Just when you thought changes to the game of cricket were drastic enough -- hold on to your hat -- the women will have their own Big Bash League this summer.
While cricket history is being made this week with the first international day/night Test being played in Adelaide, next week will see another major milestone in Australian cricket when the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League season gets underway hoping to emulate the success of its fraternal counterpart.
On the back of a year that has seen Australia’s national team – the Southern Stars – reach the heights of the number one ranked team in the world in ALL forms of the game the next logical step for Cricket Australia was to give the women the opportunity to entertain the home crowds in the best way cricket has found -- with a Twenty20 Big Bash format.
The WBBL01, as this first season is being tagged, consists of eight teams – aligning with the established Men’s BBL teams.
Executive General Manager of Operations, Mike McKenna, says Cricket Australia sees this as the next phase of its efforts to increase participation and developement of the game for girls and women.
“The WBBL is really there to inspire girls to play cricket. There are a lot of girls who are coming to the Men’s Big Bash League and it’s their only form of engagement with cricket and for them to be able to see women professional players playing the game hopefully will inspire them to take it up themselves and go beyond the small contact they have at school in the development programs, to actually play in a club and see it as a potential career path,” he told The Huffington Post.
With all the key players from the Southern Stars involved, it is a promoters dream. But the beauty will be in the experimental mix of venues and broadcasts.
WBBL01 will see the women’s teams play 59 games with just eight of these to be broadcast on free-to-air television as double-headers with the matching men’s fixtures. McKenna says in this first season the emphasis will be on getting the public to know the women players and appreciate their skill and talent.
“They’re fantastic role models because the way they play in a game is one that people will want to watch. They’re hugely successful but they’re also talented and skilful athletes. And once people actually start to watch the game, those that haven’t before, they’ll realise there are extremely talented individuals playing the game,” said McKenna.
“All of the eight games will be double headers with the men’s games and they will be broadcast before the men’s game (on One HD). What you’ll see if you’re watching the games is the full production that you’ll see when the men’s games are on: so they’re not reducing the number of cameras and they’re not skimping on the commentary team,” he said.
McKenna says that the experience during the Southern Stars Ashes tour of England highlighted the benefits of the smaller grounds for the women’s game.
“It was a really great experience on the tour of the UK when the Women’s Ashes were played on smaller county grounds and they had full houses.”
“That’s something we’ll look at in the future as well, how to finance games at small ovals. We want people to actually appreciate the skills these girls have got; once you watch as a new experience, you’ll watch again and you will realise you’re watching great cricket being played,” he said.
In another big boost for the new venture, Cricket Australia this week has announced the new major naming rights sponsor for the WBBL is sports retailer Rebel.
McKenna says this creates a good foundation for the league in its early years.
"It’s good to have a good brand associated with the League in its early years when there’s a lot to prove and I think people are making their own judgement about the importance of women’s sport at a professional level," he said.
It's hard to imagine the first season of the Women's Big Bash League will see anything other than success given the Men's BBL has laid the groundwork over the past four years for acceptance of this T20 carnival format of the game.
On the back of the success of the Southern Stars this year, and the momentum which is being seen in all forms of women's sport, the Australian public should be in for an exciting summer of cricket from the players who have blazed a trail for the women cricketers of the future.