The second edition of the Women’s Big Bash League, aligned to the eight existing Big Bash League teams, is set to return bigger and better. Last year’s matches exceeded expectations — with one game attracting an audience of more than 12,000 — and excitement for this edition has been steadily building on social media as well as on the ground.
The tournament will see the Sydney Thunder — who won both men’s and women’s titles — attempt to defend their crown against a highly competitive field. More than 20 overseas players, including some of the biggest names in women’s cricket, will be in action. They will join the best of Australian domestic talent, from what is probably the world’s best domestic system.
The WBBL02 will begin with a carnival weekend, involving all eight teams in seven matches over three days, out of which four will be broadcast on Channel Ten, one in the prime time Saturday evening slot, a first for a standalone women’s sports match.
While there is no shortage of star power for WBBL02, all eyes will be on Indian T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur and left handed opener Smriti Mandhana. The two will make history as the first Indian players in the WBBL, with the BCCI having allowed Indian females to participate this year.
Harmanpreet’s recent form will please her team, the Sydney Thunder, who will bank on her all-round skills to help them defend their title. In her first full series as captain, she smashed 68*, 43, and 60* against the WT20 Champions the West Indies, no less. In the Thunder squad, she will team up with West Indies skipper Stafanie Taylor, as well as Australian vice captain Alex Blackwell.
Mandhana will look to repeat her heroics of earlier this year, when India won their first ever T20I series against Australia, in Australia. She scored 65 brisk runs in three games in the T20Is, and 157 runs in the three ODIs, including her first hundred. She will represent the Brisbane Heat, alongside another hard hitting West Indian, Deandra Dottin.
Besides their exploits with the bat, it is their athletic ability that has caught the eye of franchises. The pair are among the better fielders in the Indian team, and this is a clear indication that the global women’s game will place more emphasis on athleticism to go along with skills in the future.
The duo also carry the expectations of the Indian cricket family; a standout season could pave the way for a long term involvement in the league, generating larger interest back home, and pulling more young girls into the sport. It could also mean more Indian players join the league in the future.
Beside the Indians, a host of international stars like New Zealand skipper Suzie Bates (Perth Scorchers), former England captain Charlotte Edwards (Adelaide Strikers), and South African captain Dane van Niekerk (Sydney Sixers) will feature in the tournament. Australian superstars Meg Lanning (Melbourne Stars) and Ellyse Perry (Sixers) will be among the major crowd pullers for their respective games as well.
The tournament will start on the 10 December, the Weekend Carnival heralding its beginning. With the amount of buzz around the tournament, it is easy to forget that most of the players are still amateurs. Thus most matches are concentrated around weekends, allowing players to balance work and study commitments. From the 20 December, when the Big Bash League begins, 14 games (including the New Year’s Day Melbourne Derby and the second Sydney Smash) will be played as double headers. A total of 59 matches will be played over 50 days.
By far the biggest talking point ahead of the tournament has been the decision to live stream each and every WBBL match on the Cricket Australia website and on the WBBL Facebook page, absolutely free. This is in addition to the 12 games that will be broadcast by Channel Ten, an increase of two games as compared to last season. It is a potentially game-changing move, which could have a far-reaching impact on how women’s sport is broadcast in the future.
Crucially, it will also give players, especially domestic players, the exposure of playing in widely broadcast games. The benefits of such exposure at international level cannot be overstated.
Earlier this year in the WT20, India women lost to less-fancied Pakistan, a high pressure game that was broadcast just before the men’s game. They also lost a close game to the West Indies, with the men’s team among the audience, missing out two huge opportunities to take advantage of the media coverage in those encounters, as well as a semifinal spot. If the BCCI broadcast women’s internationals more often — or even streamed them live on their site, like I suggested here — such big occasions will hold less demons in the future.
The writer is a former international cricketer and now a freelance journalist, she tweets at @SnehalPradhan.
Updated Date: Dec 09, 2016 20:40:46 IST