In a recent webinar conducted by the ICC on how women's cricket has led the way in innovations in the game, New Zealand captain Sophie Devine and India batter Jemimah Rodrigues suggested the use of a smaller ball and shorter pitch might further advance the women's game. We spoke to some of the world's top international female cricketers to find out what they think of the proposed tweaks.
Could using a pitch shorter than 22 yards, as Rodrigues suggested, help attract more fans to the women's game?
Smriti Mandhana, India batter: The pitch is the only element that's the same size in both men's and women's cricket. Otherwise, we use a smaller ball [140-151g with a circumference of 21.0-22.5cm in women's cricket, compared to 155.9-163g and 22.4-22.9cm in men's]. Our inner circle is shorter [25.15 yards in radius; 30 in men's cricket] as are the boundaries [stipulated range is 55-65 yards; 65-90 yards for men].
Although I feel women's cricket is exciting as it is, and I don't have the technical knowledge to comment on to what extent the pitch should be shortened, reducing the length might make it interesting from the viewer's perspective. At present, the maximum speed range for most women's quicks at the international level is 120-125kph, so maybe a shorter pitch could amp it up to 130-135. And it's always attractive to watch genuine fast bowling. I will enjoy batting as much regardless.
Rachael Haynes, Australia batter: Shortening the pitch is actually something that Australian cricket has done in some of their junior and pathway programmes to make it easier for the younger players coming through. At the international level, if a shorter pitch helps make the bowler get the ball to the other end a bit quicker, you've got to be open to it. But there are a lot of other variables in the game, like the nature of the wickets - lots of grass, cracks, no grass, and so on - and the conditions that you need to take into consideration. You want to understand why you want to shorten the pitch, have some good research on how one tweak could have an impact on the other variables, and make sure the importance of the contest between the bat and ball is not lost.
Lea Tahuhu, New Zealand fast bowler: I am not sure if reducing the size of the pitch will enhance the game enough to justify it. The purpose would be, I presume, to have balls getting to batters faster. And that would make us look quicker. That might change the perception of fast bowling a bit in the women's game and bring the equation between bat and ball closer, especially when we've seen in recent times that the bat has clearly dominated more. So you don't have to probably get as much effort into getting a bouncer up - it doesn't have to go as far. But whether that's going to be a great incentive to attract new fans, I am not sure. Also, if you're having to prepare two-sized pitches, then you lose out the opportunity to host double-headers with men.
Nida Dar, Pakistan offspinning allrounder: I think the length of the pitch as we have it now is fine. If you reduce it by a yard or two, you'll be giving batters more options to have an upper hand because the boundaries in the women's game are quite small anyway. If the pitch is shortened, batters will use the depth of the crease more than ever. That might be one way of adapting to the change.
"Spinners will certainly be able to impart more revolutions and will probably be able to get the ball to drift more if the ball becomes smaller"Nida Dar
Kate Cross, England fast bowler: I don't think the women's game needs any tweak at the moment that will make the game more exciting even though it will make us [pace] bowlers look quicker because the length we'd be bowling on is going to be shorter. And the batters, obviously, will have to react quicker to that. From a logistical point of view, we're at a stage in the women's game where we're trying to play at the best stadiums, bigger grounds, and trying to fill the stadiums. I don't know how ground staff would be able to make wickets that would be shorter for the girls. Imagine us playing before a men's fixture or after - then the size of the pitch would be a concern, which would mean we'd have to play only at grounds where the pitches are designed for women's games.
What's your take on Devine's suggestion of bowling with a ball smaller and lighter than what is currently in use to encourage attacking cricket in the women's game?
Tahuhu: I don't know the science behind a smaller ball making it go further. Assuming it would, I don't think it's a bad suggestion. It will certainly let spinners get their hand around the ball a bit more, so you're likely to get more turn, which isn't something we see a lot in the women's game. Spinners certainly play a massive role in women's cricket, but I don't know how [many] genuinely rip the ball in and beat the outside edge often. That could be an aspect that would be slightly enhanced by smaller balls.
Haynes: Lisa Sthalekar, a really good fingerspinner, could turn the ball well. As did Shelley Nitschke [the former Australia left-arm spinner]. Poonam [Yadav, the India legspinner], as a wristspinner, really gets lots of revolutions on the ball. So the key point is that technically you've got to have a good skill set even if you play with a smaller ball. You walk out to a ground where the pitch offers very little help - as a spinner, you've got to rely on your other variations. And you've also got to understand that if the ball becomes too light or small, it may not travel the right away.
