This story was first written and published for The Roar.
One question I have been asked repeatedly over the last two weeks has been, ‘Mary, how do you feel about rugby league finally following the AFL and getting a women’s competition of its own’.
I always chuckle to myself when I get asked this question and respond in the same way.
The launch of AFLW was a moment in time in the history of Australian sport, but if we are talking about other sports following each other in the development and establishment of professional women’s competitions, then surely cricket came first with the WBBL.
Of course there were other national professional women’s sports leagues in place before the WBBL including the WNBL and the W-League, but when the WBBL started it gave the other sports the kick up the backside they needed. It was cricket coming into the Australian sporting landscape and saying ‘women’s sport matters’.
Since that competition started in the summer of 2015-16 we have watched the women’s sport landscape flourish. Next year there will be women’s competitions in AFL, NRL, rugby union, cricket, basketball and football.
This is not a competition between sports. Each sport can learn from the successes and the failures of the others. Ultimately the goal is to ensure that women have the opportunity to pursue a professional career in whatever sport they choose. Each sport launching their own competition gives women this very important opportunity.
It comes as no surprise to me that since the launch of the WBBL in 2015-16 we have seen cricket continue to flourish.
On an international level in 2017 we saw the Southern Stars rebranded to be named the Australian Women’s Cricket Team. Language is exceptionally important and while this may not seem like a big deal to some of you, it now signals equality as the men’s and women’s teams are labelled the same way.
This is reflected in pay too. This year was the first time that our professional women’s cricketers were included in the same collective bargaining agreement as the men. These women will earn $55 million over the next five years, compared to $7 million in the last five years.
This focus on pay extends much further than the international game though – for those playing domestic cricket in the WNCL and WBBL, their pay increased by 128 per cent. This means cricket is the only sport in Australia that has gender equity in remuneration. If you are a man or a woman playing professional cricket in Australia you have the same base hourly rate of pay.
Australia was also lucky enough to host the Women’s Ashes, which was another opportunity for cricket to celebrate a number of firsts.
This Ashes series was the first time that tickets had been sold to women’s international matches in Australia – and people responded with almost 30,000 people attending matches across Australia in Brisbane, Coffs Harbour, Sydney and Canberra to watch the team retain the Ashes.
Then there was the cricket itself. Ellyse Perry’s unbeaten 213 at North Sydney Oval was one of my favourite sporting moments of the year. This was Perry’s first century at an international level – imagine what this exceptional young woman could do if women were given the opportunity to play the Test format of the game more regularly.
Not only did Perry manage 213 not out and not only did she bowl a spell, but she also stayed behind after the game and signed autographs and took photographs with anyone who asked (including me!).
Other highlights during the series included Megan Schutt taking 18 wickets (across all three formats), eclipsing the previous record for wickets taken across the multi-format series, Amanda-Jade Wellington bowling what has been called ‘ball of this century’ to dismiss Tammy Beaumont, and Beth Mooney hitting the first century in women’s T20 cricket in Australia with 19 fours and a six in her 117 at Manuka Oval.
And then the WBBL started.
On opening weekend, more than 8000 people were at North Sydney Oval to watch the four games that took place. That was impressive, but nothing compared to the television audience. The game between the Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Stars had an average national audience of 422,500 viewers, peaking at 629,000. The average audience of 350,000 on that first day was a 46.6 per cent increase on the average viewership for the last season.
Then there was the cricket. In the first game between the Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Renegades, the Thunder’s 6-200 was the highest recorded score in WBBL history. That was later eclipsed by the Sydney Sixers.
Led by Ashleigh Gardner, who scored the fastest WBBL 50 (off just 22 balls) and then went on to score the highest century in WBBL, ended on 114 off 52 balls to help the Sixers power their way to 242 (the highest ever total in Big Bash history).
That opening weekend also saw the Adelaide Strikers make their highest score in the WBBL with 183 runs, helped by Suzie Bates’ 102.
Since then we have seen Dane van Niekerk from the Sydney Sixers claim the third hat-trick in WBBL history in the Sixers’ game against the Hurricanes, Rachael Haynes from the Sydney Thunder score two half centuries (the first against the Melbourne Renegades and the second again the Melbourne Stars), some exceptional catches from the likes of Brisbane Heat’s Laura Wolvaardt, and Holly Ferling (also from the Heat) claiming a wicket off her first ball against the Perth Scorchers.
The best part is, the future is also bright. In junior participation, women and girls made up 27.6 per cent of the 1.4 million people playing cricket – a 24.5 per cent increase on last year.
The cricket family is such a special one and I want to thank everyone who has played, supported, advocated or written about the women’s game this year and in years gone past. You have all played a part in getting us here.
Women like Lisa Sthalekar, Lucy Williams, Mel Jones, Sarah Styles, Belinda Clarke, Betty Wilson, Brittany Carter, Danielle Warby, every single woman that has ever played for the Australian Women’s Cricket Team and the team at Cricket Australia and all the state cricket offices. You have all played a role in making sure that women and girls in Australia feel welcome and included in the cricket family.
But rest assured, while this year may have been special, the best is yet to come.
Merry cricketmas to all of you and see you at the WBBL!