting, if rather unprofessional, conclusion on Sunday. It was the Thunder that returned to Sydney with the trophy, probably sharing a plane with their dejected Sixer opponents.

To be honest the final was not a great cricketing spectacle, but then finals often aren't! The Thunder contrived to drop simple catches, and fail to run out opponents who were at one time both on the ground in the middle of the wicket. The Sixers were equally as generous and misfields accounted for three of the Thunder's 10 boundaries. Without them it would have been a much tighter contest. It was therefore probably appropriate that the game finished with a leg-side wide, on which the batsmen ran a single, only to be gifted an overthrow by, of all people, Ellyse Perry, as she fired at the stumps at the bowler's end from two yards away and missed.

But ultimately the rather amateur-standard of the final actually reflects the true current state of women's cricket. There are very few full-time professionals currently in the women's game. Of those who played on Sunday I would suggest that only four players actually fall into that category - Perry, Alyssa Healy, Alex Blackwell and Stafanie Taylor, with perhaps Erin Osborne as another. The rest are effectively amateurs or semi-pros at best.

The fact that the Aussie public seem to have taken the WBBL to their hearts and made it such a huge success would suggest that they can look beyond the odd fumble and dropped catch, and that they are enjoying seeing the girls perform on the big stage. There is a massive wave of support behind women's sport at the moment and the WBBL is surfing that wave. The trick now is to make sure that there are more waves to be caught.

No doubt the top dogs at Cricket Australia are currently in a room somewhere licking their nether regions contentedly. And indeed they have every right to do so. They have invested heavily and wisely in women's cricket. Not only are there decent contracts in place for the Southern Stars (and a willingness to change who those contracted players are), but they have invested in the domestic players playing in the WNCL with all players receiving Au$7,000, and a further Au$3,000 - Au$10,000 if they play in the WBBL. But, perhaps even more significantly, CA shared the cost of getting the WBBL onto free-to-air television. No-one had any great expectations for the viewing figures, but they have been huge, which meant production company Ten decided to switch coverage to their more popular channel and cover more games. The result has been an explosion of interest in women's cricket in Australia and talk of a standalone television deal for WBBL2.

In contrast the ECB, who have also invested heavily, have provided contracts for 19 players, but nothing for those below them. The Women's Cricket Super League this summer will see no salaries for the participants. Instead the ECB will provide franchises with money to cover small match fees and expenses for the players (including those already on England contracts), and the competition is incentivized by prize money for the winning team and the losing finalist, with one pot to be shared by the players and another for the franchise host. That will be very welcome for the 30 or so players who share the prize, but is not so great for the other 60 or so who do not.

As for television coverage we have no news yet. Clare Connor has talked of "positive conversations" with broadcast partners, but nothing more than that. Is the WCSL even outside the ECB's current deal with Sky? Perhaps the success of the WBBL on television in Australia will allow those conversations to produce something positive or for the ECB to commit further investment into television coverage. It is what the competition desperately needs. Without being able to latch on to an existing franchise system for the men, as the WBBL did with the pre-existing BBL, marketing the WCSL and creating a product to inspire the next generation of women cricketers is going to be a tough gig without it being on television. And the coverage needs to be top-quality. In Australia Ten committed exactly the same production techniques and cameras to the WBBL as they did to the BBL. It showed and it worked.

As my Mum used to say "If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right!"


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

WBBL reaches heady climax

The WBBL reaches its final stages this week with the semi-finals on Thursday and Friday at the Adelaide Oval and the MCG, and the final on Sunday at a venue to be decided by who hosts the men's final. All the games are being played as double-headers with the men's BBL, and all are being televised live in Australia (there will be highlights of the semi-finals in England on Sky and the final will be live).

In the first semi-final table-toppers Sydney Thunder take on fourth place Perth Scorchers. In the second semi second-placed Hobart Hurricanes take on third-placed Sydney Sixers. Who will win these matches, or indeed the final, is anyone's guess. Two weeks ago you could have got 200/1 against the Sydney Sixers winning the tournament. They are now the 2/1 favourites!

The bookies think it will be a Perth Scorchers v Sydney Sixers final.

I think the experience of the Perth Scorchers should get them through against the young Thunder team, in what will be a big match, in front of a big audience. The Sixers won their last eight games to squeeze into the semi-finals as others (Melbourne Stars, Brisbane Heat and Adelaide Strikers) blew their chances.

The Hurricanes have surprised everyone, but under the cool leadership of Heather Knight, they have exceeded even their own expectations and won several very tight games. However they have lost twice already to the Sixers in the last few days, the last one off the last ball as Sara McGlashan took the 14 runs required off Knight's last over. There is no reason to doubt that this game will be just as tight.

No matter who wins the semi-finals and ultimately the final, the tournament has to be seen as a watershed moment in women's cricket, with a realisation that if it is televised with the same professionalism as the men's game, then it has an audience. Cricket Australia have to be commended for realising this is the case and effectively paying for the initial coverage in Australia, coverage which has proved so successful it has now been switched to a more popular channel, and now includes live coverage of the semi-finals, which were originally not going to be televised at all and which were going to be played on smaller grounds.

Fingers crossed for three more great games of women's T20 cricket!