Now that the group stage of the inaugural Kia Super League is almost over, with finals day just around the corner, it's a good time to look back and assess what we have learned from this exciting new competition. Here are my initial thoughts.
1. Tell them about it and they will come
Two weeks ago nobody - even, if they are honest, those running it at the ECB - quite knew what to expect from the Super League. It was notoriously difficult to get anyone to say exactly what "success" for this new competition would look like. Now? Well, let's just say I'm pretty sure that Clare Connor, the ECB's director for women's cricket, is sleeping at night again.
At the time of writing, there has been an average attendance of over 1000 at the group games so far, and the matches at the Ageas Bowl and The Oval have attracted over 2000 spectators apiece. As someone who is used to turning up to watch women's county games with next to no spectators bar the friends and family of the players, let me tell you, that is absolutely phenomenal.
Here's the thing: if you market it right, create a buzz around the teams, and, most importantly, tell people it is happening, people will pay to attend domestic women's cricket in their thousands.
2. Different franchise models work in different places
The crowds we have seen at the KSL group matches are even more impressive when you consider that, unlike with the Women's Big Bash League, the KSL hosts were starting from scratch, unable to tap into an existing franchise fan base. There were quite a lot of voices prior to this competition questioning the decision by the ECB to take what was actually quite a risk in pushing ahead with a standalone women's competition.
What we have seen over the past couple of weeks, though, has fully vindicated that decision. No, these haven't been double-header games, but people have still shown up in droves. No, these sides aren't attached to men's teams, but kids (and girls, especially) have still turned up wearing their team's colours and gone home with their heroes' autographs. Not only is that an incredible achievement, it gives women's cricket something new and different, and the opportunity to forge its own way ahead. I for one am excited to see where that path might lead.
Actually there's a good argument that playing copycat to the WBBL wasn't just impractical, given the foot-dragging that takes place every time franchise cricket is suggested within the English men's game, but that it wouldn't have worked anyway. Different contexts require a different approach. In fact, at a time when there are big question marks over the future of the men's T20 competition, this should tell the ECB something important about franchise cricket more generally.
3. There is plenty of talent out there
Those of us who actually watched women's county cricket prior to the start of the Super League were already well aware of this, but it has been incredible to see players who I am more used to seeing playing in front of 20 people at tiny club grounds launched onto the big stage, with the eyes of the media fully upon them, and flourishing.
Whether it be Hampshire's Katie George, more used to playing in Division Two county cricket, looking right at home in Vipers' world-class bowling attack; or Sussex's Paige Scholfield, coming in to bat at No. 9 for Lightning and ending up top-scoring for her side with one of the highest strike rates in the competition; or Lancashire's Emma Lamb, only 18, the most consistent opener in any team in the competition; or Berkshire left-armer Linsey Smith, called up to the competition due to injury but stacking up the most successful and the most economical spell in the entire competition so far - it has all been so wonderful to see. It's pretty clear that we don't really need to worry about whether the current county system is producing any talent.
One aspect of the system that should still be a concern is the fact that only 19 players in the whole of English women's cricket are being paid to play cricket at any time other than the two-week KSL window. If we don't want to see incredibly talented young players like George, Lamb and Smith walking away from the game prematurely, some kind of progressive pay scale is needed - and fast.
4. Don't rely on your overseas players
One of the unforeseen elements of this competition has been the fact that many of the big-name overseas superstars have failed to perform. Ellyse Perry, for example, started the competition with scores of 17 and 2, as well as conceding 39 runs off her four overs in Lightning's first home game of the tournament. Hayley Matthews, star of the Women's World T20 final earlier this year, has hit 7, 11, 0 and 0 in Thunder's four group matches to date. Meanwhile Diamonds' two overseas batsmen - Alex Blackwell and Beth Mooney - have almost totally failed with the bat, with scores of 3, 23 and 6, and 0, 9 and 17 respectively. It turns out that adjusting to English conditions when you're flown in just a few days before a two-week tournament in the middle of your off season is actually quite tricky.
5. You don't need silly boundaries
At international level the regulations for boundary sizes in women's cricket differ from those in the men's game - a minimum of 50 metres compared to the men's 60 metres. The KSL playing regulations, in case you haven't read them, take this one step further and actually allow for 45-metre boundaries. This, of course, panders to the school of thought that women's T20 cricket is as dull as ditchwater unless there are sixes being hit every other ball.
In fact, so far in the KSL, I don't think I've seen a single boundary that is 45 metres. Most have been 50 or 55 metres. We've also only had 37 sixes in the competition. And guess what? People still turned up to watch. And most of the cricket has still been utterly enthralling. Let's learn from that and ditch the 45-metre boundary rule for good.
6. It should be on TV
Rumour has it that fears about the potential quality of the competition led to a reluctance to allow Sky to broadcast any of the inaugural Super League. If true, that is absolutely crazy and, given the quality of the cricket on show, a huge opportunity missed. If the ECB really wants to build a fan base for these teams, TV coverage must surely be top of the priority list for next year's competition. Believe in your product and so will other people.