Mitchell: KSL keeps driv­ing women’s game

Alison Mitchell looks at how far the KSL has come, and what it can still do to im­prove over the com­ing years

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The tim­ing of this year’s Kia Su­per League could not have been bet­ter, com­ing hot off the back of Eng­land’s vic­to­ri­ous home World Cup cam­paign. The knockon ef­fect of the sell-out Fi­nal at Lord’s was re­flected in the crowd num­bers for the sec­ond edition of the do­mes­tic Twenty20 tour­na­ment: av­er­age at­ten­dance was up by a third on last year’s fig­ure of 1,379, with more than 20,000 hav­ing gone to a ground to watch a game. Fi­nals Day at Hove was sup­ported by a crowd of 3,500.

These num­bers are dwarfed when com­pared to the World Cup Fi­nal at­ten­dance, but are as­ton­ish­ing when you con­sider this is do­mes­tic women’s cricket in the UK. Be­fore the ad­vent of the KSL the do­mes­tic game had no pro­file. In fact even now, the women’s 50-over com­pe­ti­tion and County Cham­pi­onship are barely pro­moted, pub­li­cised or watched (Lan­cashire won both, by the way). If you go to the County sec­tion of the ECB’s own web­site, the only women’s com­pe­ti­tion listed is the KSL.

The KSL is be­ing used as the shop win­dow and the driver for the women’s do­mes­tic game. The ev­i­dence of edition two is that it is suc­cess­fully build­ing on last year. Be­fore this sea­son be­gan, Di­rec­tor of Eng­land Women’s Cricket at the ECB, Clare Con­nor, stated that she was hop­ing for a 30-40 per cent in­crease in av­er­age at­ten­dance. It hap­pened. Nearly dou­ble the num­ber of sixes were hit (80) com­pared to last year (46), and the tour­na­ment saw its first cen­turies from New Zealan­ders Suzie Bates (South­ern Vipers) and Rachel Priest (West­ern Storm). Priest also smashed a 21-ball fifty.

This all came af­ter the tour­na­ment cur­tain was raised with a dis­ap­point­ingly one-sided match at the Ageas Bowl, when even­tual cham­pi­ons West­ern Storm were bowled out for a pal­try 70. It was hardly the ‘ad­vert’ that the ECB were hop­ing for. But then again, it showed how far the women’s game had come in that there was no big back lash of opin­ion – as has been the case in the past – be­moan­ing that women’s cricket is poor and isn’t wor­thy of be­ing shown on TV. The match was seen in the same way that a one sided men’s match is viewed – a one-off, a poor show­ing from one team. Thanks to the re­cent World Cup – the live stream­ing and TV cov­er­age of every game – the cricket-lov­ing pub­lic have had the chance to see enough women’s cricket to know the qual­ity it can pro­duce, and there­fore to know not to write it off on the ba­sis of one poor spec­ta­cle. That hasn’t al­ways been the case.

The tour­na­ment has also given vi­tal ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­po­sure to am­a­teur Eng­land Academy and County play­ers who don’t oth­er­wise play in front of crowds, TV cam­eras, ra­dio com­men­ta­tors or jour­nal­ists. As well as the pres­surised sit­u­a­tions it’s also a chance for them to play in a semipro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment on pitches of a pro­fes­sional stan­dard. Good pitches re­main paramount to fa­cil­i­tate en­ter­tain­ing women’s cricket. In­ter­na­tional names such as Bates and Nat Sciver dom­i­nated the run-scor­ing and wicket tak­ing charts this year, as would be ex­pected, but sev­eral lesser-known play­ers have also shown they can com­pete against the coun­try’s and the world’s best.

I was im­pressed with West­ern Storm’s Ge­or­gia Hen­nessey’s abil­ity to strike the ball pow­er­fully, giv­ing her side a good start on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions and adding valu­able runs when drop­ping lower down the or­der. Alice David­sonRichards, who came through the Kent Academy but plays for York­shire Di­a­monds, shone in the early Roses match, crash­ing an un­beaten 22 off 13 balls in­clud­ing hit­ting in­ter­na­tion­als Jess Jonassen (Aus­tralia) and Amy Sat­terth­waite (New Zealand) for six. She then dis­missed three of Lan­cashire’s top or­der, in­clud­ing Jonassen.

Left-arm spin­ner Lin­sey Smith shot to promi­nence in last year’s tour­na­ment, moved from Berk­shire to Sus­sex over the win­ter, and per­formed well again for Vipers, tak­ing the ma­jor­ity of her wick­ets against Di­a­monds with 3 for 16. Som­er­set’s 23-year-old bat­ter Sophie Luff was un­fazed when she needed to ac­com­pany West Indies Ste­fanie Tay­lor (and her run­ner Fran Wil­son) to the end of Storm’s vic­to­ri­ous Fi­nal. She did it with aplomb, strik­ing five bound­aries on the way to a con­fi­dent and un­beaten 30 off 24 balls.

How much of a fu­ture does the KSL have in this for­mat though? The cur­rent host­ing agree­ments for the six teams run un­til 2019 so it is ex­pected to re­main broadly the same for two more sea­sons, ex­cept with the num­ber of matches dou­bling from next year. Perti­nently, 2020 is the year that the ECB’s new broad­cast deal comes into ef­fect, to­gether with the new eight-team men’s T20 city-based com­pe­ti­tion. It has been agreed that eight do­mes­tic women’s T20s will be shown live on the BBC as part of that deal, and it seems likely that the six KSL host teams, as we know them now, would be dis­banded or re-as­signed, in or­der to make the women’s com­pe­ti­tion mir­ror the men’s. Con­nor con­firmed as much when I in­ter­viewed her for my BBC Stumped pod­cast just be­fore this sea­son’s KSL be­gan.

“What we’re go­ing to be do­ing very care­fully over the next cou­ple of years is look­ing at ex­actly what the fu­ture of the com­pe­ti­tion looks like,” she said. “Whether the num­ber of teams re­mains at six or whether it will ex­pand.

“We’re ob­vi­ously look­ing at how the KSL could po­ten­tially align – if it were to ex­pand in the num­ber of teams – with the men’s com­pe­ti­tion. That would present us with some won­der­ful op­por­tu­ni­ties that have been played out in Aus­tralia with the adding on of the Women’s Big Bash League a few years af­ter the Big Bash started. We’ve seen great suc­cess in what’s happening over there. We’ll be keep­ing all our op­tions open with the fu­ture of the com­pe­ti­tion.”

In the more im­me­di­ate term, the ex­pan­sion in the num­ber of games could at­tract more overseas play­ers from a broader range of coun­tries. In­dia’s World Cup star Har­man­preet Kaur was due to play for Sur­rey Stars this sea­son, but had to pull out in­jured. Given the pro­file In­dia’s women have gath­ered in their home coun­try since their ap­pear­ance in the World Cup Fi­nal, the ad­di­tion of a cou­ple of their play­ers next sea­son would add a lit­tle ex­tra star dust in what is al­ready a youth­ful yet sparkling com­pe­ti­tion.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

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