If the Women’s World Cup left you wanting more drama then look no further than the Kia Super League, which returns on Thursday, says Isabelle Westbury…
There was drama. There were tears. There was fanfare. It was a final fit for a tournament which over four weeks had teased, twisted and been turned on its head. England as hosts, vanquished by India in the opening game, prevailed over the same opponents in front of a capacity crowd at Lord’s. The next day’s back pages, front pages, train stations, social media and everywhere else you looked were adorned with the proclamation that has evaded the men for so long: World Champions – England.
Rarely does a tournament regardless of sport, gender or skill save the best until last. Knockout stages usually ensure that a combination of nerves and fear of failure make for often one-sided affairs – the thrill of the occasion itself enough to create a spectacle. The Women’s World Cup however provided two scintillating semi-finals, both absorbing in quite different ways, topped off by a final which left the press box scurrying to rewrite their virtually finished articles following Anya Shrubsole’s six-wicket haul.
It is said of role models that you can’t be what you can’t see. That Sunday – thousands of young girls, within the 28,000 capacity crowd at Lord’s, watching on television, listening online or even picking up the top trending topic on social media – saw someone like them, a woman, reach the pinnacle of her sport and for the first time do so with the full attention of the nation’s media. Heather Knight’s team created role models – through Anya Shrubsole’s bowling heroics, Fran Wilson’s athletic fielding or Nat Sciver’s innovative shot selection – that had never previously been seen.
More than two weeks on the momentum of women’s sport has continued in earnest; there were record levels of support for England’s football team, the Lionesses, in the European Cup; there was acknowledgement of women performing at the World Para Athletic Championships to a degree as yet unseen; and the athletics has provided female stars in every event. England’s cricketers hope to rejoin this wave once more, as they embark on the next chapter in the sport’s development – the Kia Super League.
This is a Twenty20 franchise tournament launched last year to much fanfare. Hastily announced, it was perhaps an impulsive reaction to the successful first season of a similar competition in Australia, the Women’s Big Bash League. This year’s incarnation however has a real opportunity to transform the game. Momentum doesn’t continue by itself, it must be nurtured, fuelled and shrewdly capitalised upon. Following so soon after a successful World Cup, both in terms of spectacle, media coverage, crowd numbers and for the host nation the result, the Kia Super League is a huge opportunity.
It is a league attracting some of the biggest international stars combined with some exciting, and in many cases currently unknown, home-grown talent soon to play out on a stage as yet unafforded to the women’s domestic game. Six group stage matches, each part of a double-header with a men’s NatWest T20 Blast match, as well as both games from the Finals Day on September 1, will be broadcast live on Sky, and radio coverage will be pervasive throughout. Like so many advances in the women’s game – T20 internationals, multi-format point-based bilateral series, and now English domestic franchise tournaments – the Kia Super League was an innovation which has preempted the men’s game. For that it deserves both credit and attention, but it has not been without its risks, and stumbling blocks along the way.
Last season, the tournament’s first, received patchy coverage, clashing with a popular Rio Olympics and encountering problems behind the scenes with contracts, logistics and an undefined legacy. Nothing, however, is perfect at the first attempt and the hope is that year’s version, timed to perfection, will learn from those mistakes. The 50-over version has been quietly scrapped, a couple of high profile names have once again withdrawn through injury and the question of how this league fits into a developing infrastructure currently lacking in the women’s cricket pathway remains, so there is work still to do.
Yet attention should, and hopefully will, be drawn to the drama which unfolds on the pitch itself. This is what prevailed in the World Cup, and this is what should do so equally well here. The tournament, on paper at least, offers a lot – the big-hitters in the form of New Zealand’s Sophie Devine, South Africa’s Lizelle Lee and Sri Lanka’s Chamari Atapattu; the searing seamers like Katherine Brunt, Lea Tahuhu and Marizanne Kapp; and the wily spinners of Alex Hartley, Jess Jonassen and Suune Luus. If the World Cup left you wanting more, you needn’t look too hard to find it.