The Women’s Premier League has everyone buzzing. To say I’ve never experienced anything like it before would be an understatement. Everything here is hyped to the max – training, meetings, games, crowds, most of all the media. Everywhere we turn, there are cameras filming. At Royal Challengers Bangalore the ambition is to be as big a brand, with as big a social media footprint, as Real Madrid or FC Barcelona. And at a franchise so well organised and ambitious as RCB, that means 18 cricket players and 20 content creators.
In India, cricket is its own entity. When a billion people follow, the game’s value is enormous. To know the first year of TV rights for the WPL was bigger than the first IPL is phenomenal.
The auction itself was the weirdest thing and I hated every second. It felt like horse trading. I was interested in Ash Gardner so a few of us were on her Facetime call to her mum, with her brother doing live conversion rates as the bidding got to $558,000. We’d known there might be an obscene level of coin but half a million bucks? It was so strange.
As for me, I knew I’d be toward the end, with the nobodies and bowlers no one cares about. Tahlia McGrath told me to sit down. “You’ve got to watch to see if you get sold,” she said. I felt weird but I switched it on. When I saw I was unsold after the first round I switched it off again. But RCB coach Ben Sawyer said: “I don’t want to jinx it but wait until the last round.” At that stage I’d resigned myself either way. Not picked up? That sucks but I get to go home. But then I got picked up (for $69,000) and that means another month away from home.
The overriding feeling was one of excitement. For me it was huge. Now I’m at the latter end of my career, the WPL is a good future option when I retire from Australian cricket. I wanted to play, to get my foot in the door, be part of the first ever WPL and have my name written in history. It was so exciting, a great step for me and my cricket. But to be honest, I was torn too – the WPL also meant an extra month away from my wife and child. Luckily, they fully support me.
And there’s a bigger prize at stake. To play professionally we need to be paid professionally. We ask too much of our domestic players for what we pay, but part of the reason Australia is so dominant on the world stage is because we’ve primed the next wave so well in the domestic scene that the transition to the national side is seamless. Money buys skill and it buys time. We win World Cups because we can train 24-7. So if a girl today has to choose between the AFLW or cricket, the money in WPL makes a compelling case: how could you not be lured?
The other value of the WPL is equality. The WPL interview us the same way, hype us as much and cheer us as loud as the men’s competition. But is the gap closing? On one level, Australia is doing wonders for us, as virtually full-time professionals, to have the choice of cricket as a career. Yes it’s progress and we’re getting better paid, but so are men. So the great divide remains. India’s WPL is a giant leap. Now we want associate nations to ask: what’s our next move?
Will this filter down? In Australia, the WBBL has changed everything. I first picked up a ball at age 11 and I hadn’t been exposed to cricket before that. Now, thanks to the WBBL on TV, participation rates in girls under 12 are surging and pathway programs are opening up. I’m an advocate for equality in all walks of life and the parity we’re getting in the WPL is the generational change women are striving for in life on a global scale. That’s bloody cool. We’re inspiring boys too. Cricket-loving kids today see players not genders. It’s beautiful.
When you see me at the top of my bowling mark, I look super scary. But behind the scenes I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how big this WPL is. People think because we play for Australia and win World Cups a tournament like this isn’t important, but that’s wrong. A core value of this Australian team is to grow the game globally (even though some think we’re not doing that by winning so often). We want women to be strong and women’s cricket to be strong. We want cricket to be a career choice for girls. It’s what we owe to the game we love.