Sydney Thunders needed 28 from 7 balls and left-arm seamer, Gemma Triscari, was ready to bowl her final ball of the allotted overs. Harmanpreet Kaur, who was playing her first WBBL match, was on strike. The ball pitched closer to the wide line, fuller. She moved towards her off stump and went for her trademark inside out stroke.
The ball which went for the six over extra cover had contradictory effects on the bowler. While she was awestruck, including commentators, by the stroke, she has seen bursting into the laughter. Maybe that’s the only thing she could do against that stroke. Thunders didn’t win that match, but Harmanpreet’s unbeaten 47 from 28 balls earned praise from Adam Gilchrist.
— Adam Gilchrist (@gilly381) December 10, 2016
Now, what happened back in India? Earlier all the tweets regarding women and men’s game used to be done by BCCI’s official handle. Now on 10th December, BCCI Women got their Twitter Handle. So Harmnapreet’s first WBBL appearance also marked the appearance of their own twitter account. You may call it a coincidence, but what if it is not? What if it was the enigma of arrival? And if it so, then it started with the WBBL.
— BCCI Women (@BCCIWomen) December 10, 2016
Twitter got divided among the cricketers and supporters when Australian Wicket-keeper batter Alyssa Healy and renounced cricket historian cum journalist Boria Majumder exchanged some heated words in a flurry of tweets ever since the 2020 edition of Women’s T20 Challenge was announced. Healy, who has won several World Cups for Australia, and has been the part of Two-times Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) champion Sydney Sixers, questioned BCCI’s decision to organize Women’s T20 Challenge in the first week of November.
So during the WBBL…. cool https://t.co/w5aNhN9FTw
— Alyssa Healy (@ahealy77) August 2, 2020
Notably, she has played for Trailblazers in 2018 and as the clash between two tournament means Indian cricketers like Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana too will miss the WBBL. It is noteworthy that, in 2019, Australia didn’t send their players to Women’s T20 Challenge because of a ‘communication breakdown between CA and BCCI’. Indian cricketers like Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana missed WBBL that years too because of their national duties to the Caribbean.
So the Indian players who’ve already signed wbbl contracts will do what? And all the international marquee players that will be in aus for wbbl? Good luck with it…..
— Alyssa Healy (@ahealy77) August 2, 2020
Majumder, on the other hand, stood in support of the BCCI and pointed out that the board has no other option open in this catastrophic situation. The board needs to look at the benefits of the majority of Indian women cricketers. Indian cricketers, both present and former, came in support of the BCCI, while overseas cricketers called this turn of event unfortunate and asked for the separate windows for the Global Women Domestic Leagues like WBBL, Women’s T20 Challenge, and The Hundreds in the future.
Role of WBBL in Development of Women’s Cricket:
Now, if we look at the WBBL, within its course turns out to a high success for Australian Women’s Cricket. It helped them to nurture the younger players who came out direct from WNSL. Younger players like Phoebe Litchfield, Stella Campbell, got the chance to rub shoulder with the players not only from Australia but also from players like Sophie Devine or Heather Knight.
Apart from that, players from Associate nations like Kim Grath or Sornnarin Tippoch too joined. So, Big Bash has transcended the barrier to be a domestic league and evolved as a global league as well.
In a recent conversation with ICC, former Australia player Lisa Sthalekar pointed out how WBBL changed the momentum in Australian Women’s Cricket. Younger players like Ash Gardner, Sophie Molineux, Tayla Vlaemnic, Georgia Wareham got exposed to that competition which, worked as the pathway into the Australian team. Ashleigh Gardner, who became the player of the final of the 2018 World Cup, came as a Young Gun of WBBL 02 (2016-17), having scored 414 runs with the bat and claiming ten wickets with the ball throughout the season for Sydney Sixers.
All of these players have come through WBBL and had played with and against the best players of the world, that too in front of a crowd, live-streaming on TV, and interviews. All these players got the change to experience everything that goes into international cricket. Having all these into a domestic competition has also raised the standard of Australian International Cricket.
Women’s Big Bash League as a ‘Spectacle’:
Apart from the development and progress in terms of cricket, that WBBL has shown during the course, how it has become a ‘spectacle’ to women cricketers and its followers. It is the same spectacle and platform which IPL has provided to the male cricketers for years.
For the first two years, more than 121,000 fans attended the WBBL, which had an average television audience of almost 240,000. In addition to the WBBL broadcasts, live streaming of all non-televised matches on cricket.com.au, Facebook, and the CA Live App was enjoyed by 1.5 million fans, while match highlights reached more than 7.3 million people.
In 2016-17 the viewing audience peaked at 629,000, making it a record high for WBBL. It was a 59 percent increase compared to last season’s WBBL. Next Season 2017-18, several matches over Christmas have drawn viewer numbers of close to 300,000. Even matches shown only on pay television have drawn steady numbers of 50,000 per game. This increase in the number of viewership led to the decision to make WBBL a stand-alone tournament in 2019.
