(Photo: Getty Images)
By Alison Mitchell
Over the last couple of years, the ECB has flown a number of representatives and county executives to Australia to observe the Big Bash and Women’s Big Bash from close quarters in order to take learnings back to the UK for the new T20 competition launching in 2020.
Some things, however, don’t need to be seen in the flesh for the value to be realised.
Watching the televised coverage of the presentation of the Big Bash Final, it was noticeable that Cricket Australia had taken a leaf out of the practice of the AFL Grand Final – the Australian Rules Football showpiece event – whereby child mascots are involved in the presentation of the winners medals.
It is a small touch, but a highly significant one when it comes to the image of the competition and what the sport represents.
Normally post-match presentations are exceedingly dry affairs; a suited corporate representative (normally a middle-aged, or grey haired man who nobody knows) stands against the sponsor’s backdrop, handing over medals and shaking hands with the players as they come on stage.
The chance to stand on such a platform and mingle with the stars of the sport at such a high-profile occasion is one of the many perks afforded to corporate sponsors, but this is one honour that should go to the kids. What happened at the Big Bash Final, was that players were called up to the stage one by one. They walked on from stage right carrying a baseball cap. A young boy or girl mascot entered from stage left carried the player’s winner’s medal, and the two met in the centre.
The player leant down and bowed their head and the child placed the medal around the player’s neck. The player then placed the cap on the child’s head, sometimes adding their signature to the peak of the cap before doing so. There was a handshake, then the pair departed in their respective directions, ready for the next child-player combo to meet centre stage.
And centre stage is what this is about. Who is important to the competition and the sport? The players? Of course. The sponsors? Absolutely, for the money they put into the game – but they can be thanked with private dinners, complementary tickets, exclusive events with players, you name it.
What about the children who have supported their team through the ups and downs of a season? The children who, if they keep coming back will ensure the health and popularity of the game in the decades to come? The children who, if they fall in love with their team, will beg their parents to buy tickets for the next season, and the next season, and the season after that? The boys and girls who, by their very presence, send the message that the event is a family one, an inclusive sport for all ages and genders?
The impact on one sponsor of shaking hands 11 times with a team of cricketers, pales into insignificance when compared to the lifelong memory a child will take away with them when their sporting hero bows their head and allows them to place that medal around their neck. Youngsters ought to be front and centre, both for the kids’ own experience and the image they project of the game.
TV and radio coverage of the women’s domestic Big Bash League Final was enjoyed across both Australia, the UK and any other territory with the rights to broadcast Australian domestic cricket.
However, the return to action of the 2017 Women’s World Cup Finalists, India, has largely gone unnoticed with no TV exposure.
India’s women lit up the World Cup last summer through a number of sensational performances, such as Harmanpreet Kaur’s brutal 171 not out against Australia in the semi-final in Derby.
After a lengthy break with no international cricket, India have been back in action this month, taking on South Africa, the team who were heartbroken in defeat to England in the semi-final, and who provided some of the most memorable moments of the tournament. The two sides are playing qualifiers for the next ICC World Cup in four years time. But does anybody know about it?
There is no live streaming of any of the three ODIs that form part of the ICC ODI Championship (World Cup qualifiers) let alone coverage on network TV or radio. Cricket South Africa had a fixed camera at Kimberly for the first ODI and put together a three-and-a-half-minute report as a highlights package, but nothing can replace the impact of watching sport unfold live.
The second and fourth best teams in the world will also be playing four iT20s as the teams build up to the ICC Women’s World T20 being held in the Caribbean later this year. The iT20s are double headers with South Africa men versus India men, meaning Supersport will televise the matches (the cameras will be there already for the men) and SABC will provide radio commentary (again, the broadcasters are in place for the men’s matches anyway), but the Women’s ODI Championship, which is the clear pathway towards World Cup qualification, is being allowed to pass by in much the same way that women’s cricket has been allowed to pass by for decades. Unwatched.
The success of the 50-over World Cup was built on a social media profile that gained its legs through the availability of video content, generated through the ICC’s investment in the live streaming of all the matches with commentary. Whilst some matches were always to be fully televised, the live stream was of such quality that TV networks began to take the additional matches and thus a more mainstream audience was reached.
The ICC should now be taking a lead in continuing the momentum from the World Cup. They should be subsidizing the live streaming of Women’s ODI Championship matches and making the coverage available to all online, until the business model is strong enough for the rights to be sold and used.
A live stream of acceptable quality with five cameras would cost between £18,000-30,000 per three match series. Cricket South Africa is not awash with cash and any subsidy may incite a cry of “unfair” from broadcasters who choose to televise women’s bilateral matches and who foot the bill themselves.
A middle ground needs to be found though for the betterment of cricket in all countries and to give the public the opportunity to continue following the cricketing stars that they became so well acquainted with last summer.
A Tri-Series in limited-overs cricket used to be a regular feature of an Australian summer – remember the triangular ODI tournament that England won in 2006 on the back of an Ashes whitewash, with Mal Loye memorably slog sweeping Brett Lee?
The return of the Tri-Series in 2018 is welcome for the experience of tournament-play it provides.
Whilst England’s priority is now the 50-over format what with the next World Cup coming up in 2019 on home soil, the T20 Tri-Series being played in Australia and New Zealand provides a mini league, then a final, and thus more context and a greater sense of competition than normally exists when a couple of T20s are stuck onto the beginning or end of a long tour.
Regardless of whether it is a Tri-Series or a major global event, a final is a final; a do-or-die knock out that brings with it pressures which as many England players as possible should experience before they head into the next World Cup.
They came unstuck in the final of the World T20 in India in 2016, and although England’s ODI form has been superb in Australia, they have only won four of their last 10 iT20s.
It is hoped that they will make the Tri-Series Final in Auckland, but it is certainly not a given – especially after yesterday’s defeat.