Cricket

All’s well that ends well for cricket girls

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THE big sell paid off in spades for the marketers who set the scene for the biggest day in the history of women’s sport in Australia, says Chief Writer RON REED:

THAT was an almighty triumph on two fronts at the MCG on Sunday. The Australian team could scarcely have won the final of the women’s T20 World Cup any more convincingly than they did, by 85 runs, and the marketing exercise that delivered a crowd of 86,174 was also a stunning success even if it did fall slightly short of the world-record target of 93,013 for a female sports event.

The massive celebrations are entirely justified on a number of levels – perhaps the most important one being the most authentic validation yet of all women’s sport – but there must have been a pretty heartfelt sigh of relief, too, that it all came together so perfectly.

The various heavy-hitting parties to this exercise – Cricket Australia, the State Government, the Melbourne Cricket Club and the International Cricket Council – would be hard-pressed to deny that there was a fair bit of hubris – dictionary definition: arrogance, presumption – about the long and intense and occasionally tedious advertising campaign aimed at filling the MCG, about which even Australian captain Meg Lanning admitted she was sceptical.

 It depended almost entirely on Australia making the final and was always at risk of falling flat on its face if, for whatever reason, they did not. And they so nearly didn’t, only narrowly prevailing in three of the last four matches along the way to the big one and surviving a near washout in the semi-final by a matter of a few minutes. Karma was waiting in the wings.

Of course, that can all be consigned to the dustbin of history now, replaced by an affirmation of the “who dares, wins” mentality for all concerned.

Only two cricket matches – the final of the 2015 men’s one-day World Cup and the Boxing Day Ashes Test in 2013 – have pulled more people into the great stadium, so there is no need to fret about the 5,000 or so empty seats.

Maybe the fear of congregation brought on by the coronavirus had something to do with that, but otherwise it couldn’t have worked out better for the promoters, who pulled a masterstroke by combining the cricket with a high-profile pop concert, created a sense of history in the making, were the beneficiaries of a media blitz unprecedented in its intensity in the women’s sport space, kept the ticket prices extremely low, had their prayers answered for good weather and even got the opponent they were probably hoping for, given the very large Indian diaspora in Melbourne, which is always very evident whenever their men’s team graces the G.

And of course in the end they got the crucial X-factor, the Australian girls. It goes without saying that they are very good cricketers – well, it has had to be said a lot, over and over, but not any more – but they have been seriously impressive off the field, too.

Collectively and as individuals, they presented themselves in public and in the media – one and the same thing, really – with both confidence and an absence of tickets on themselves, never complaining in the slightest about any of the negatives such as hectic travel schedules, worrying weather or important injuries.

The way superstar Ellyse Perry conducted herself after a hamstring disaster forced her out of the biggest assignment of her stupendous multi-sport career was as impressive as anything she or anyone else did with the bat or ball in hand.

 It is not so long ago that the Australian men’s team were in disgrace, wearing an ugly image world-wide, but it is completely impossible to imagine this outfit ever having to deal with anything like that.

 If the tournament as a whole proved anything, it is that women’s cricket is a work in progress in nearly every country, and while Australia is probably no exception their performance when the moment of truth arrived suggests they are a long way ahead of the pack, despite the heavy weather they made of getting to the MCG. That is no accident, thanks to Cricket Australia’s laudable determination to set the pace in the overall revolution in distaff sport.

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 The players have surprised and enlightened many people – me included, to a certain extent – with the quality of the cricket they are often capable of, which is totally unrecognisable from what used to be on offer once upon a time.

The two match-winners, Alyssa Healy, 75, and Beth Mooney, 78 not out, were both dropped when on eight, but then batted brilliantly, confirming only that they’re no different to every other cricketer in the history of the game – no matter how good you are, a bit of luck goes a long way.

If they and their team-mates and opponents make their fair share of mistakes and play more loose shots than might be ideal – well, there’s nothing unusual about that in any level of T20 cricket. The blokes are no different so it’s not a reason to down-mark the girls and until Donna Bradman comes along it never will be.

The Aussies were far too good – or should that be, far less nervous – for the Indians, who began with three harmless full-tosses, the two crucially important dropped catches and a misfield for four, all in the first five overs. The match was already effectively a no-contest, a mismatch, which was the only disappointing aspect of a memorable day.

Will the MCG ever see the like of it again? Probably not. All the factors that contributed to this perfect storm are unlikely to be assembled again with such force, although that’s not to say that the ladies will not continue to attract an audience commensurate with their status as professional entertainers. What that might look like remains to be seen.

It will be interesting to see whether the momentum can be maintained – and whether, as far as all women’s sport is concerned, it becomes the high tide that helps lift all boats.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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