Franchise cricket takes women from strength to strength
To be clear from the start, I am not a fan of the franchise idea for men’s Twenty20 cricket in England and Wales. I think that in the interest of Big Bash style crowds the ECB shouldn’t risk pulling the rug from under the county system. I also think it’s odd that in the one country in the cricketing world where Test cricket is king, the game’s administrators should be focussing so hard on the most concentrated, yet simultaneously most diluted form of the game.
On top of that, all sorts of questions are raised about which team fans would support given that we’ve not got the same federal, city based geography of India, Australia and South Africa. Nor the inter-island setup of West Indies cricket. It’s fair to say that English county cricket is associated more with rural idylls than big city brashness: Warwickshire ain’t Birmingham and Surrey ain’t South London.
I am, though, a huge cheerleader for women’s cricket and am very excited about the inaugural Women’s Cricket Super League which will take place from 30th July to 14th August.
I like the timing: summer holidays and a short format culminating in a four-team finals day. It’s done well to keep finals day, a great day out when done properly, and it’s an even better decision to limit the tournament to a fortnight. The key obstacle in the way of women’s cricket is viewer fatigue so keeping it short should keep both live and TV audiences interested.
There I go, presuming it will be televised. It’s just got to be; without TV money there’s no way the ECB would be in a position to invest, and make no mistakes that this is an investment, not a charitable donation to the women’s game. The game is growing so fast, and the role models within it (Clare Connor, Charlotte Edwards, Sarah Taylor and New Zealand’s Suzie Bates to name a few) are in many ways more inspirational than the great sulkers and pouters that tarnish the men’s game.
If you’ve not caught the news yet, the franchise names are yet to be announced but there will be six regional teams, whittled down from 28 initial bids. The London team will be based in Surrey, then there are Lancashire and Yorkshire, Hampshire and a Midlands and South West-based team. I anticipate this working much better in the women’s than the men’s game. The women’s county game just isn’t that established yet, so I can see supporters being more willing to pitch up and support a new entity.
Another reason I’m so keen to see this project succeed is that I want to see the women’s game protected. I’m immensely proud of women joining men’s teams and playing alongside them competitively, but I fear that if this was the only avenue for women’s cricketing success the effects would be disastrous. For a start, the number of women making it through to the men’s professional level would be so small as to put off young girls from taking up the game; and then, if it was all about playing alongside men, women could surely only be valued for batsmanship and perhaps spin bowling, leaving the quick stuff to the stronger, bigger men. A dystopian cricketing future like this isn’t good for anyone.
So I look forward with excitement to the WCSL (even if it’s not too catchily named) and hope to be able to get to a few games. But even more, I look forward to women’s cricket one day attracting the same and larger audiences than women’s tennis, golf or basketball. Go on the women – you’re doing a great job.