The ’Dynamic’ Rise of Women’s Cricket

Loughborough Lightning’s Australian international Ellyse Perry gives Sarah Leach an outsider’s view of the Kia Super League and compares it with the Big Bash back home

Ellyse Perry photo by paddynapper via Wikimedia Commons

Australian all-rounder Ellyse Perry, who played for Loughborough Lightning in the Kia Super League, believes the impact of professionalism on women’s cricket has been a game-changer.

“It’s been massive,” she says of women being paid to play cricket. “The easiest way to see that would just be to go through the stats; you can see what kind of totals are being scored these days, how quickly girls are scoring runs, the dynamic-ness of the fielding and how much more athletic players are. And all of that directly relates to professionalism.

“The leading teams in the world are the ones who have the opportunity to train and prepare and are paid to do that. So England are obviously world champions in the 50-over format at the moment, and we [Australia] have been really fortunate to have some success in the last couple of years. But I think that’s directly related to the opportunities that we’ve been getting back home – whether it’s playing professionally in competitions like the Big Bash or coming together as an Australian team and being paid to do that.”

Twenty-six-year-old Perry is captain of the Sydney Sixers in the Women’s T20 Big Bash League (WBBBL), which is played over the Australian summer. Like the Kia Super League, the Big Bash has attracted numerous international stars. Players from New Zealand, Barbados, India, South Africa, Ireland and nine of the present England squad have all been lured by the chance to play professionally. They include Heather Knight, the England captain, who leads the Hobart Hurricanes, and the newly-retired Charlotte Edwards, who has played Down Under for two teams, the Adelaide Strikers and Perth Scorches.

In fact, the biggest pay-rise in the history of women’s sport in Australia has been the result of a recently signed-off pay deal between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association under which the average wage of a top female player will immediately jump from $80,000 (£50,000) to $179,000 (£110,000) annually.

In addition, the women will also share in bonuses, with overall revenue set to grow when new international and Big Bash League broadcast deals are brokered in the next year. But it’s not just a bigger pay-cheque that drives Perry; it’s about creating something viable and marketable to fans. “It’s really important and I think the more that this game continues to grow and be professional, the better the standard is and the better the product,” she said.

The product speaks for itself in Australia: 24,000 was the top attendance at the women’s Big Bash in the 2016-17 season, at the Melbourne derby on New Year’s Day. Here in England, Friday’s KSL finals saw an impressive 3,413 crowd pass through the gates at Hove to witness Western Storm win the title against Southern Vipers.

It has been WBBL’s fortune, though, that the eight franchise teams are attached to the men’s Big Bash teams; that helped attract initial interest. But it’s become clear that the Australian public has taken to the women’s game, and as an offset, demanded the current broadcast deal with Network Ten. However, for Ellyse Perry, the stand-alone female competition in the Kia Super League offers something unique: it’s a celebration of the female game, and a movement towards something bigger.

“The Kia Super League is for females only and it’s stand-alone, but that gives us a great chance to develop our own brand and competition and have it in our own outright space. There’s good in both, but I think at the end of the day if the stand-alone standard of cricket is great, and girls are producing really high-quality matches, people are going to come watch and it will grow from that,” she said.

Perry also says it’s time to move on from being classed alongside the men’s. “It’s really easy to fall back into comparing the men’s and women’s game. There’s obvious differences in terms of the strength. Genetically, guys are just built differently, so they are going to play the game differently. It’s been really nice to develop our own game and have people view it for what it is rather than comparing it.

“I suppose we don’t have the raw power, and there’s a bit more finesse in our shots. The way the game is played is a little bit different because the totals are a bit lower and bowlers probably play more variations because they don’t have that speed on the ball to just blast batters out as well. So for me it would be really nice to get to a point where people just turn up to a game and they are just watching the game and they’re not comparing it to anything else. I think that’s when you get a really great following and you get people invested in the game as well,” Perry said.

The good news is that the Kia Super League will expand next summer. The England and Wales Cricket Board have confirmed that after the successful inaugural season in 2016, teams will play 10 group games in future, facing each team home and away.

“It’s about growth and engaging a new audience with T20,” said Clare Connor, the ECB’s director of women’s cricket. “It wasn’t possible this year to expand because of the World Cup, but from next year it will [expand]. Everyone felt [with five games] the competition was just getting going, players were just finding their feet and coaches were just starting to understand their players and game plans.”

Perry agrees. When Loughborough defeated Surrey Stars in round five last month they were just finding form. “The last two games we played some really great cricket, but we started the competition really slowly, and unfortunately because of the nature of how quick it [the KSL] is, that was it for us. Currently, the Big Bash back home is two full rounds, so it’s a slightly longer and more comprehensive competition. But I think the standard of cricket across both is extremely high,” Perry added.

The success of the Kia Super League was demonstrated visibly in a doubling of crowd numbers at the final, with attendances overall being up by a third. This year each of the 54 non-contracted England and non-international players were given participation fees to cover training, travel and taking time off work, as opposed to just the match fees they received for games they played last year. “It’s a big step and I see that area getting more budget as time goes by, which is great news,” said Connor.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Leach. Freelance Sports Broadcast Journalist/Producer based in London, Sarah is former Netball athlete at national level both in Australia and here in the UK (Super League). Lover of all sports and giving high-fives to the ladies dominating on the big stage in sport. Instagram @sarahleach_1 Twitter @sarleach Sarah’s latest articles.

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