Women's World Twenty20 to run alongside the men's
Women's cricket is set for a massive boost as the ICC has provisionally approved a World Twenty20 to run alongside the men's. The move, which is subject to budget approval, would come into effect for the next tournament in England in 2009.
This is potentially huge news for the game as this could open the door to big sponsorship deals and increased exposure both on television and at the grounds themselves. Women's cricket has been fighting to improve its image and attract new fans to the game but with little exposure sponsors have largely stayed away, trapping it inside a vicious circle.
But the ICC could help them break out in a move which ticks the box of financial feasibility. With matches running at the same grounds, there would be no extra set-up costs for the TV companies, with the cameras and crew already in place for the men.
The ICC's finance and commercial affairs committee will meet early next year to make the crucial decision which could mean that the women, like the men, play two World Cups in a year, with the 50-over version in Australia earlier that year.
An ICC spokesperson confirmed to Cricinfo: "The ICC board, in its last meeting in Dubai in October, approved the women's ICC World Twenty20 which will be played simultaneously with the men's ICC World Twenty20 in England in 2009."
The news comes following several successful trials this year of scheduling women's domestic games as curtain raisers for the men's in Australia and England.
As the ICC have not officially announced the tournament, no captains, players or coaches were allowed to speak to Cricinfo for comment, however it is a fair bet that they will be privately delighted with the news as their sport is on the brink of getting some of the recognition it sorely needs.
Austalian women's cricket could benefit in particular from the exposure. While the game already features on TV in England at least twice a year, as Sky are obliged through their ECB deal to show at least two one-dayers, and regularly in New Zealand and India, the last time it was shown in Australia - the fourth major player in the women's game, and arguably the best - was as a one-off, the 2005 World Cup final in South Africa which Australia won.
There are already encouraging signs, however, as Cricket Australia could schedule Australia women's Twenty20 against England as the curtain-raiser for Australia men's match against India on February 1 which could be televised.
Since the World Cup final, against India, Australia have retained the Rose Bowl against New Zealand, beaten England in a one-day series and won the quadrangular tournament in India which features the world's top teams. But while netball and basketball are covered comprehensively alongside women's tennis, swimming and athletics, the country's No 1 sport of cricket - in which Australia women are the No 1 team in the world - remains elusive.
Nevertheless CA are making efforts to attract women to the game. Australia was the first country to schedule domestic Twenty20s as curtain raisers to the men's state game in January earlier this year. England following suit in June and in the same month the Afro-Asia women's XI played before the men's equivalent.
But TV is the next major step and Twenty20 yet again may be the answer early next year, and in the years to come.
Jenny Thompson is an assistant editor at Cricinfo