Two more editions of the burgeoning Women’s Big Bash League will help build anticipation for a standalone Women’s World Twenty20 tournament in 2020, with a showpiece final expected to draw the largest crowd for a women’s cricket fixture.
That’s the view of Australia’s captain Meg Lanning, who was visibly enthused by the concept of the World T20 standing apart from the men’s event as a forerunner to further growth for the women’s game. The dual women’s and men’s tournaments were launched in Melbourne on Tuesday with Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Geelong, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney announced as host cities: both finals, the women’s on March 8 – also International Women’s Day – and the men’s on November 15, will be held at the MCG.
In scheduling the women’s final at Australia’s biggest venue, organisers are hopeful of topping the record for a women’s cricket match – the estimated 70,000 who turned up to Eden Gardens in Kolkata for the 1997 50-over World Cup final won by Australia. The biggest attendance for a women’s sporting fixture of any kind was set in 1999, when 90,185 witnessed the women’s football World Cup final between the USA and China at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The overall attendance for that event was 1,194,215 – an average of 37,319 per match.
Among other venues, the SCG will host both women’s semi-finals and one of the men’s semis, with the other to be held at Adelaide Oval. Perth’s new stadium has also been awarded matches. “I think it shows how far it’s come,” Lanning said of the standalone event, which will follow this year’s event in the Caribbean. “The support for the women’s game’s been great throughout the Ashes and been building over time and that’s not just cricket, it’s sport in general. To show that we want to play a final here at the MCG and fill it out, I think, it just shows where it’s headed.
“For it to be a home World Cup I think that’s a very special moment as a player and we saw how successful the one in 2015 was here with the men’s, so the fact it’s a standalone tournament for the women and the final’s going to be here at the MCG on International Women’s Day, that’s certainly something we want to be a part of.”
Cricket Australia has worked assiduously on the WBBL over the past two years, gaining greater television traction than first expected, and there are longer-term plans to move the tournament into its own October slot in the calendar rather than running concurrently with the men’s BBL as is currently the case. Fixtures for the WBBL semi-finals, in which first and second-placed Sydney teams will have to travel to play in Adelaide and Perth against lower-ranked opponents due to the matches being held as double-headers with the men’s playoffs, has highlighted the difficulties of running the vents side by side.
“At the start of the year everyone knew the finals would be held where the men’s were and it’s a difficult one, I don’t think everyone’s going to win out of it,” Lanning said. “The fact you’ve got two of the same teams playing in the same state I think it makes a lot of sense to have them as true double-headers and I think that’ll help really build excitement and hopefully the crowds are bigger as well. WBBL is about the fans’ experience and hoping to bring new fans to the game … it’s probably not ideal for the Sydney teams but we knew that at the start of the year.
“I think it’s something we could look at. I think we saw through the Ashes with that standalone series that it created a lot of interest and the crowds were really good, so it’s definitely something we can look to, especially with this T20 tournament being standalone it makes a lot of sense.”
Australia currently hold neither 50-over or T20 crowns in the women’s game, while the men’s team have long been one of the shortest formats strugglers. This was acknowledged by the captain Steven Smith, who also admitted he could not say for sure whether or not he would be leading Australia at the 2020 event.
“Who knows? A couple of years away obviously. I’d like to be,” Smith said. “I think playing in a World Cup here in 2015 it was incredibly special to be a part of, so I’d love to be a part of the World T20 and captain that side, but it is a couple years away.
“[We need] the right balance of players and the right way to play the game. A lot of strategy has come into T20 cricket now and the right match-ups with the right guys bowling to the right batters and things like that. There’ll be a lot of strategy around it and I think the right personnel to get the job done.”