The WNCL brought cricket’s best to the field and the Australian domestic competition looks better than ever. Mary Konstantopoulos reviews that season that was.
In a dominant display on Saturday at Junction Oval, the Queensland Women defeated the Victoria Women in the 2020/2021 WNCL Final by 112 runs to seal their first ever WNCL finals win.
Led by their captain, Doctor Georgia Redmayne who scored 134 not out off 146 balls, Queensland amassed a huge total of 8-317. This was enough to ensure that Queensland would leave Victoria with the ‘Ruth Preddy Cup’ in tow.
Given Victoria’s dominance throughout the summer, only losing two games during the regular season, some of you may be surprised by the result. However, out of the 12 players to have played for Victoria in this WNCL season for six or more matches, only six were available to play in the final. Those being Elyse Villani, Kim Garth, Tess Flintoff, Anna Lanning, Annabel Sutherland (who was a late inclusion after overcoming injury) and Nicole Faltum.
Just as scheduling can be a challenge in the men’s game, and as the Australian Women’s Cricket team gain more opportunities to play, scheduling to fit in with the domestic summer becomes harder and harder. The pandemic hasn’t helped either.
The Aussie women were meant to tour New Zealand earlier in the year, which would have meant that the Aussie players would have been available for the WNCL final. But the tour was pushed back due to changes in New Zealand government COVID-19 related restrictions regarding the number of sporting teams able to be in quarantine at once.
While there was a conversation about potentially pushing the final back to April so the international representatives could play, ultimately the decision was made to proceed in March. Because of the push back, this meant that six Australian squad members that featured for Victoria during the regular season, including Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry, Molly Strano and Sophie Molineux, would have watched the game from quarantine, ahead of Australia’s tour of New Zealand that began on Sunday. Queensland were also impacted by this, losing Jess Jonassen.
But aside from the dominant display by Queensland in the final, what I will remember the most about this WNCL season is the recognition by so many that the investment that Cricket Australia, and the various state bodies, have made in women’s cricket over the last five years is paying off.
At one stage, the WNCL was a competition dominated by New South Wales Breakers, who became Australia’s first professional women’s domestic sporting team. This year was the first time in the WNCL’s 25-year history that the Breakers have missed the final. In fact, ‘Ruth’ (as the cup is more affectionately known) has spent plenty of time in New South Wales, with the Breakers having won the final on 20 occasions.
As a Breakers fan, the end of this era of dominance should disappoint me. But it has quite the opposite effect. It delights me. For too long the Breakers have dominated the competition and now other teams are beginning to emerge and catch up. Last year, Western Australia won the trophy and this year, Queensland and Victoria have dominated. Even a team like Tasmania, that is used to languishing at the bottom of the ladder, made big strides and finished third. Narrowly missing out on playing in the final. There is depth across the women’s cricket landscape in Australia and that excites me.
Consider the quality of cricket we saw this summer and the quality of cricketer competing.
17 centuries were scored across the summer. That is significantly more than in any other season to date, with the previous high being 13 in 2016/2017.
We have become so accustomed to the talent in the WNCL that for some players like Villani, Nicola Carey, Rachael Haynes and Beth Mooney, scoring centuries is not that much of a surprise. But there has been plenty of emerging talent this year too. Bridget Patterson scored two centuries and the likes of Maddie Penna and Josie Dooley each scored their first centuries in the WNCL.
This depth of talent is not just emerging with bat or ball in hand. The next generation of leaders in Australian cricket are being developed.
Hannah Darlington was this year named as New South Wales youngest-ever cricket captain. Darlington was named captain of the Breakers earlier this season (while Alyssa Healy was unavailable). At 19 years and 31 days, Darlington was younger than both Julie Stockton, who was named captain at 19 years and 252 days in 1978 and Ian Young who was 21 as captain in 1956.
While New South Wales may not have made the final, Darlington’s ability to lead was an important development this summer. Darlington also featured in another piece of history for Australia. Alongside teammates Ashleigh Gardner and Anika Learoyd (who also made her debut this summer), this was the first time that three Indigenous players have featured in a domestic cricket team.
In the past, there were some people that suggested that people didn’t care about women’s sport or that women’s sport would never be as good as men’s sport.
It’s no surprise to me that we continue to see talent emerge in the WNCL. With the increasing professionalism associated with women’s cricket now, our players are having more opportunity to play cricket than ever before. Additionally, with the pay available for women competing at the national and state level, there is less pressure on women to juggle full-time work alongside their sporting careers.
The quality of cricket has also continued to improve as women are given more opportunity to play on Australia’s best grounds. For most of the WNCL’s duration, players have been used to playing at suburban grounds. But this year for the first time, we’ve seen a real shift towards the better venues. Most games this season have been held at grounds like Allan Border Field, the WACA, North Sydney Oval and Blundstone Arena. That has meant better quality wickets. It is what our athletes deserve.
Importantly, more people than ever before have been able to tune in too. Most matches were available to be streamed this year with the final being broadcast on Foxtel and Kayo for the first time. It was also streamed live and free on the Cricket Australia live app.
When the impact of the pandemic began to be felt almost immediately after the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup Final at the MCG on March 8 2020, many feared what would happen to the momentum behind women’s sport.
This domestic season has demonstrated that we’re just getting started, with plenty of positive signs for the years ahead.
The best news of all though is that summer isn’t over yet. If you’re still looking for your cricket fix, be sure to tune in to Australia’s tour of New Zealand with the third and final T20 being played on Thursday, followed by three ODIs.