Women's game not just Twenty20
Women's cricket will never lose its longer form components under James Sutherland's watch, despite murmurings beneath him at Cricket Australia about exploiting the commercial gains of the inaugural WBBL by making the female game an exclusively Twenty20 af
Women's cricket will never lose its longer form components under James Sutherland's watch, despite murmurings beneath him at Cricket Australia about exploiting the commercial gains of the inaugural WBBL by making the female game an exclusively Twenty20 affair.
ESPNcricinfo has learned of discussions that open up the possibility of the 50-over and Test match formats being phased out altogether. There has been talk of phasing out the state-based Women's National Cricket League after the 2017 World Cup, following on from previous discussions that the city-based WBBL teams should replace, not just complement, well established state identities.
These ideas have not been taken to the ICC, nor are they on the table of other boards such as the ECB or BCCI. Nevertheless, they do represent the opinions of some senior CA executives, who have seen the commercial potential of the WBBL in grasping of an impressively strong television audience when aired on the Ten Network - pulling larger audiences than for the WNBA, among other global competitions.
As chief executive of CA, Sutherland must balance commercial concerns with those of Australian cricket in total, and spoke out strongly in favour of retaining at least two formats for women when asked about the possibility of a T20-only future. Chief among his points was the value of the WNCL as a way to expose and develop the players who are now starring in the WBBL, the final of which is being played on Sunday afternoon at the MCG.
"Our strategy does talk about the Twenty20 format being the most obvious vehicle to drive growth in the women's game, participation and public interest, but at the same time we're not at all interested in the concept of turning our back on the 50-over format," Sutherland told ESPNcricinfo.
"Domestic cricket is not just about learning who the champion team is, it's about creating opportunities for people to develop as players so they can walk into international cricket and be able to cope with it. That development aspect is really important and we need to make sure the WNCL is a really strong and competitive environment for women in the one day format.
"We see that it's an integral part of the women's game, it's really important in terms of the development of skills, and also variety in terms of the way the women play, both at club level but also international level. We're absolutely committed to two women's formats of the game."
Australia's female cricketers are overwhelmingly in favour of ensuring the WNCL keeps its place as the prime breeding ground for cricket talent, in much the same way as the Sheffield Shield underpins the men's game. While it is unlikely that Test matches will expand beyond their current place as a single component of the multi-format Ashes, diversity of experience is viewed as essential to developing the best possible cricketers.
Sutherland said there would be discussions about whether this season's early finish of the state competition would be changed, and reiterated that there was no rush to push women's cricket in the most commercially expedient directions. More important to him is growing the game as a popular option for women and girls.
"We will reflect on this current summer, the first time we introduced the WBBL and had the WNCL earlier on, whether we've got the balance right in terms of the number of games - the balance between the two formats is something that we'll review," Sutherland said. "I've heard varying views and opinions on that, but we need to sit down in the cold, hard light of day and get some feedback and just work out how it has worked.
"The BBL is starting to wash its face as a commercial proposition, but the strategy behind the men's Big Bash League and the WBBL is very different. We don't necessarily have short or even medium term aspirations for the WBBL to be a huge commercial proposition. The priority for us is all about demonstrating that cricket is a sport for girls too, and to send that message in a really positive and proactive way in the community to inspire girls to play the game."
Sutherland's words echoed those of Belinda Clark, the manager of the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane. "Our intention is to continue to support two formats of the game domestically," she said last year when the WBBL was launched.
"That means making sure the Women's National Cricket League still has a really meaningful place in the women's calendar. There's a number of models put forward so far to make sure that Australian cricket remains really dominant in the one-day format as well as T20."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig