March Madness Shortlived
While the world and along with-it cricket came to a standstill in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the highlights of last year was on March 8, 2020. The MCG was packed to its brim – 86,000+ people had turned up to witness the final of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup final between Australia and India. The attendance numbers were the 2nd highest ever for any female sporting contest ever.
The pandemic struck soon after and put paid to any hopes of the ICC and individual cricket boards taking immediate advantage of this massive momentum in favor of Women’s cricket at the time. Once cricket resumed in biosecure bubbles for the men, it was believed that boards and the ICC would take proactive measures to restart women’s cricket as well. But the kind of disdain and apathy that has been shown by most cricket boards worldwide to resume cricket for women, apart from Australia, England, and New Zealand, has been disheartening.
Reasons for general apathy towards Women’s cricket from cricket boards
While fans all over the world have embraced female cricket wholeheartedly in the last 3 years, proof of which lies in the attendance numbers in major tournaments, the boards find the product to be less profitable as compared to men’s cricket. The modern age rightfully demands equal respect and pay for women in every field, but cricket administrators generally seem to have missed this boat.
Mithali Raj at the ICC 100% Cricket virtual discussion spoke about the concerns surrounding women’s cricket in this COVID impacted world.
— Female Cricket (@imfemalecricket) September 22, 2020
ICC Plans to Make Women’s Cricket More Marketable
But the future is not all that bleak. The games governing body, the ICC is looking to take some steps to ensure women’s cricket flourishes in the near future. They seem genuinely keen to improve the quality of the overall women’s game, bridge the gap between the top 4 teams and the rest and have plans and processes in place to organize global events in the T20 and ODI formats.
As someone who has worked extensively in women’s cricket in Pakistan – the highlight being my Chief Selector of Pakistan Women’s Cricket Team, I would like to point out some of the necessary factors the ICC needs to consider to ensure they produce a product that can rival men’s cricket.
🚨 GREAT NEWS 🚨
8 teams Bhutan, Botswana, Cameroon, France, Malawi, Myanmar, Philippines, and Turkey will be playing in an ICC event for the first time.
— Female Cricket (@imfemalecricket) December 12, 2020
How the ICC can improve women’s cricket:
1. Reduction of lopsided encounters
While the overall standard of women’s cricket has improved over the last ten years, a huge gap still exists between the top 4 teams and the rest. This gulf needs to be addressed not only to prevent one-sided encounters when one of the top 4 plays a lower-ranked team but also to improve the quality and self-confidence of lower-ranked teams. Cricket or for that matter any sport demands that to sustain viewer interest, every team on its day must be capable of beating another.
2. Split Teams into a group system with promotion and relegation
One way to improve the quality of lower-ranked teams is to pit them against each other. For this, the ICC should have the top 5 test nations in one group and the next 5 in a lower group. Every year 1 or 2 teams can be relegated and promoted according to performance. This will incentivize teams to improve their standards. The teams placed in the top tier, due to the quality of display will probably be more marketable and grab greater eyeballs, generating significant revenue. The teams in the lower tier will aspire to improve their own quality so that they can get promoted and be counted among the best teams in the world. Plus, it’s the basics of sports development that when two teams of equal caliber play against each other, both end up improving their game and play a highly competitive cricket with one another. Thus, splitting teams according to ranks into groups make sense.
3. There needs to be uniform improvement across all disciplines of cricket
I have noticed over the last few years that batting in women’s cricket has developed significantly across all teams, but the bowling continues to be a work in progress. There is a stark contrast between the quality of batting and bowling.
4. Change the rules for bowlers to incentivize them
Cricket is a batter dominated game. The widening gap in quality between batting and bowling is worrisome.
Especially, quality in spin bowling is quite lacking. Spinners are lacking penetration, variety, and control.
Meanwhile, batters have improved their quality of shots, strokeplay, power-hitting, variety, and options of shots and adopted much better compared to other aspects. Research needs to be carried out by ICC as to why only batting has improved and not other aspects of the female game.
All the well-known female cricket players in the world are batters – Meg Lanning (AUS), Stafanie Tylor(WI), Smriti Mandhana (India). Mithali Raj (India) Tammy Beaumont (England), Ellyse Perry(AUS), Bismah Maroof (Pakistan). However, most of the top bowlers are not very familiar to fans such as Jess Jonassen (AUS), Shabnim Ismail (South Africa), Marizanne Kapp ( South Africa) Megan Schutt (AUS) to name a few.
I would propose the following rules changes which will benefit bowlers in women’s cricket:
- Field restrictions within Women’s cricket can be significantly reduced to increase options of getting the batter out and successfully contain the runs.
- The quota of bowlers should be divided into four bowlers instead of five. This will help good bowlers to bowl more overs and showcase their bowling prowess to keep batters in a tough position.
- Since women’s cricket bowlers are in a developing stage, the free hit on a no-ball should be discontinued as this will reduce the pressure on bowlers and it will help them in their development.
- The boundary size should be increased to 65 yards minimum as this will encourage future quality bowlers to be produced.
It’s all about balance
In conclusion, I would say that female cricket is as exciting to watch as men’s cricket. It’s just that the ICC and the cricket boards need to take some proactive measures with a vision to develop a high-quality product that will appeal to viewers and sponsors. By getting a balance between the bat and the ball and also reducing the quality gulf between teams, the ICC can very well have a viable and attractive product in its hand. It’s time for the ICC to act.
Written by Jalal Uddin
Researched by Kaushik Lakshman
Jalal Uddin is an ex-Pakistan International, Level-IV Coach and is currently the USA Cricket South West Zone Selector. He was previously the Chief Selector of Pakistan Women Team and has been the pioneer in Women’s cricket development in Pakistan. He has the world record of getting the first-ever ODI hat-trick against Australia in 1982.