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Cricket in 2042: here's hoping it's in a more equitable place, with greater opportunities for all

In this excerpt from Alex Blackwell's new book, she looks to the future with optimism

Alex Blackwell
Blackwell at an event to mark the launch of Australian national sporting organisations' policies and guidelines on transgender and gender-diverse inclusion  •  Matt King/Getty Images

Blackwell at an event to mark the launch of Australian national sporting organisations' policies and guidelines on transgender and gender-diverse inclusion  •  Matt King/Getty Images

Former Australia women's cricket captain Alex Blackwell represented her country in 251 international matches, with the team winning the World Cup and the Ashes under her captaincy. Since her retirement in late 2019, Blackwell has continued to be involved in the game as a board member, commentator and media spokesperson. She also works as a genetic counsellor in addition to her cricket-related roles.
In this lightly edited extract from her new book, Fair Game, she looks ahead to where she hopes cricket in Australia and the world at large will be in 20 years.

It's been a hard road for women's cricket to get where it is today and there is still a long journey ahead. But if we continue the trajectory from that incredible moment at the MCG, there is no limit to what we can achieve. Although I'm stepping back from the game, I will always remain connected to it. Cricket has shaped so many aspects of my life and has been hugely positive. I want more people to have the opportunity to experience the joy that playing this wonderful sport brought to my life. From the moment I received my first proper cricket bat with the intense smell of linseed oil on English willow, to the sensation of hitting my first six right out of the sweet spot of that bat, to learning the difficult art of bowling a wrong'un or learning how to take a two-handed diving catch and finish the move with the tumbling roll, these physical sensations kept me wanting more. But it is the amazing friendships I have formed with women and men from all over the world, through this special game called cricket, which I will treasure the most.
So I want to finish by imagining an ideal future for cricket. If I was suddenly transported 20 years into the future and was checking in on the state of the game, what would I hope to see? What does a cricket utopia look like?
It looks like a completely level playing field between men and women. There's no longer any sense that the men's game is of any higher priority or importance than the women's game. Men's cricket is no longer the default. The media coverage and public interest is split equally - and sometimes the women are ahead in this regard. Thanks to incredible marketing efforts and increased media coverage, sponsors have flocked to women's cricket, realising what a hot commodity it is and wanting their businesses to be associated with something so special.
All players in the Australian women's team are household names. The team is made up of women from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds and they are equally adored and celebrated. The players feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to cricket - their differences and quirks are embraced and incorporated into the team culture. The Australian public loves them, not just for their amazing feats on the field but because they are interesting people with lives and passions away from sport who set a great example in so many different ways. Past women's players are held in equally high regard as their male counterparts and the history of the team is regularly celebrated by administrators and current players. Past female legends of our game are lead commentators in men's and women's cricket, not just for radio but also front and centre on our screens, with their naturally grey hair and sun-aged skin.
In boardrooms across the country I see equal numbers of men and women discussing the game and working to keep making improvements. Women can afford to commit to these roles because their time is valued as much as men's and they have been paid equally for many years now. I can see many past players among these board members, leading discussions through their knowledge, experience and passion. When they speak, everyone stops to listen and their opinions are respected and acted upon.
I can see women in leadership positions in the Cricket Australia headquarters too. Past players haven't been lost to the sport due to burnout, domestic players have degrees in a whole range of specialties after being supported to study during their careers. They're energised and excited to bring their unique skill sets to the organisation that supported them and continue to drive things forward for the next generation. The halls of our great stadiums are adorned with portraits of past players - male and female legends of the game appear side by side. Those past female players, the invisible giants of our game, are now recognised and celebrated regularly for the contributions they made to our sport against the tide. The rich history of gay women in cricket and their positive impact in the evolution of the women's game is spoken about openly and celebrated.
As I walk past the nets at the SCG prior to the New Year's Test I can see the Australian men's Test team being put through their paces by head coach Ellyse Perry. This group of young men are awed to be in her presence and have so much respect for this incredible cricketer they grew up watching dominate the domestic and international arenas. No one asks the players any questions about what it's like to have a female coach; it's no longer an anomaly or a novelty.
Looking around at the elite men's and women's teams across the country, I can see a diversity that truly reflects the Australian population. Players whose heritage lies in the cricket-loving South Asian nations are flourishing and the sport has also attracted many people with backgrounds that haven't been traditionally associated with cricket, such as Thailand and Sudan. In the media I see beautiful photos of the most recent Allan Border Medal winner celebrating with his husband and their daughter. They walked into the event with pride and were captioned correctly as husbands in every photo.
