Are Australia’s women’s cricket team the best sports team in history? The question comes to mind because lesser questions are rapidly becoming exhausted by their success. They haven’t lost an ODI for getting on for 3 years now; and during that period they’ve won the Women’s Ashes twice and the T20 World Cup twice. There is little doubt that they are the best women’s cricket team in history; and well on their way to becoming the best cricket team, full stop.
Jarrod Kimber has done a brilliant job summing up why, as he asks the question: ‘Will the Australian women ever lose an ODI?‘ The answer of course is yes, for exactly the reasons Kimber states – someone will eventually produce the performance of a lifetime against them, as Harmanpreet did at Derby in 2017 to knock them out of a World Cup they’d probably have won if they’d reached the final. (Let’s face it, they wouldn’t have mentally disintegrated and thrown away a near-certain victory the way India did at Lords that day.)
But that’s what it will take to beat them these days, at least in the less unpredictable ODI format – as Kimber concludes in his penultimate sentence: “Right now [Australia] aren’t just dominating cricket, they’re almost destroying it.”
I’d go a bit further even: this team are figuratively “killing it”.
But I worry there is a problem: they are also literally “killing it”.
Economic historians describe a problem called the “Tragedy of the Commons“, where a shared collective resource is ultimately destroyed by everyone acting in their individual, rational self-interest.
What we have in macrocosm, is perhaps most neatly described in microcosm with reference to the last Women’s Ashes Test at Taunton. Meg Lanning refused the opportunity to go for a win, because Australia only needed a draw, and going for the win would also have given England an opportunity to win. This was a totally rational decision in the context of the series, but it severely damaged the long-term credibility and viability of Women’s Tests, as the match ground itself out into a mindless bore-draw.
Australia’s recent series versus New Zealand was obviously not a draw, but it was a bore, because there was no contest. New Zealand were never even at the races – we all knew what was going to happen before a ball was bowled, and by the 3rd ODI New Zealand were so thoroughly demoralised they couldn’t even reach 3 figures on a pitch where the Aussies had made over 300.
This is obviously because Meg Lanning and her Australia team are just doing their job – exactly as they were in the Women’s Ashes. None of this is their “fault”; nor is it Cricket Australia’s. Putting in place a world-beating infrastructure, and winning cricket matches off the back of it, is what they are paid to do. But the consequence of this – the “tragedy of the commons – is that this is killing the game for everyone else, and fans – eventually even Australian ones – will start to respond by tuning out and turning off.
Is there a solution? I’m not sure there is. Tim Wigmore has floated the idea of a tax-and-redistribute system, where the ICC fund women’s central contracts across the globe; but even if this was a political starter, the problem with it is that it while it might level everyone up to where England currently are, it doesn’t bring anyone any closer to Australia, who will just pull further ahead as a result.
Kim Garth’s recent defection to Australia to play domestic cricket there, rather than international cricket for Ireland, is potentially where we end up here: with the world’s best players going to Australia full-time, while international cricket slips quietly into irrelevance. At some point Australia effectively stand back, maybe by fielding an Under-19s team at World Cups, leaving international cricket in the same sort of place as international baseball – a part-time, recreational pursuit, while the world’s best players ply their trade professionally in the WBBL “World Series”.
Maybe that would be a good thing; maybe it wouldn’t.
But if we don’t ask ourselves the question now, it’s where we are going to end up regardless.