On Friday, the 2018 Women’s World T20 kicks off in the Caribbean and there is much anticipation and excitement ahead of the tournament. It will be the first time that a women’s World T20 will be a standalone and not a precursor and a filler for the Men’s event.The last few years have been transformational for the women’s game and there is much greater interest and curiosity among spectators around the world as the sport attracts a much bigger audience. And there are some key factors that have led to this spurt of growth.
Stopping The Australia-England Juggernaut
April 3rd, 2016 | Eden Gardens, Kolkata
It was a historic day. West Indies beat England by four wickets (with 2 balls remaining) to become the first team to win two World T20 titles.
But just a few hours earlier at the very venue, another West Indies cricket team had beaten three-time champions, Australia, for their maiden title – it was a landmark achievement and a defining moment in women’s cricket history. The West Indies Women’s team beat favourites Australia by 8 wickets (with three balls remaining) and with that unleashed a new era in women’s cricket.
Australia and England had dominated women’s cricket for the last decade – in both ODI and T20 cricket. They had the best win-loss ratio in both formats. While Australia had won three (out of four) editions of the World T20 (till the 2016 WT20), both countries had won every edition of the World Cup except one.
Thus, the victory of West Indies in 2016 against all odds was a turning point in women’s cricket history. Australia and England were not the only powerhouses any more.
The win also brought with it a new style coming into prominence in the women’s game. Australia’s efficiency and England’s professionalism would now face stiff competition from the Caribbean flair!
Parallels can be drawn from the inaugural edition of the Men’s World Cup in 1975 – when Clive Lloyd led a less fancied West Indies team to victory over tournament favourites Australia. How cricket history was redefined thereafter – has been well documented.
While Australia and England still continue to be the top two teams, it is the rise of others that has made women’s cricket more competitive and interesting.
New Zealand’s win-loss ratio has risen from 1.43 to 2 since WT20 2016 while India’s has gone up from 1 to 1.77. Meanwhile England’s win-loss ratio has fallen from 2.692 to 2.2.
With a more open field and the defending champions playing at home, the 2018 WT20 promises to be a more competitive event.
India’s Performance at the 2017 World Cup
The Indian team gave England a close fight in the final at Lord’s in 2017. It was a full-house, an intriguing match and a tense finish – England were the winners by a mere margin of 9 runs but India had won the hearts and accolades of the cricketing fraternity.
They had beaten defending champions Australia in the semi-final. Harmanpreet Kaur had blasted an unbeaten 171 in just 115 deliveries to record the fifth-highest score in women’s ODI history.
India’s performance at the World Cup received high praise from the public and administration at home. It also augured well for world cricket as it meant that the powerful BCCI would invest more into the women’s game – this would only help in popularizing the sport in India and the world.
The 2017 World Cup was also a big success overall with large crowds in a number of matches. Average ticket sales were higher than any previous World Cup. It also introduced to the sport a new audience – of women spectators and viewers.
People’s perception about the women’s game was changing – they started viewing it as a separate sport than a poor cousin of the men’s version.
It was a watershed moment for women’s cricket.
Number of Matches and World T20 Leagues
There were 112 women T20I matches in 2018 – that was more than the combined number of T20I matches the previous three years – 2015-2017. There was a massive effort to push women’s T20 cricket – both by the administrators and the broadcasters alike.
The emergence of the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia and the Women’s Cricket Super League in the United Kingdom in the last 3-4 years has given the women’s game a major boost – it has given the players more exposure and got the best players to play under one umbrella, thereby raising the quality of cricket and competition. Players have been forced to compete under pressure in tough situations. It has helped in making the women’s game more professional.
Increase in Run-Rate and Boundaries
Women’s T20 cricket was often compared to the men’s and branded as boring – the main reason cited was the slow run-rate.
This has significantly changed in the last few years. From 2015 there has been a substantial increase in run-rate, year on year.
There was an increase of 6.32 % in the run-rate from 2015 to 2016, then of 6.49% from 2016 to 2017.
With each team set to play the group stage of the 2018 World T20 at one venue – either Guyana or St Lucia (unlike WT20 2016 where matches were held across the length and breadth of India and on varied pitches) and the pitches expected to be flatter, the overall run-rate will only rise for 2018.
One of the major reasons for an increase in run-rate has been the frequency of boundaries. More boundaries and sixes are being hit today in women’s cricket than ever before.
While there was a steady decline in the percentage of boundaries from 2009 to 2012, there has been an increase from 2015 to 2017. 20 fours per match in 2018 is only expected to improve post the World T20.
There has also been a substantial and consistent increase in the number of sixes since the beginning of the decade. Overall the proportion of sixes hit in the last 4 years (2015-2018) is much higher than the previous four (2011-2014).
More sixes and boundaries add to the allure of the sport and attract bigger crowds in stadiums besides increasing viewership on television.
A direct consequence of high scoring rates is high totals. There has been a considerable increase in the number and proportion of high scores in women’s T20I cricket in the last few years. This has generated new found interest in the women’s game.
13 out of the highest 20 match aggregates (both teams combined) in women’s T20I history have been registered last year – i.e. in 2018.
Percentage of 120-plus totals:
The percentage of 120-plus totals has consistently increased since 2012 (except for 2017 which was an aberration).
There have been 9 international hundreds in women’s T20 cricket – 6 of them have come in either 2017 or 2018.
Before 2016, in 5097 individual innings, there were only 36 scores of 70 or above.
In the last three years (post 1 Jan 2016), there have already been 33 innings of 70 or more (in 2764 innings).
The number of close encounters have risen in the last couple of years – there have been a high number of chases which have gone right down to the wire. This has made the contest more interesting.
The emergence of role models and heroes within women’s cricket is inspiring a number of young girls to play cricket professionally as a career option. This is in contrast with the past when the heroes and motivation came from the men’s game.
Now an Indian woman cricketer does not necessarily need to aspire to become a Virat Kohli or a Sachin Tendulkar – she has the likes of a Mithali Raj or a Harmanpreet Kaur to emulate.
The likes of Stefanie Taylor, Meg Lanning, DJS Dottin, Sophie Devine, Suzie Bates, Anisa Mohammed etc. have stupendous records in T20 cricket and are role models for budding women cricketers all over the world.
Although cricket is a team game, individual brilliance always stands out and separates the good from the best. It is individual talent and ability that draws the crowds and the audience to watch the sport. The ability of a superstar to generate interest in the sport is immense – especially in T20 cricket – such is its nature and format. Gayle, Kohli, AB, Pollard, Rohit, Narine, Buttler etc are prime examples from Men’s T20 cricket.
There are a number of new superstars in women’s T20 cricket today than before.
A number of changes in the rules and regulations and changes and innovations in technology have also made the women’s game more appealing today than ever before.
The Decision Review System will be available for the first time in T20 World Cup history (in the 2018 World T20).
Most teams now have sought-after coaches and there is not only a lot of focus on fitness but also on numbers and an in-depth analysis of performance.
International Women’s T20 cricket has come a long way since its inception in 2004. It does not need to feed of the men’s version. It has legs and hands and a body of itself.
The 2018 Women’s World T20 promises to be a spectacle like never before.
First Published: November 5, 2018, 1:51 PM IST