BOOK REVIEW: Cricket 2.0 – A Vision Of Women’s Cricket’s Future?

Last week Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde’s Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution was deservedly named Wisden’s Book of the Year. The book provides a forensic examination of the multiple ways in which T20 has changed cricket, both for the better and for the worse, and features interviews with more than fifty players and coaches in the men’s game.

I began reading it while out in Australia for the T20 World Cup, and almost immediately happened upon the following, in the Authors’ Note: “This book is solely on men’s T20 cricket. T20 has transformed women’s cricket too – quite possibly even more so – but that story deserves its own full telling, and there are others better qualified than us to do it justice.”

That quickly became the lens through which I consumed the rest of the book. How far can Wigmore and Wilde’s analysis be extended to the women’s game? Is men’s T20 cricket a vision for our future?

I’ve noted some of my musings below. I’d be interested to hear your own views in the comments.

  • Increased use of data is at the heart of this book, and is one aspect of what Wilde and Wigmore label a “paradigm shift” in cricket in the past 10 years (see especially ch.2). Here is one area where women’s cricket is lagging behind. Matthew Mott is the first coach I’ve heard who regularly uses the term “match-ups” in press conferences; Australia are the first international side who actually have the resources at their disposal (i.e. analysts) to use data to the extent that it’s been used in men’s cricket. This was much discussed during the recent T20 World Cup, when Australia came under the spotlight for becoming obsessed with a numbers-based approach to questions like whether Ash Gardner or Meg Lanning should bat at 3. Overall, use of data is one area where I’d suggest women’s T20 cricket will begin to look much more “Cricket 2.0” in the next few years, as teams become better resourced around the world.
  • Commercial forces have shaped men’s T20 cricket to a much greater extent than in the women’s game. Men’s T20 franchise leagues have created a free market whereby mercenaries like Chris Gayle (ch.3) can make millions of dollars without wearing their national shirt. No one chooses the freelance life in women’s cricket: it’s hard work – see for example Rachel Priest, who snapped up a New Zealand contract as soon as she could, after moonlighting in the KSL and WBBL for a couple of years.
  • That means that some of the positives which T20 cricket has brought to the men’s game, like the “democratisation” process amongst players from non-Test playing nations (ch.13), have not yet arrived in women’s cricket. On the other hand, you might argue that the players remain much less motivated by money – they are grateful for the chance to make a living playing cricket, but they don’t turn into the kind of person who gives themselves the nickname “Universe Boss”, which is a plus point as far as I’m concerned.
  • Men’s T20 cricket has brought spin bowling to the fore (ch.4) – an interesting contrast with the women’s game, where spinners have generally been more dominant. I might even hesitantly say that, in a reversal of the trend Wilde and Wigmore identify, T20 cricket has made pace bowling more important in women’s cricket. If the best T20 pace bowling is about mastering variations (ch.7), might that gives seamers in women’s cricket an advantage, because variations (not sheer pace) have traditionally been the tools of their trade?
  • In chapter 8, Wilde and Wigmore outline the gradual unravelling of the ECB’s initial opposition to the IPL from 2015 onwards, which they attribute to England Men’s poor performance in the 2015 World Cup. I am intrigued by this timeline. It was in June 2015 that Clare Connor first unveiled plans for a new women’s “Super League”, which was to be a franchise T20 tournament – the first of its kind in England. Perhaps the success of the KSL, as it became, helped erode the ECB’s opposition to these kind of leagues?
  • Something we have seen a lot less of in women’s T20 cricket is the struggle for peaceful co-existence between domestic T20 leagues and international cricket (ch.9). WBBL and KSL have both been part-funded and fully supported by their national boards. Nonetheless, an integral part of the story of the WBBL’s origins is the rebel-league-that-wasn’t, Shaun Martyn’s Women’s International Cricket League (WICL). This initiative pushed Cricket Australia, who were terrified that they might lose control of their players, into launching WBBL – and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s going to be interesting to see if the launch of a Women’s IPL eventually takes us to another showdown between the boards and the franchises.
  • Chapter 12, “Why CSK Win and Why RCB Lose”, could equally well be entitled “Why Western Storm Win and Why Lancashire Thunder Lose”. Western Storm, the only team to feature in all 4 KSL Finals Days, realised early on (as did CSK in the men’s IPL) that a strong core of domestic players was the way to achieve success.
  • However, one key difference between women’s and men’s T20 franchise leagues has been the lack of a player draft in the women’s game. There is no “science of a good auction” (ch.2) in women’s T20 cricket – in the KSL, England players were “allocated” centrally by the ECB, while for the overseas players, all the negotiations were done behind the scenes. These negotiations, which have generally been top-secret, would certainly be a fascinating process to research!
  • On that note, Wigmore and Wilde’s “Epilogue” is devoted to 32 Predictions For The Future Of T20 Cricket. (Many of these provide a compelling vision for the future of the women’s game, which is one reason why I’d recommend this book to Cher readers.) One prediction is that: “The system of drafts and auctions will evolve”, with at least some of the allocation process moving to direct negotiations with players, in order to create more continuity in teams and eliminate the upheaval currently experienced in the men’s IPL when contracts come up for renewal. I wonder whether women’s cricket might learn from the men’s game and actually bypass the draft system completely, given its many disadvantages?

