Mitchell: Will there be a day-nighter for the girls?
Alison Mitchell discovers why the women’s Ashes series Down Under presents a problem for the cricketing calendar
While the fixtures for this year’s men’s Ashes series were announced in December, the schedule for the women’s is yet to be decided. However, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland has confirmed that a first women’s day/night Test is being considered.
With a multi-format series to be played, England will travel to Australia to contest three ODIs, a four-day Test, then three T20Is, with points allocated for each. If promoted effectively, a pink ball, day/night women’s Test might encourage more to attend an event which ought to be able to draw upon the sizeable support that has built up around the Women’s Big Bash League.
“That’s absolutely something that’s on the cards,” Sutherland told me for the BBC World Service Cricket programme, Stumped. “We need to think that through. The benefits of playing day/night cricket is all about time-shifting the match into a more fan-friendly time slot, and if we can manage to do that and get more people to come to grounds – and it’s all about the right venues and the right grounds – that’s something that appeals to us.
“We’re not quite there yet, but we certainly have seen from the last Ashes tour against England in 2015 the way the ECB scheduled the women’s Ashes series in grounds with fantastic atmospheres and good attendances. It’s something for us to aspire to.”
A number of Southern Stars players have already done some testing and practice with pink balls, suggesting a day/night Test is likely to happen. Matches are likely to be concentrated on the east coast, but when exactly the series will be played is harder to determine due to the very growth of the game itself; unlike 2014 when the Ashes were last contested in Australia, there is now the WBBL to consider.
The T20 tournament occupies December and January and Cricket Australia – nay, the women’s game as a whole – would be shooting itself in the foot if the best Southern Stars and England players were absent from the most high-profile and well-supported domestic tournament in the world.
Unlike the men’s BBL, there isn’t the depth in women’s cricket to sustain and grow a high quality tournament without the top international players. From both a cricketing and a marketing point of view, the WBBL needs all of its stars.
That then, wipes out the option of having a women’s Ashes dovetailing with the men’s, as was the case during the 2015 series in England. It was a good way of doing it; the women’s Ashes matches were nestled in and around the men’s fixtures, meaning there was a concurrent narrative running throughout, and journalists, TV schedules and radio airwaves were available to give the series the coverage it warranted. Every game was broadcast by Test Match Special and televised by Sky Sports. It climaxed with a T20 double header with the men, as the series concluded after the final men’s Test.
Despite the desire for TV coverage, the exact nature of a broadcast deal is going to take some time to thrash out, particularly where the televising of the Test is concerned. There were doubts in the ECB hierarchy as to whether it was wise to sanction the televising of the women’s Test in 2015. It was the first time a women’s Test had been shown in full, and the format doesn’t feature in international women’s cricket except in an Ashes cycle. India are the only other country to have dabbled since 2006, playing two Tests against England and South Africa in 2014.
Canterbury 2015 could have been a brilliant one-off Test, the likes of which was witnessed on a pacey pitch in Perth in 2014 and which led to calls to televise the Test the following series. Instead, the pitch at Kent’s ground was slow, and England performed horribly. Privately, the ECB felt that set back mainstream perception of women’s cricket in the UK by several years.
The criticism of the team by the cricket media was justified and showed just how far reportage of women’s cricket had come. Far more damage was done by England’s paltry performance at a time when newcomers and casual viewers of the game were – and perhaps still are – wrongly prone to base their entire opinion of women’s international cricket on the first match they see.
So it would not be a surprise if only the women’s marquee ODI and T20I matches are televised, with the Test live-streamed by Cricket Australia. Then again, that would be admitting defeat and would raise questions about the relevance of a Test hidden from view, when there are already pressures to ditch the red-ball format for women. Australia, after all, didn’t suffer unduly from the fall-out of the 2015 Test. It was all aimed at the home side, the losers.
Agreement on all of this, though, will need to be reached with Cricket Australia’s broadcast partner for
It would be no surprise if only the marquee ODIs and T20Is were televised with the Test match live-streamed by Cricket Australia
international cricket, Nine, who haven’t even previously committed to televising full women’s ODIs.
Next month, in a step forward, the Southern Stars’ three T20Is are all double headers with the men and are all due to be shown on Nine’s main network, rather than putting some on their digital sister channel GEM.
Given the ratings WBBL has been picking up when on mainstream Network Ten (a peak of 421,000 for the Sydney derby), it would be most welcome to see Nine give it the big sell and top billing on their main channel.
For that to happen, a window needs to be found. In the early part of next season, Nine also have the men’s domestic 50-over competition to televise, which in 2016 was staged between October 1-23 on GEM. A standalone women’s Ashes staged before the men’s would certainly be beneficial for crowd numbers now that the women’s game has its strongest profile yet in Australia.
The first men’s Ashes Test is scheduled to start on November 23, which doesn’t allow much time, but it can certainly be done. A series in February would be an automatic no-no, as England again would need to pull their players out of the WBBL in order to attend preparation camps.
If push comes to shove and time is tight, the last Ashes T20s could even take place between the first and second men’s Tests, leaving the players to then slip seamlessly into the WBBL which is likely to start on the weekend of December 9/10. However there is real desire to have the series finished by then.
You see, even the women’s game, which doesn’t have half the fixtures of the men’s, is starting to find scheduling a challenge.
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