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
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.
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