A final point: Wigmore and Wilde’s “Author’s Note” might well be interpreted as a “call to arms” for some future author to write their own version of this book, but centring on the women’s game. My feeling is that it would be a very different book. The forensic level of statistical analysis which Wilde and Wigmore adopt, based on extensive use of CricVizz’s stats database, would be much harder to achieve – there is no equivalently sized database for the women’s game (as far as I’m aware). As it stands, an author would have to rely far more heavily on anecdotal information provided at a team level.

I’d still read it, though!

3 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Cricket 2.0 – A Vision Of Women’s Cricket’s Future?

  1. Really could insight! If a good book on cricket especially on women’s cricket should be written then it has to be by someone with no vested interest in the game. I am not questioning the skill or integrity of Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde but CricViz and their employees have everything to gain by overstating the importance of micro analysis in cricket. The financial sector has constantly shown the negative effects of micro trading. There is money to be made but trillions of dollars have also been wiped out in a matter of minutes.

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  2. Well it’s an excursion from the current monotony to have a think about cricket for a bit, and quite an escape from reality given we could still be some way off from getting any play anytime soon. I’ve not read the book, but it does sound interesting. A few comments on the points you raise:

    Data will probably start to be used more in women’s T20, assuming that the coronavirus crisis doesn’t set things back a few years. There’s always the chance that the England, county/franchise and other national & international setups could be de-prioritised if boards find themselves under increased financial pressure. The lack of gate and alcohol receipts could easily bring that. Irrespective of that though, one reason why data’s not been as widely used in women’s T20 at the top level has always been that there’s not as much of it. You correctly point this out in your concluding remarks. A few limited T20 leagues round the world and a few internationals each year. There’s not been the sheer volume of (decades now) of franchise cricket like the men’s game has. And the less data you have, the less you can rely on it of course.

    Completely agree about the evolution of different types of bowling due to T20 – pace bowling is more pertinent in the women’s game recently. Although it’s always been known how good and effective it can be when done well (e.g. Brunt / Ismail etc) there have not been too many exponents of the craft traditionally. Bowlers have previously found “easier” ways to be effective such as medium pace variations, and lots of types of spin. Now those “easier” routes to success have started to become blocked off for all but the most talented exponents, by more powerful and skilful batsmen, then bowlers find themselves needing to evolve as well. Pace is the future, apparently.

    I’m not sure why the ECB ever opposed the IPL. Surely if they did, it should have been a few years before 2015 in its more formative stage. No point blowing into a well-established wind. So it was always a bit of a waste of time. The Hundred, if it ever happens is a sure-fire case of “if you can’t beat them, join them” with a few changes just to make things different. Annoyingly so for some of us.

    “Why CSK Win and Why RCB Lose” is in my opinion about selecting a good solid bowling side over superstar batting imports who might or might not fire when you need them. RCB always flatter to deceive and look good on paper – but tend to play like a team of individuals, which is, I guess, where the close national team-mates thing comes in. CSK usually have a more settled and balanced side.

    The point of drafts should be to assist in team-building in order to produce a league of reasonably well-matched sides, any of whom could in theory challenge for the title. How well that works in practice is fairly debatable. I always think it sounds like a good idea, but not sure it works well all that often. There are of course other factors at play which influence proceedings greatly, even more so than the ability of players on paper. Sides with average playing staff but a well-resourced, good coaching setup and the right atmosphere and training regime could get better results than a more talented side with a coaching setup / ground / team ethic that just didn’t work for them. So I think more work needs to be done by the boards in sort of standardising those kind of things, although that would inevitably lead to accusations of unnecessary interference. It’s a hard balance to strike, but I still feel that an effort needs to be made. Leaving everything up to the teams’ own direct negotiations with players simply leads to one or two dominant sides, everyone else struggling, and predictable league positions. This is then reinforced in subsequent seasons as the top sides win even more prize money and get richer, etc.

    The future of women’s T20 cricket is, in England at least, partly dependent on the success or otherwise of The Hundred. This is especially true since the KSL in its previous guise is no more. The notion that this unknown quantity of The Hundred could be one of the few competitions to survive the coronavirus lock-down this summer is a source of some anguish amongst cricket fans. Some will be swallowing their pride and going to see The Hundred, if that’s largely all we’re given, of course. We shall see what transpires.

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