Cricket Historian Gideon Haigh explained too why many “traditional” cricket viewers are switching over to the WBBL despite the decrease in numbers in BBL. He said, “Traditional cricket fans that I know who won’t watch the BBL, will watch the Women’s BBL because they feel the players are playing for the right reasons.”
Women’s Big Bash League has helped Indian Cricketers Too:
The cricket experts regard the 2017 50-over World Cup as a water shade moment in Indian Women’s Cricket. And Harmanpreet’s unbeaten 171 against Australia, in the semi-final, added fuel to that. Mithali Raj, Indian captain, after the 36 runs victory said in the post-match presentation that she thinks that Harmanpreet’s batting has transformed after her stint in WBBL.
To quote her, “That exposure she and Smriti (Mandhana) got by interacting with other players has been massive.” She had also added that if more players become a part of these leagues where they can exchange ideas and follow the routine of other players, it will only help improve the standard of women’s cricket, as well as it will be very beneficial for youngsters and players from the Indian team.
Harmanpreet Kaur, the captain of the Indian T20 team, has praised the Big Bash League for the improved standards in fitness and training efficiency. On being asked how BBL helped her batting, she pointed out that her fondness for aggressive batting got improved after playing in WBBL. The things that she learned from the cricketers in WBBL helped her later on in South Africa as well as during the 2017 World Cup.
Smriti Mandhana and Veda Krishnamurty also echoed their ODI skipper. Veda Krishnamurthy, who had played for Hobert Hurricanes, hailed WBBL which, allowed her to play out of her comfort zone. And she too said that she wants more player to the overseas league. Smriti Mandhana also expressed that the experience of WBBL can help a lot to perform well in the 2020 T20 World Cup.
So it’s evident that WBBL, besides developing cricket in Australia has empowered the girls from India. Harmanpreet’s all-round effort was praised by Adam Gilcrisht, Veda Krishnamurthy’s effort in the filed, or Smriti’s batting didn’t go unnoticed. This means cricketers who used to be a non-existence entity a couple of years earlier became the talk of the town. They became the stars to watch out for which highlighted their existence as a cricketer.
Women’s Big Bash League vs Women’s T20 Challenge?
Compared to well trusted and established WBBL, which will commence its 6th season, The Women’s T20 Challenge is still in exhibition form. In 2018 BCCI organized a one-off exhibition match in the scorching heat in mid-May in Mumbai, after which journalists went gaga over it.
Update on spectator attendance:
Possible to form two more teams for the next exhibition game/ series with all the spectators who are currently in the stands.
— Annesha Ghosh (@ghosh_annesha) May 22, 2018
Two teams – Trailblazers and Supernovas played alone match in 2018 while in 2019 Velocity joined in and matches were increased to 4. Contrary to the Franchise based league in Australia is governed by IPL Governing Council and the matches played during the IPL play-offs.
It would be worth remembering that cricketers like Shafali Verma came into prominence in 2019 Women’s T20 challenge which later solidified its place in the National Team. So, without overlooking the importance of the Women’s T20 Challenge which can play a role in the holistic development of Indian Women’s cricket, WBBL is way ahead in terms of the whole package. As WBBL clashed with the Women’s T20 Challenge is more likely to miss the players who have played the tournament before.
Needs to be a window for Women’s IPL, WBBL and The Hundred. All play a massive part in raising the standards and growing the game. https://t.co/biiShKjfRw
— Charlotte Edwards (@C_Edwards23) August 2, 2020
Apart from the Indian cricketers like Smriti, Jemimah, Mithali, Jhulan, Harmapreet, foreign cricketers have added the flavour in the matches in the last two years, including Megan Schutt, Suzie Bates, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Healey Mathews, Amelia Kerr etc. But this year, they wouldn’t be featured due to the WBBL clash.
They have been replaced by Shakera Selman, Danielle Wyatt, Jahanara Alam, Sophie Ecclestone, Chamari Athapaththu, Deandra Dottin, Salma Khatun, Shashikala Siriwardena, Ayabonga Khaka, Natthakan Chantham, Sune Luss and Leigh Kasperek.
While there is no doubt about their capability, can they match the bar of pulling the crowd like the aforementioned players? That is debatable. Moreover, Australia is the current World Champions, why on earth you organize a league without the best of players? Would that be a spectacle to attract the crowd in the television?
Boria Majumder in a conversation with Live Mint regarding his book ‘Eleven Gods and Billion Indian’ too said that the Indian public likes spectacle more than the Game in recent times. That’s why IPL attracts more people than Test Cricket. Will Women’s T20 Challenge be able to create that spectacle without the ‘names’?
Moreover, for cricketers, it is not a very busy schedule as they don’t get many chances to either play more games or earn more. So instead of opting for the league, it would be ideal if they have the players for both the leagues.
To end with I would like to echo what Healy said, though IPL doesn’t need the marquee players as it has become large, Women’s T20 Challenge does. And clashing with WBBL is not a loss to Australian Women’s Cricket which has already thrived. While there is no argument about the role that Women’s T20 Challenge can play for the development of Indian women circuit in upcoming days, clashing with WBBL is a rather set back for it, as Indian domestic cricketers will miss engaging with the bests and beasts of the World.