When the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup took place in early 2020 in Australia, interest was at an all-time high. The final, held on International Women’s Day, saw a record crowd of 86,174 cricket lovers. Women’s cricket was finally getting the attention it deserved. However, the momentum gained was soon lost when the pandemic hit just weeks later, and cricket was suspended for the next six months.
All the groundwork laid by the ICC and the boards should have catapulted women’s cricket to the next level. The unprecedented circumstances brought about by coronavirus means that the work ahead will be more challenging and essential to regaining momentum.
Courtney Walsh, the recently appointed West Indies women’s coach, believes that the 2022 ICC Cricket World Cup is key to that.
“I think it’s important we get that tournament right, trying to create that excitement, that buzz. The ladies have to come out and play good competitive cricket.
“It has all the potential, and if all goes to plan, it will probably be the next major event the ladies will have to promote the game. I’m excited about the prospect of it, and I’m not even playing! I’m sure the ladies are excited to play in it too.
“The last World Cup in Australia was really good too, the teams were competitive and we’re hoping to build on that as best as we can. We have to try to recreate the energy and vibes again. The brand is still good, but if you’re not playing and building the momentum and stuff, it’s difficult.”
Women’s Cricket and T20 Leagues
Crucial in regaining momentum for women’s cricket is the promotion of T20 leagues. Today, there are nine men’s t20 leagues recognised by the ICC. In stark contrast, there are only two options for women, with the WBBL in Australia and the more recent Women’s T20 Challenge in India. Walsh believes that if the boards can get four or five such leagues going around the world, it will help the growth of women’s cricket tremendously.
“The more the ladies get to play, the better it is for them. I would like to see similar to what is happening in the IPL and the Big Bash, I mean if we can get one in West Indies, one in Sri Lanka, if we can get 4 or 5 of these leagues going for the ladies, it can only be better.
“There will be more exposure, more experience and their games will develop more as well. We’re hopeful that can happen.”
Unfortunately, the WBBL and Women’s T20 Challenge are being played at the same time this year. Walsh argues that top players being unable to participate in both leagues is holding back growth of women’s cricket to an extent.
“The only disappointment I have with the WBBL and Women’s T20 Challenge is that they have it on at the same time. They have some players playing in the WBBL and some in the Indian league. It would have been nice if the players could have played both and got some exposure.
“At least more players are getting a chance to play, but it’s like they’re still competing with each other if you wanna put it that way. It would have been nice if it could have avoided that collision.”
Plans as West Indies Women’s Cricket Coach
For West Indies Cricket, the appointment of Walsh as the women’s coach has brought attention and buzz along with it. His last involvement with West Indies Cricket, albeit as a selector, brought immense success. West Indies won all three ICC trophies in 2016 (Women’s T20 WC, Men’s T20 WC, U-19 CWC), and Walsh has a clear plan to replicate this.
“There’s plans and there’s ongoing discussions that have already started to try and get into the schools, to try and develop the under 19 programmes for the ladies so that they can play and we can get more talent coming through.
“We have talent scouts going around the region, trying to get top cricketers so that we can sort of widen the database, and have a look at a lot more cricketers.
“There are some other plans being discussed and I think one on the forefront is the under-19 Women’s World Cup which I think is crucial. If we can get the world cup going then obviously you’ll have talent to look at during that and you should get a couple emerging players from that as well.”
The pandemic has impacted their planning, but Walsh is hopeful that they can get a camp going for the ladies in January. The World Cup qualifiers being pushed back from this year to 2021 means that Walsh has more time to prepare for the tournament. However, he is under no illusions about the challenges ahead.
“Its not going to be easy, there’s a lot of hard work to be done. Potential and ability is there but we have got to try enhance everything so that we can compete and represent the people of West Indies.
“We have time to try and squeeze in some camps before the qualifiers. If we can get a tour as well, then there will be a fair amount of cricket to be played before the qualifiers, which is what I ideally want, for us to be going into the qualifiers with a fair amount of cricket under our belt and then trying to peak at the qualifiers to ensure that we qualify.”
The fact that West Indies Cricket have roped in one of the all-time greats of the game suggests they’re serious about becoming a powerhouse in the women’s game. This can only be good for cricket, as in the past, cricket has been a much more entertaining spectacle when the West Indies team are successful.
With the ICC’s support, there’s hope that women’s cricket will gather momentum once again and build upon where they were at the start of 2020.