Yesterday, Syd wrote that the success of the current Australian team is “killing the game for everyone else, and fans – eventually even Australian ones – will start to respond by tuning out and turning off.” Others in the mainstream media have expressed similar concerns: Tim Wigmore suggests that: “For all the wonder of Australia’s achievement, there is a certain sadness too” – a sadness, he argues, stemming from the fact that other nations are falling so far behind due to lack of investment.
But while the run of success experienced by Meg Lanning’s side is undoubtedly a concern, I actually think there’s more cause for optimism than Syd thinks.
Firstly, cricket – unlike many other top sports – is played across multiple formats. Lanning & co’s astonishing run of 21 consecutive victories has come in the 50-over format alone. Their recent record in T20 cricket, as I’ve argued before, is actually not that convincing. They lost the last game of the Women’s Ashes last summer to a thoroughly demoralised England; more to the point, in the T20 World Cup earlier this year, they lost to India, almost lost to New Zealand, came within a hair’s breadth of losing their semi-final to South Africa, and only totally managed to overpower their opponents in the final – something I suspect had more to do with the overwhelming nature of the occasion for the Indians than anything else.
If Australia are so far ahead of the rest of the world, wouldn’t we expect them to also be consistently dominant in T20 cricket? They aren’t.
Perhaps that is due to the unpredictable nature of the 20-over format – but that unpredictability is here to stay. And in women’s cricket, as we all know, 20-over cricket is much more significant than ODIs, both in terms of growing the game and in terms of global TV audiences. So maybe we shouldn’t be quite so worried that fans will simply begin to “tune out”?
Similarly, Australia don’t experience the same dominance in multi-day cricket as they do in 50-over cricket. There’s a simple reason for that: they don’t get to play it very often! And nor does any other team in the world. Multi-day cricket provides a level playing field like no other.
At the moment, that’s somewhat irrelevant, but we are hearing positive noises from England and Australia that more Ashes Tests might just be on the cards – both Tom Harrison and Nick Hockley have come out in favour of the longer format in recent weeks. There’s also been some discussion about the possibility of the new domestic regional sides in England (Southern Vipers et al) playing multi-day cricket, now that they will have a bit more time on their hands to do so.
Back in 2014, the BCCI went through a brief period of supporting women’s Test cricket because – at a time when the Indian team were experienced little success elsewhere – they saw it as a format which they could win at. Lo and behold, India beat England at Wormsley, then annihilated South Africa by an innings three months later. Sadly, for whatever reason, it seems to have been a short-lived period of BCCI interest; however, it’s still significant: it shows that if a cricket board wants to be successful, a focus on the longest format is one way of achieving it.
Maybe Australia’s dominance in 50-over cricket can convince the ECB that the regions really DO need to be playing multi-day cricket, as the best possible preparation for the next Women’s Ashes? After all, what better way to pull ahead of Australia than to become dominant in Tests – widely heralded as the premier format in world cricket?
Cricket can work in mysterious ways!
A second point to counter Syd’s pessimism would be this: yes, Australia reign supreme in 50-over cricket at the moment, thanks to a huge amount of investment in their domestic set-up, but will they keep getting exponentially better, forever? It seems unlikely. The biggest leap in standards comes when you allow players to focus on cricket alone – they improve hugely, but there is a ceiling on how far that takes you.
Domestic professionalism is the biggest difference between Australia and elsewhere as it stands, but it won’t be a point of difference for very much longer. England should (fingers crossed) have 40 domestic professionals in place by the end of October, and Clare Connor has said (pre-Covid) that her aspiration is for a fully professional domestic structure by 2024. It might be a few years away, but England are advancing on Australia, and (in my view), we will catch up eventually – even if it takes longer than we’d like.
That doesn’t solve the problem for other countries. But in the same way that a domestic professional structure was unthinkable in England 5 years ago but is now where we are surely headed, I’d like to think that in 5 years time West Indies, South Africa, India and the rest will have reached the same conclusion as the ECB.
In fact, with the dominance of Australia hitting the headlines just a week after West Indies’ miserable 5-0 capitulation to England, is it just possible that for some boards, the contrast between those two news stories might just be the wake-up call they need, spurring them on to action sooner than might otherwise have been the case?
Maybe Australia’s winning streak might actually change women’s cricket for the better?