Country Reviews 2016

Showing 'em the money

Several boards improved the contracts structure for their female players, and the new franchise tournaments brought more money into the game

Raf Nicholson
Raf Nicholson
West Indies Women do the "Champions" dance, Australia v West Indies, Women's World T20, final, Kolkata, April 3, 2016

West Indies Women became the first team outside of Australia, England and New Zealand to win a world title  •  Getty Images/ICC

The year kicked off with the denouement of the inaugural Women's Big Bash League, a Sydney derby: Sixers v Thunder, with Thunder eventually lifting the trophy. More importantly the final, as well as both the semi-finals, achieved impressive viewing figures, after the original broadcasting schedule was extended. It was followed, in August, by the first Women's Super League in England, which - though not televised - was also considered to be a success.
Some of the best female players from all over the world came to play for the Super League's brand new teams, based in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Surrey, Loughborough, Hampshire and the West Country. The tournament had record-breaking crowds of over 2000 fans at some of the matches and some incredibly exciting contests.
With the second WBBL currently underway and already having attracted record ratings, it looks like franchise T20 tournaments are here to stay in the women's game.
The focal point of the year was the fifth Women's World T20 (WWT20), held in India in conjunction with the men's tournament. The final, won by West Indies, produced viewing figures of 24.5 million in India alone, with more games - 13 in total - televised than any previous tournament. For West Indies, it was a triumph made sweeter by the WICB's commitment in the wake of the final to enhanced compensation packages, including increases in annual retainers and match fees.
Other pay rises were also forthcoming throughout the year. Australia gained a $1.9 million increase, and New Zealand Cricket expanded the number of players to receive contracts from ten to 15, and awarded each contracted player a raise of over $10,000.
Excitingly, 2016 also saw the first ever professional contracts for a domestic women's team, as New South Wales unveiled a two-season deal with sponsor LendLease that will ensure all members of the Breakers squad earn at least $25,200 (approx) a year. Most recently, the ECB announced that as well as introducing a new category of rookie contracts for players not quite at the level required to win a full central contract, its latest tranche of female contracts will last for two years, a significant step forward for player job security.
It was just one in the latest of new coach Mark Robinson's overhaul of the England Women's set-up this year, following the team's defeat in the WWT20 semi-final.
Blaming their five-run defeat to Australia on the squad's poor standard of fitness, Robinson's subsequent cull included both Lydia Greenway, who made 4108 international runs in her 13-year career, and captain Charlotte Edwards, whose retirement in May marked the end of an era.
Edwards first represented England in 1996, captained the team in over 200 internationals and become the first cricketer, male or female, to score 2500 runs in T20Is. Controversy surrounded Robinson's decision, but new-era England, under the leadership of Heather Knight, have thus far been successful, with ODI and T20 whitewashes against Pakistan at home over the summer, and subsequent series wins in the Caribbean and in Sri Lanka.
Changes in captaincy, in fact, appeared to be the order of the day in 2016. Back in March, Isobel Joyce stepped down as Ireland captain after 62 matches in charge and was replaced by Laura Delany. Bismah Maroof was named Pakistan's T20 captain prior to their tour of England, with Sana Mir retaining the ODI role; India followed suit, with Harmanpreet Kaur named T20 captain in October while Mithali Raj remained in place for the 50-over format. South Africa's seven-match ODI series at home against New Zealand in October was Dane van Niekerk's first as captain. They lost the series 5-2, but secured their first victory against New Zealand in the 50-over format. It was a good year for South Africa, who won an ODI series in Ireland 3-1 earlier in the year, during which 17-year-old Laura Wolvaardt became the country's youngest centurion (male or female).
South Africa did, however, fail to secure automatic qualification for the 2017 World Cup after the Women's International Championship concluded in November. England's series win over West Indies the previous month had sealed Australia's position at the top of the table; subsequently England, New Zealand and West Indies all achieved qualification, finishing in second, third and fourth places respectively.
Alongside South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will all have to secure their position in the 2017 tournament at the qualifiers next February. Sri Lanka's bottom-place finish was no surprise after an extremely poor run of results. They have won only two ODIs across the two-year Championship period, and suffered a heavy run of defeats to Australia in September. Coach Lanka de Silva subsequently criticised the country's domestic format, which allows a maximum of five matches a season for women cricketers, and called for Sri Lanka Cricket to make much-needed changes.
Both Pakistan and India, too, will look back at 2016 with a sense of disappointment at what might have been.
Pakistan were whitewashed not just by England, but also by New Zealand. In the 5-0 defeat, New Zealand captain Amy Satterthwaite became the first woman to hit three consecutive centuries.
India failed to follow up on their historic T20 series win against Australia in January - their first series victory over the Aussies in any format - and were knocked out of the home WWT20 in the group stages.
Politics, meanwhile, entered the women's game in 2016 when the BCCI refused to fulfil its tour commitments against Pakistan. India subsequently forfeited all available points for the three-match ODI series in October. India then beat Pakistan just weeks later in the Asia Cup final, held in Bangkok, thanks to a sterling 73 not out by Mithali Raj. No doubt the Indians will be hoping that the decision made by the BCCI in June to clear Indian women players to compete in T20 franchise competitions - both Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana are currently participating in the WBBL - will help improve their consistency at the international level.
High point
Back in April, millions round the world watched as West Indies became the first team outside of England, Australia and New Zealand to win a world title, successfully chasing down 149 in the final of the WWT20 against three-time defending champions Australia. It was a historic day for the women's game, made all the more remarkable by the fact that West Indies had almost crashed out of the tournament before the semi-finals - barely scraping to a three-run win against India to secure their progression out of the group stages - and had never previously beaten Australia in the 20-over format. Watching them crack open champagne with their male counterparts after the subsequent men's final was a sight to savour.
Low point
While the ICC made a song and dance about having increased their level of investment in the WWT20, it was revealed in the build-up to the tournament just how cheap talk can be when news emerged that while their male counterparts had arrived in style in business class, all women's teams had beenflown to India in economy. The embarrassment was only enhanced by the efforts made by a number of boards to consciously not draw attention to the inequitable arrangements. Fortunately, the ICC appears to have taken note of the media furore surrounding the issue. It was announced in October that all teams will be flown into London for the 2017 Women's World Cup in business class.
New kid on the block
The era of new England coach Mark Robinson truly dawned in 2016, with his decision to axe Charlotte Edwards paving the way for a new generation of players to emerge. At the centre of his "nouveau regime" is 23-year-old left-arm spinner Alex Hartley, who finally, after years in the wilderness, made her international debut in June against Pakistan. She followed this up with a remarkable tour of West Indies in October, taking 13 wickets at an economy rate of 3.4 - breaking the record total of wickets for England Women in a bilateral series. She was recently rewarded a full contract, and is certain to feature heavily in Robinson's plans for the World Cup next year.
What 2017 holds
You can't look beyond the World Cup in England, really. Four teams are already in contention. The remaining four will be decided at the qualifying tournament, due to take place in February in Sri Lanka, featuring the bottom four sides from the ICC Championship, alongside Ireland, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Scotland, Thailand and Papua New Guinea. The World Cup itself looks set to be the biggest tournament in the history of the women's game, with advance ticket sales for the final at Lord's on July 23 already at over 5000. Can West Indies replicate their form from the WWT20? Can Mark Robinson's young England team pull off a victory with home crowds behind them? The world will be waiting to see.

Raf Nicholson is a PhD student, an England supporter, a feminist, and fanatical about women's cricket. @RafNicholson