Is this the beginning of the end of Australia’s dominance of women’s cricket?
Australia captain Meg Lanning has forecast the Women’s Premier League will end her nation’s dominance of women’s cricket.
But the upside for Aussie cricket fans is that Lanning says the seismic shifts in her sport could persuade her to keep playing for another four or five years.
Meg Lanning and her Australian teammates have had a stranglehold on the major trophies in women’s international cricket, including the 2022 one-day World Cup.Credit:Getty Images
The inaugural WPL ended on Sunday, with Lanning’s Delhi Capitals losing to Mumbai Indians in the final over of a tense final watched by of 50,000 spectators at the Brabourne Stadium.
The progress of the five-team competition, with its exposure to a worldwide TV audience, made clear the WPL will have as dramatic an effect on women’s cricket as the Indian Premier League has had on the men’s game.
Skills with bat, ball and in the field will be transformed and international schedules rewritten to accommodate its financial power.
A comparatively immature sport, with fewer earning opportunities and a minimal Test program, women’s cricket is likely to change rapidly.
That might mean it revolves around the WPL and spin-off events – or it could lead to a wider expansion of a sport currently dominated by the shorter white-ball formats.
Lanning said the event was “on another level” to any she had previously played.
“Hopefully this is just the start and there’s a lot bigger things to come which is really exciting,” she added.
Saturday was her 31st birthday and Lanning – who recently took a four-month break from cricket to recharge – told BBC podcast Stumped: “I can’t see any reason why I can’t play for four or five more years, it is just whether that is something I want to do.
“I haven’t thought too much. But especially with new opportunities like the WPL coming up, you really want to be part of that.
“We’ve worked really hard over a long period of time to get the game into a good spot now, and hopefully it continues to grow. I want to be part of it for a little bit longer.”
The financial rewards on offer may be a factor.
Lanning went for a modest $US140,000 ($210,000) at auction, below four of her Australia teammates. But after producing more runs than any other player in the tournament (345), she is likely to command a higher premium next time.
This year’s highest earner was India’s Smriti Mandhana on $650,000, but she had a poor tournament, whereas West Indian Hayley Matthews took home a base salary of $75,000 but was adjudged player of the series.
It is not, however, just about the money.
“It is important the payments continue to grow; that investment is really important. But as players we think there is a lot more to it than that,” Lanning said.
“One of the things we talk about a lot in the Australian team is trying to have an impact on the global stage.
“We play the game because we love it and we want to keep improving it and carry on growing the game.”
That growth, she adds, means other countries narrowing the gap to the Australia side which has won the past five major tournaments.
“Tournaments like this will speed that up a fair bit,” Lanning said.
“As an Australian team we think it is important the global game is growing. It is not just about us winning all the time. We want to win all the time. There’s no doubt about that, but there is more at play that just that.”
Meg Lanning in charge of the Delhi Capitals in the WPL final on Sunday in Mumbai.Credit:Getty Images
India will benefit most. WPL teams are required to play seven domestic players in most scenarios, which will likely deepen the cricket-mad nation’s talent pool in the women’s game, just as the Women’s Big Bash League has done in Australia.
“It [the WPL] is very similar to international standard, and with the experience and exposure we have in the WPL it will keep the Indian team in good stead, and [it] probably go on and win the World Cup,” Lanning’s Capitals teammate Shikha Pandey told Stumped confidently.
Expansion of the WPL seems inevitable.
There are currently five franchises (the IPL started with eight and now has 10). At present, the player pool – globally and in India – may not support more teams, even if this tournament has tempted new investors. But it will come.
More immediately, the next step is home-and-away matches. This tournament was staged in Mumbai and nearby New Mumbai, much to the home team’s benefit.
“It made sense to play in one place this time, but I’m looking forward to playing in front of home fans in Delhi in years to come,” Lanning said.
Expansion will mean a longer tournament that, eventually, eats into player commitment and the time they have available for other events.
Already, Lanning and fellow Australia international Beth Mooney have withdrawn from this year’s draft for England’s Hundred, where the highest playing fee is £31,250 ($55,000).
The WBBL ought not be under imminent threat, with Australia internationals’ salaries topped up by central contracts, but a 44-day tournament with a final attended by 6478 people is not much of a drawcard compared to what Lanning and the other finalists experienced on Sunday.
The alternative view is the WPL’s success will draw a new global audience to the women’s game, increasing attendances and TV rights, and simultaneously driving a rise in standards as more young players aim for a career in the sport.
Not that the senior players intend to step aside for them just yet. After years toiling in relative obscurity, this is their time.
The player of the match in the final and the eliminator was England all-rounder Nat Sciver-Brunt, who is just five months younger than Lanning.
“It’s been a cool experience; everything I was looking forward to,” Lanning says.
And it is just the start.
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