THE launch of WBBL 02 has reminded me how far cricket has come in such a short time. When I began my career, I was the only female playing in my home town and there was no possibility of signing up for a semi-professional women’s league.
WBBL was not even a twinkle in the game’s eye at that stage — yet now we are into a second season of a flourishing domestic T20 competition, played in conjunction with the men’s BBL. It is clear to me that there has never been a better time for the male and female players to partner with the administration and to develop the game even further.
Australian sport is full of great partnership examples, but one of my childhood favourites was the Woodies, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge. They combined to be one of the greatest doubles pairs in the history of tennis through an ability to coexist together, get the best out of each other and understand the strengths and weaknesses each brought to the game.
How that applies in the context of cricket is a conversation the sport is currently having. A successful partnership between Cricket Australia and the players, male and female, would provide the game with a golden opportunity to propel itself forward as a world leader.
In 1997, the game’s administrators adopted a partnership model that allowed the male players to receive a share of revenue that rose and fell on the success of the game.
Nearly 20 years on, and with the game in the most secure place it has ever been, the time has come to capitalise on the opportunity that is the growth in women’s cricket.
The overall growth in cricket has been driven by the performances of our Australian men’s and women’s teams, through the success of the BBL and WBBL, and at the grassroots level, where boys and girls are driven by the dream of playing a sport they love at the highest level they can achieve.
Boys are aspiring to be like Steve Smith and play a flick over the legside boundary from outside the off stump, while girls are now dreaming of hitting amazing cover drives like Meg Lanning. Fans are telling me that their children still want to be the next Mitchell Starc and David Warner, but just as badly they want to be the next Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy.
A Lismore girl recently texted me a photograph of her in her Sydney Sixers shirt and said how excited she was that the WBBL was on TV and that she would get to a match and meet her idols. That tells you cricket is a sport being built off the back of male and female players.
The female game is attracting support from areas of business not seen before in the sporting world, because they see the opportunities attached to being part of its fastest-growing element.
Sponsors are now asking the question: “What can we be doing to support women’s sport?”
Commonwealth Bank, Rebel Sport, Epic Pharmacy, and Priceline are examples of sponsors that have embraced this opportunity and that kind of support demonstrates how women have become partners in the game, contributing to the growth of cricket across the country.
In a dynamic and ever-competitive women’s sport environment, recruitment of talent for the best athletes is becoming fierce. Netball, soccer, AFL and more recently NRL have realised that women’s participation is now the biggest growth area in sport.
Some of my closest cricket friends are excited about the opportunity to play dual sports and, while that is great in the short term, cricket must make sure it leads the race towards professionalism to keep the most talented athletes in the game full-time. Cricket needs to remain dedicated to attracting the best athletes in the country. Committed and clear leadership from everyone in cricket is required to remove barriers that exist in the system — it’s the only way to help drive our beloved game forward.
The absolute strength of men’s cricket can be enhanced by including the female players as partners in the game.
I have grown up in an era of women’s cricket in which we played mostly for the love of the game, but dreamed of one day being seen as an equal in the sport. I won’t be able to achieve this dream in my career, but am genuinely excited about seeing some of my mates achieve their goal of playing elite sport professionally and sharing in the growth of our great game.
Jodie Fields is the Female Cricket Operations Manager at the Australian Cricketers’ Association. She captained Australia to victory in the 2013 Women’s World Cup in India and the 2012 World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka.