Photo credit: ICC-Cricket
The world of cricket is abuzz as the first standalone ICC Women's World Twenty20 is set to bowl off in the West Indies in just a couple of weeks. Previous editions of this tournament were held in conjunction with the men’s tournament, with many feeling the women’s tournament was billed as simply a warm up or precursor to the men’s tournament as the main event.
The Women’s Cricket Association was founded in England in 1926, though the first recorded match took place much earlier in 1745. Despite this nearly 300 year history, women’s cricket has had a hard time being recognized as a true sport with its own identity.
In the modern age of cricket, two entities - England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) - have lead the charge to normalize women’s cricket and make it more visible worldwide.
In 1998, the ECB merged with the Women’s Cricket Association in order to increase the public profile and stimulate growth of the sport.
By 2008, ECB began creating contracts for professional women’s cricketers and by 2014, England created the first fully professional women’s team, with 18 athletes receiving contracts.
Where CA has excelled is by increasing exposure of women’s cricket in the media, which is key to the realization of cricket as a worldwide recognized sport. In 2017, CA made the decision to live-stream every match of the Women's Big Bash League. Previously, other entities have shied away from this kind of coverage, fearing the quality of the women’s games would not be able to interest a significant audience.
The movement of the Women’s World Twenty20 to a standalone event is significant, not only to continue the advancement of women’s cricket, but as an example of how cricket in general is increasing in popularity throughout the world.
Cricket is currently the second most popular sport worldwide, falling just behind European Soccer. This is largely thanks to technological advancements and the availability of live-streamed cricket matches on the internet, giving visibility to the sport where it was previously mostly unknown.
Cricket is also becoming more accessible to everyone in the form of improvements to the materials used to make cricket gear, as well as the first affordable, portable bowling machine.