All over the world I can see our players proudly representing themselves and their country. Global tournaments for women have exploded and alongside the WBBL and the Hundred, the women's Indian Premier League has expanded rapidly and attracts talent from all over the world. The Caribbean Premier League also has a thriving women's competition, and the FairBreak Global tournament has become the key event in the calendar - this two-week invitational tournament has become the highest-paying T20 tournament for women in the world, and women from Associate cricket nations such as Botswana, Oman and China are stars of the show.
Recently retired women's international cricketers continue to make a great living from playing in short T20 tournaments all over the world. The television and live-stream coverage is excellent - of better standard than the men's because the women have been quicker to embrace the use of cutting-edge technology which has enhanced the viewer experience. This was a big step to achieving equality with the men's game, because more and more viewers tuned into women's cricket to witness the interaction with artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies. The success in the women's game convinced the men to be open to the opportunities as well and interest has risen across the board. There is all kinds of data available that helps fans understand the sport better - from the heart rate of a bowler in the death overs in a tight T20 match to the fatigue levels of a player batting out two full days of a Test. All games are accessible on demand for viewers everywhere.
Stepping back to the grassroots level, I can see that cricket has embraced all different forms of the game. Modified formats like indoor cricket and Last Man Stands (which was renamed to Last Player Stands, and not one single person kicked up a fuss, because gender-neutral language is just expected now) all fall under the Cricket Australia banner and it has helped the sport to thrive. Cricket is no longer just for those who have an entire weekend day available to play each week. Instead there are people taking part on weeknights, parents playing alongside their kids in social competitions, and competitive grassroots leagues that can be played with rubber cricket balls, encouraging more people to play, with fewer concerns about concussion and injuries.
I see mums coaching their sons' teams, boys and girls sharing training facilities equally and cheering each other on during matches. The diversity that is now present at the top levels of the game is visible here too. Cricket teams are made up of people from all different cultures and all walks of life, brought together by a love for the game.
The final of a Sydney women's social competition is held during a lunch break at the New Year's Test match at the SCG. The leaders of our game recognise that it's not just kids who will relish that opportunity and understand the importance of engaging adult women and the benefits that will come from these opportunities. Most importantly, community cricket is a space where people of all genders feel safe and welcome and everyone is able to play in a team that matches their gender identity without fear or anxiety.
There is a strong link between elite and grassroots cricket. Reduced training loads for professional players to foster better work-life balance have not only allowed players to gain qualifications and experience that prepare them for life after cricket, they have also given them more time to reconnect with their clubs. Community cricketers know the players who have come through the pathways they are a part of now and regularly go to games to support them. When professional players are introduced to the field - at the ground and on TV - they are identified by their club as a way to acknowledge that lifelong connection. Elite players take the time to attend club training sessions, where they can enjoy quality facilities and coaching in addition to giving back to the community that set them on the path to where they are today.
Premier cricket competitions across Australia are stronger than ever before. The number of teams in each grade has been reduced and club cricketers are playing alongside elite players during the regular mid-week matches held under lights. These matches are the highlight of training each week for elite players who are spending less time in the nets and more time playing matches. The club players are genuine team-mates with some of the best elite players in the country and they see a definite pathway to the next level.
Access to the best grounds is shared equally between the men's and women's teams and fixturing takes into consideration the opportunity for players to support other teams from their club and the WBBL and MBBL teams from their state. There are strong and definite pathways from junior cricket through to premier cricket for women and men, with shared high-performance hubs and facilities to build the connection. The ease of live streaming and the plethora of streaming services available means that grade competitions are now broadcast and the increased visibility leads to better sponsorship deals at this level. This allows for better facilities and more ability for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to participate without having to navigate a large financial barrier. The aspiration to reach the premier level has increased - particularly for women - and these reinvigorated competitions keep people engaged in the sport longer and make the elite levels stronger.
Even though things have changed significantly for the better, no one is letting their guard down. They recognise how easily things can slip back into the status quo and they keep on working to make sure the doors open even wider and let more people in.
This all feels like a distant dream, but 20 years is a long time. Who would have imagined 20 years ago, when my elite cricket career was just getting started, that we would have reached the great heights we have now? I experienced so much positive change throughout my two decades in the sport and I know what is possible.
In the future, I hope I'm sitting down to read a book by my former Sydney Thunder teammate Phoebe Litchfield - who was 20 years my junior when we first formed a match-winning partnership together - charting the amazing changes she has experienced since her debut. I hope her story describes something like I have imagined in this chapter, but who knows? It could be even better.

Reproduced with permission from Fair Game by Alex Blackwell (with Megan Maurice), Hachette Australia, 2022