Mandhana: A lot of the girls, including myself, have small palms. Yadav's is even smaller [than mine]. At times, it becomes quite difficult to catch. I am open to giving it a try.
Dar: Spinners will certainly be able to impart more revolutions and will probably be able to get the ball to drift more if the ball becomes smaller. That could make spin bowling in women's cricket even more effective. It might make six-hitting a bit difficult, because batters, excluding those who are naturally very good timers of the ball, will get less time to react. But a smaller ball will probably fly a bit further as well, meaning longer sixes. This change could favour both batters and bowlers, but bowlers, in my opinion, might gain more.
Cross: This seems the more realistic of the two suggestions to me because it can be done quite easily. Women naturally have smaller hands than men, so it will indeed make turning the ball easy. Growing up, when I first held a men's full-size cricket ball, I remember thinking, "God, this is massive! I am never going to be able to bowl with that." But now, I don't necessarily see a difference when I hold a men's Kookaburra ball and a women's Kookaburra ball. The physical size difference isn't that's huge. Obviously, it's the weight that's taken off a bit [because of the less heavy ball already used in women's cricket].
How could these innovations affect power-hitting?
Haynes: At the recent T20 World Cup in Australia, I felt the boundary size was a little small. People getting rewarded for playing good shots is vital to the essence of the game, as is good bowling, and one of the things I enjoy about women's cricket is, at times, there has to be more craft in terms of how people go about scoring their runs. So to just really focus on the power side: why do you want to do that? If it's about bringing it aesthetically closer to the men's game, I don't think that's necessarily the right way to go about it. The women's game is a good product that's continuing to evolve and make its own mark. You don't want to tip the scales one way. People still want to watch a good contest between the bat and ball and not just plenty of sixes.
"Having the WBBL, the KSL, the Hundred or a women's IPL - that's the kind of change the women's game needs"Kate Cross
Tahuhu: Do you then let the boundary size remain the same or increase it from a 55-metre boundary?
Mandhana: Players like [Ashleigh] Gardner, Devine, [Deandra] Dottin, Harman [Harmanpreet Kaur], Shafali [Verma] are all hitting long sixes anyway. While I would love to see these changes improve bowling, I am not sure power-hitting or the ability to hit sixes should be reliant on either of these suggested changes.
Do you have an idea to improve the game?
Haynes: Maybe you're able to nominate one of your bowlers to bowl an additional over. That would be pretty cool - being able to sub a bowler into a particular situation. The thing about these innovations across different countries is particularly to use the domestic tournaments to trial these and see whether these work.
Tahuhu: I would love to see powerplays in one-dayers go similar to the men's powerplay, in terms of being allowed more fielders outside the ring in the last powerplay. In men's cricket, the last ten-over block of the 50-over game allows five players outside the ring, while in the women's game [the five-over block of the final Powerplay, which is completed by the 40th over] allows only three. This tweak could stop huge scores and give a bit of power back to the bowler.
Mandhana: Shortening of the boundary should be restricted, because if you have 50- or 52-metre boundaries, which we do in some of the leagues, it takes away [running] doubles from the game, which is an especially important skill in T20s. It also discourages spinners from flighting the ball, which is a more pronounced feature in women's cricket than in men's. It dents the skills of spinners as batters no longer face the challenge of having to use their feet. Sixty metres is a decent size; anything below that is too short, I feel.
Dar: How about publicising the matches rigorously on social media and mainstream media? How about offering cash prizes for the best catch of the match, or best fielding effort, or most sixes of the match and some such, and mandatory cash prizes for the Player of the Match and Series and not just trophies? Give players more incentive to raise the standard of the game and things will get more entertaining.
Cross: Women's cricket, in my opinion, is exciting as it is. The T20 World Cup two-three months ago, and even the 2017 ODI World Cup is proof of that. The pace of the women's game is relative; what isn't deemed quick in the men's game is so in ours. Katherine Brunt bowling 75mph isn't quick enough in men's cricket but for us, it is. I don't think girls bowling quicker is what's missing. The general standard needs to improve globally, and not just in Australia, England and India. All the other boards [need to be] doing their bit to make the game more accessible to girls and make adequate investments to grow the profile - in the West Indies, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and so on. Having the WBBL, the KSL, the Hundred or a women's IPL - that's the kind of change the women's game needs.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo