That number pretty much sums up the growth of women’s cricket in the world. On March 8, international women’s day, 86,174 cricket fans gathered at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to witness the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup final between India and Australia.
The previous highest viewership for women’s T20 WC came in 2009 when 12,717 watched England beat New Zealand at Lord’s. There was a 213 per cent increase in the viewing minutes in India just for the group stage! In Australia, the host country, it was an 1600 per cent increase. Rightly marketed, publicised and promoted, the tournament drew crowds in hordes. The highly competitive and close games also coincided with the Indian men’s team’s terrible showing in neighbouring New Zealand.
That a 16-year-old Shafali Verma, who was taking her early steps in international cricket, could become a household name in just two weeks showed the reach of the tournament. Permitting Mitchell Starc to leave the South Africa ODI series midway for him to cheer his wife Alyssa Healy in the final was a masterstroke from Cricket Australia in its attempt to promote women’s cricket. It went a step further by adding a further $600,000 to the prize money earned by world champion Australia to ensure it matched the men’s prize.
To see Twitter and other social media platforms flooded with stories of young boys idolising women cricketers, the batting craftsmanship displayed by the players dissected and analysed, the sheer quality of play witnessed and the innumerable thrillers offered during the fortnight made it a memorable tournament.
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The only blip, a major one at that, was the lack of a reserve day for the semifinals. India, by remaining unbeaten in the group stage with four wins in as many matches, progressed to the final after the knockout match against England was washed out. The second semifinal between Australia and South Africa was also affected by rain, with the host team nudging ahead as per D/L method.
England captain Heather Knight was rightly miffed. “You'd hope now there is going to be a rule change... and moving forward, no other team will have to experience going out of a World Cup purely because of rain,” she said.
The ICC, just like it reversed the absurd boundary rule after the damage was done – England being the beneficiary against New Zealand in the World Cup Final in 2019, has now decided to have a reserve day for the upcoming World Cup knockout games.
India’s tournament to lose
India pipped Australia by 17 runs in the first encounter after being in a seemingly losing position thanks to the spin effort of Poonam Yadav. India continued in the same vein with the bowlers defending small targets in an extraordinary fashion. Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues performed below expectations even as Shafali compensated for their lacklustre show with her explosive batting. She ruffled up scores of 29, 39, 46 and 47 to give the bowling unit just enough to work their magic.
India’s over-dependence on Shafali and the bowlers proved to be its downfall as Australia, having learnt its lessons from the loss in the opening match, tore apart the bowling to score 184 and bundle out India for 99 in a one-sided final.
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Playing after a break of seven days, India seemed to have lost the momentum and caved in meekly to give Australia its fifth World crown. Shafali could score only two. Her exploits, however, helped her briefly hold the World No. 1 spot in ICC T20 batting rankings. She is only the second Indian after Mithali Raj to achieve the feat.
Alyssa Healy, cheered on by Mitchell Starc, scored a quickfire 75 to help Australia set up an intimidating target for India and earn the player of the match award in the final. The script couldn’t have been better for the host.
How the tournament panned out
The fact that Thailand qualified for the World Cup was a big boost in ICC’s plan for expanding cricket to different regions of the world. Thailand may not have won any match, but the players’ endearing mannerisms earned them admirers. After losing the first three matches, Thailand looked set to end the tournament on a high after scoring a strong 150 for 3 against Pakistan, but rain proved to be a dampener to its plans. Even then, the Thai players led by Sornnarin Tippoch sported their biggest smiles and treated the fans to some fun-filled dance moves while waiting for the rain to abate.
India decided to make the retirement of Shasikala Siriwardene special by gifting her a jersey signed by the players with personal messages jotted down. It showed the camaraderie between the Indian and Sri Lankan players from the days when women’s cricket was watched only by a handful.
Bangladesh frightened India in the group stage, Pakistan put up a spirit performance to defeat West Indies in signs of growing talent in the sub-continent. West Indies and New Zealand departed in the group stage suggesting quality competitions among the top teams in the world.
In terms of individual performers, Beth Mooney top-scored in the batting department with 259 runs. Her opening partner Healy was equally impressive as the two found their place in the ICC Team of the tournament. In all, five Australian players were named in the Best XI. That’s how dominant the champion has been. Only Poonam Yadav could find a place in the XI from India. Shafali was named the 12th player.
Bowlers accounted for 250 wickets. A staggering 76 sixes were hit during the tournament. Who said women’s game was boring?