“It’s a real turning point for the women’s game because we are delivering a World Cup that’s at par with the men’s event. That is absolutely incredible.” – Steve Elworthy
As the man responsible for producing a high-quality ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, you’d expect Elworthy, the former South African medium-pacer, to talk up the 11th edition of the Women’s World Cup, and throw in words like ‘incredible’ when discussing the possibilities. But a glance through some of the elements added to the tournament certainly makes it seem quite, well, incredible.
For starters, the prize money has been jacked up to $2 million, ten times the amount handed out at the last edition, in 2013. The venues the latest edition will play out at are County Ground in Taunton, the home of women’s cricket in England, County Ground in Bristol, a One-Day International venue, first-class venues at Grace Road and County Ground, Derby, and the final will be at Lord’s.
Compare that to 2009, when matches were played at Manuka Oval in Canberra, an international venue all right but not one of the most glamorous in Australia, and off-radar grounds in Bowral, Newcastle and North Sydney Oval. In India in 2013, they were spread over Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium – historic but off the map to an extent now, Bandra-Kurla Complex and Middle Income Group ground, and Cuttack’s Barabati Stadium, an international venue, and DRIEMS ground.
So when Elworthy says hosting the final at Lord’s is “a massive statement”, you can see what he means. It really is.
The hike in prize money is significant too. “Two million dollars is the first step towards greater parity (with the men’s game) and recognition,” Dave Richardson, the ICC CEO, said earlier this month, and again, you have to agree. No, it’s not on a par with the men’s yet: the men’s champions at the 2015 Cricket World Cup, for example, took back $3,975,000 as compared to the $660,000 the winners of the 2017 Women’s World Cup will earn. But it has to be seen in perspective: The total prize money for the 2013 edition was only $200,000.
Parity might still be some way away, but it’s getting there. As Richardson explained, “The change will not happen overnight”.
More? Ten matches will be broadcast live on TV, with 30 cameras in operation, and the remaining 21 matches will be live streamed. DRS will be used in women’s cricket for the first time. The final at Lord’s will have the value addition of a drone camera and a Spidercam.
It will be a never-before experience then and the organisers say the ticket sales for the matches have been appreciably good.
Why is all this happening, though?
Two factors would have played critical roles in pushing women’s cricket to the forefront to a significant extent.
One, the awarding of central contracts to women cricketers. All the teams who are a part of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 get paid as part of a central contracts system. This wasn’t the case till a few years ago.
That has gone hand in hand with improvements in the lot of women cricketers in these countries in terms of fixtures, training, facilities, etc., and has also forced the women’s game to come out of the shadows to an extent.
Two, the brilliantly planned ICC Women’s Championship. From August 21, 2014 to November 23, 2016, the top eight teams – the ones that ended up qualifying for the World Cup – played each other on a home-and-away basis to earn points that led to the top four teams – Australia, England, New Zealand West Indies – qualifying directly for the marquee event, and the bottom four going through a qualifying event and getting there a little later. What this did, even for people without more than a passing interest in women’s cricket, is provide context for each match. Every fixture over the three-year period added up to something and that meant people kept track of what was happening. More than before.
As a result of all this, and the increased number of women’s ODI matches over the past two-three years, names like Meg Lanning and Mithali Raj and Sophie Devine and Stafanie Taylor and Sana Mir and many others have become familiar and even popular among the cricket community. New stars have emerged too: Amy Satterthwaite, Lizelle Lee, Anisa Mohammed, Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Sune Luus, Ayabonga Khaka, Bismah Maroof … the list is a long one.
The beginnings of the ICC Women’s World Cup, back in 1973 – two years before the first men’s edition, remember – were unambitious. Women’s cricket itself was at the sort of stage then that men’s cricket was at in the early 1900s, played seriously by a handful of nations. Indeed, the teams that took part in the 1973 edition were England, Australia and New Zealand, major teams, as well as ‘International XI’, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and ‘Young England’. The women’s game has come a long, long way since then. Slowly, battling all kinds of prejudices and problems, to start with, and then, over the past few years, in a big way.
With all the perks it has put in place for the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, the ICC has underscored its interest and focus in women’s cricket, giving it the respect and place it deserves. It’s not the end, of course, but that might come, if cricket bodies, sponsors and audiences play their part.