Perth Scorchers captain Elyse Villani has declared the Women's Big Bash League is ready to be a standalone tournament, separate from the men's edition, after Cricket Australia agreed it was now time to look beyond the established model that has the semis and final of the two competitions played as double-headers.
Plenty of eyebrows were raised by the fact the first-ranked Sydney Sixers and second-placed Sydney Thunder had to play their semi-finals matches at the home grounds of the fourth and third Adelaide Strikers and Perth Scorchers, a scheduling quirk that helped Villani's team advance to a tournament final that is a replay of last year's edition against the Sixers.
Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc, the partner of the Sixers' wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy, spoke for many when he tweeted: "Soooo finish first and have to play an away semi. Win semi and have to play an away final. Where might the advantage for being first or winning a semi be?" At the end of a week in which CA and the ICC launched dual men's and women's World Twenty20 events for 2020, Villani said the time had come for the world's biggest women's domestic T20 tournament to stand on its own feet.
"I definitely do, heading towards the T20 World Cup in 2020, that's a standalone competition," Villani said. "So I think that's a move Cricket Australia will make pretty soon and we're definitely ready for it and looking forward to the challenge of continuing to create our own brand."
Her words echoed those of the BBL chief Kim McConnie, who said CA had noted the irritation of the higher-ranked teams in having to travel for their semi-finals. "I think we want to look at the final, and getting girls their own final," McConnie told the Age. "The top teams, they should earn the right to play at their own venue. There's a lot of complexity to work through, but it feels like something that we really need to start looking at."
Ellyse Perry, who will lead the Sixers to their third consecutive tournament final, said she wanted to see the competition continue to grow gradually. Much will depend on the shape of television rights negotiations this year, after the Ten Network responded to the cajoling of CA's media rights chief Steph Beltrame to try broadcasting the WBBL, a tournament that did not exist when their BBL rights deal began in 2013.
"I know they've got plans in the future to potentially make this competition as standalone competition and that would probably see the finals played similar to how the opening weekend's played," Perry said of the WBBL's future. "But at the same time we want to make sure this is built on really strong foundations, that there's a wonderful support and following for the game, people are interested and want to turn up and watch it.
"We've shown that a number of times this year and same with the Ashes series, the amount of people who came out to that. The more we keep growing this, the more it's going to turn into its own product. I think every year it gets better and better in terms of the standards, the quality and then the interest in the competition as well.
"The opening weekend at North Sydney a few months ago was absolutely incredible, the people who came out, the standard of cricket that was played, the amount of runs scored, the amount of people who tuned in on Channel Ten as well over the course of the tournament has been bigger and better again this year. That sort of steady but solid progress has been absolutely wonderful and bodes really well for the future and where this competition's heading."
Both the Scorchers and the Sixers prospered from their opponents cracking under the pressure of the occasion during the semi-finals, most notably Adelaide Strikers, who lost 6 for 3 at one point in pursuit of an eminently gettable Sixers target. "In this format, you're always under a lot of pressure," Villani said, "and no matter what format you're playing, people make decisions under pressure.
"Sometimes they're good and sometimes they're bad. That's something you cop and hopefully learn from moving onto the next game. To be honest, the team that holds their nerve and executes their plan the best will probably come out winners."
Having lost to the Scorchers twice during the qualifying rounds this tournament, Perry said Sunday's final would be a matter of key players stepping up at the right time, after they experienced the ups and downs of a gruelling 15 matches. "This comp is probably the toughest comp I've played in in terms of the rigours of it, how much you play and how often you play and the peaks and troughs that you go through," Perry said.
"The last couple of weeks have been challenging but if you look across every team, players form ebbs and flows. The best teams are the teams that have people contributing across the group at different times. Ash [Gardner] and Sarah Aley played a really important role for us. Last weekend, Alyssa Healy was absolutely outstanding and crucial in those wins. You kind of want everyone to contribute at the right time. Whoever turns up on the day and performs the crucial roles, you've just got to support them the best you can."