The WBBL season kicks off with a bang, as broken bats and fixture difficulties cause chaos for teams. Megan Maurice reports on the eventful start to the season.
Only 25% into the ninth season of the Women’s Big Bash League, there has already been enough events on and off the field to warrant a new rendition of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. It may not be Grammy-worthy, but it could go something like this:
Can Grace Harris replace her broken bat? Should we use the golden hat? / Melbourne Stars scored 29 points, their draft picks were exceptional / Chamari Athapaththu is looking to make an impact, can we have more Decision Review System? / Alyssa Healy injured by a dog, why aren’t there more evening games? / We did not initiate the conflict.
The beginning of this season has been remarkable, with the introduction of an international draft that has already made a difference. The Sydney Thunder, who only won one game last season and ended up at the bottom of the rankings, seem to be the team benefiting the most from this new system, despite winning the competition just two seasons ago.
During the draft, the Thunder received the top pick and used it to acquire Marizanne Kapp from South Africa, who is highly sought after in the world of cricket. Kapp had a strong debut for the team, but it is another international player, Chamari Athapaththu from Sri Lanka, who has been dominating the competition with two impressive half centuries in her first two games for the Thunder. Despite being two-time champions of the WBBL, the Thunder have never been known for their batting prowess. However, their performances so far this season suggest that this may be changing. Interestingly, Athapaththu was not initially chosen in the draft, as her former team, the Melbourne Renegades, did not exercise their right to retain the Sri Lankan captain.
The Renegades decided to keep Hayley Matthews, the captain of the West Indies team, after her outstanding performance with the bat in the T20 series against Australia. However, she has also been excelling in bowling for the Renegades and is currently the top wicket-taker in the competition. The draft appears to have successfully balanced the competition, despite not causing a significant amount of movement between teams.
The balancing has resulted in interesting outcomes, particularly with drastic changes in performance. For example, the Melbourne Stars began the season strong with a win against the Sydney Sixers, but then faced a loss to the Adelaide Strikers where they were bowled out for only 29 runs. Similarly, the Strikers then suffered a significant 81-run loss to the Renegades. This unpredictability makes it difficult to determine the winner of each match. Every team has now secured at least one win, and these wins become more crucial as the season progresses. Due to the condensed schedule, a dip in form can be detrimental to a team’s chances, while a winning streak can propel a team into the finals.
Many fans have raised concerns about scheduling in recent years, as game times have remained largely unchanged despite the growth of the competition on the field. The big news for this season is that games will be played in larger stadiums for the first time since the WBBL began. These matches, held at the Adelaide Oval, MCG, and SCG, will take place towards the end of the season and mark a significant development for the competition. Additionally, the number of matches played at neutral venues has been reduced from 24 to 10, which is a crucial progression for the league.
Unfortunately, the scheduling of games during the week has remained problematic during the early part of this season. This has resulted in low attendance at the stadiums and on broadcasts. Out of the eight games played by the Thunder in Sydney, four are scheduled on weekdays during the day and one on a Saturday afternoon, which conflicts with junior cricket matches. While WBBL memberships are reasonably priced, it would be difficult for clubs to increase these fees when a large portion of the audience is unable to attend most home games.
These games, which have inconvenient schedules, do not have the same technological advancements as other games. Viewers who do watch the broadcast would notice the inferior camera work and the absence of DRS, resulting in some questionable umpiring decisions that cannot be reviewed. Rhys McKenna’s dismissal for being stumped in the Stars’ defeat against the Strikers, despite being inside her crease, was a significant example.
This season is sure to have more unexpected events, as evidenced by the opening weekend when a broken bat resulted in a six and a major player being sidelined due to a dog bite. Anything is possible in this unpredictable season, with more surprises and exciting matches yet to come. As we approach the big stadium games and the finale of this season, we can expect to see crowds befitting of this amazing spectacle.