home Cricket Sugar and spice, fire and ice: the changing dynamics of women’s cricket and social media

Sugar and spice, fire and ice: the changing dynamics of women’s cricket and social media

Mrinal Asija explores the way fans, athletes and Cricket Australia have all used social media to grow the women’s game.

Image: Cricket Australia

It’s 2022. Elon Musk has wreaked havoc in the world with his takeover of Twitter. That what is happening with a website becomes a major global issue in a world that is emerging out of a pandemic and is faced with a war and an economic crisis shows how significant a place social media has in our lives now. From the perspective of a sports lover, it has changed the way we follow our favourite game.

For most of us cricket fans born in the last millennium, cricket stars were the people who did heroic things on the field. Going to the games or wandering in the hotel lobbies in the hope of getting an autograph was our only chance of meeting them, and what was printed in the tabloids our only way of getting to know more about them. For the female cricketers, even that was a rarity.

Today, we know that Beth Mooney’s dog Ruby often ditches her to get petted by others, much to her annoyance. We know who is in the lead for the Stealy Cup, the golf trophy Alyssa Healy and her husband Mitchell Starc compete for annually. If we are lucky, we even find ourselves interacting with our sporting heroes online. That’s what social media has made possible.

“Athletes no longer need to remain an enigma to be revered”

Gone are the days when team management and players’ staff tried to shield them from the public eye to maintain an aura of mystery around them, says Emily Collin, Social Media Producer for Women’s Elite Cricket at Cricket Australia. 

“The main thing we are trying to achieve is to showcase player personality and give fans the opportunity to see the players being their most authentic selves. Fans can go down to watch cricket and switch on the TV, but if they follow the team handles, they can get a different insight into how the team operates behind the scenes,” Collin said. 

Content creators for sports teams have realised that athletes no longer need to remain an enigma to be revered. Putting out content that brings players’ personalities, their quirks, their hidden talents into the spotlight can make fans relate with them and adore them even more.

The Australian women’s cricket team has been a dominant force in world cricket, winning every trophy and medal possible. However, that is not the only reason they got rated as the ‘most loved’ sports team in Australia a couple of years back.

“My favourite bit of content was when Alyssa Healy handed over a pair of gloves to a girl, who was very overwhelmed. Midge (Healy) later tweeted, ‘Let’s find the girl so I can sign the gloves for her.’ The girl came to the cricket again and she was absolutely stoked. 

“Healy was being her genuine self and we were able to capture that. That’s the kind of content that resonates and that’s probably why so many people love this team. Obviously, they are awesome at cricket, but they are also an incredibly good bunch of people,” Collin said, reiterating the power of player-led content to build a connection between the team and the fans.

The advent of the WBBL in 2015 has taken the popularity of the game and the players to a whole new level. Young and upcoming players like Phoebe Litchfield and Georgia Redmayne have become household names without playing international cricket. The WBBL has a family-friendly atmosphere at the games and an entertainment-focused coverage where players are often mic’d up to chat with the commentators. That coupled with engaging content on the social media channels of the WBBL and the teams has contributed to the expanding pool of superstars in women’s cricket in Australia.

Fans fill the void left by mainstream media

Media coverage of this level was not always there for women’s cricket and cricketers.

In the last few years, some fans have taken it upon themselves to make up for this lack of mainstream media coverage by starting online pages and groups where they share news, stats, achievements, and records. Others put out more light-hearted content like memes. For Cricket Australia, engaging with those fans was an important part of their strategy. 

“When someone shares something that will resonate with other fans, by engaging with that from the team account, that helps build relationships online and creates a welcoming, engaged community of fans,” Collin said. 

“We have seen a lot more of these fan accounts popping up. The team gets a kick out of it as well. From our perspective, there are places we wouldn’t go because we are the official channel, but to see fans get involved is a lot of fun and it broadens the conversation and it makes following the team a richer experience.”

The online women’s cricket community has been a space where the followers of the game have had mutual respect and admiration across geographical boundaries and team allegiances. What had kept it tightly knit together is the fight against the common “adversaries” – the administrators who refused to give the women’s game its due, the media that continued to turn a blind eye to it, and all those who vilified women’s cricket.

However, with the game starting to grab more and more eyeballs, and its followers base constantly expanding, the environment of the community is also changing. Some tight finishes and controversial moments in games in the past few months have resulted in intense debates on social media, none as fervent as the one that followed India’s Deepti Sharma running out England’s Charlie Dean at the non-striker’s end in an ODI in September this year. The mode of dismissal, although perfectly legal, is looked down upon by some. Not just fans, but cricketers—former and current, men and women—got involved in the discourse, which took an ugly turn.

Reimagining what it means to be a fan

As the wider cricket world gets involved, it is bound to change how the community around the women’s game has existed up till this point. The debate about whether some fierceness and hostility between fans is actually good for the growth of the game has existed for some time in women’s sports. The “fan wars”, some claim, show that women’s sport is moving into the mainstream and fans are passionately supporting their teams, as tribalism lies at the heart of sport.

However, we can question, why do we have to accept the precedent set by men’s sports as the mainstream.

It is important to remember that women athletes are more susceptible to abuse, by the mere fact of being women. More so because they are generally more accessible to fans on social media. In the recent episodes that divided the community, many “fans” of women’s cricket themselves directed misogynist abuse towards the players. We cannot let young players and fans feel that the women’s cricket community is not a welcoming place.

When women’s cricket was given a cold shoulder by the mainstream media for years, social media carried its fire. Even though the coverage has got a massive boost, social media will continue to play its important role. It might not always be all nice and sweet, but a little savoury at times. 

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