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

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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.

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Tele­vised but did it set back the women’s game? The teams shake hands after Aus­tralia win the Test at Canterbury in 2015

Fol­low­ing Eng­land’s lead? Cricket Aus­tralia’s James Suther­land

Too suc­cess­ful to tam­per with: The Women’s BBL can’t af­ford to lose star names to Ashes

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