A first standalone final in the history of the burgeoning Women’s Big Bash League, hosted by the top-ranked team, is set to be scheduled as a lunch-time fixture leading into the third day of the January day-night men’s Test between Australia and Sri Lanka in Brisbane.
With the tournament to have 23 matches jointly broadcast on the Seven and Fox Sports networks – up from 12 on the Ten network in 2017-18 – the timing of the final and two semi-finals at the back end of a crowded summer will require more balance and compromise, even as Cricket Australia tracks towards the WBBL standing on fully self-contained ground from October 2019 onwards.
Seven, with coverage helmed by the head of cricket Dave Barham, is committed to showing the tournament final, forcing its scheduling before the start of play on Australia Day, January 26, at the Gabba if the decider is hosted by one of the seven eastern states teams. Should the Perth Scorchers earn the right to host the decider, then some consideration may be given to an evening start time in Western Australia, following the conclusion of play in Brisbane about 9pm Eastern Daylight time.
At a crowded time of the summer sporting calendar, the Saturday final would take place up against the women’s singles final of the Australian Open, set to be broadcast by Nine after the network lost the right to international cricket in Australia for the first time in 40 years. Kim McConnie, CA’s head of the WBBL, said the move to standalone semis and final was a further step in the tournament’s evolution.
“For the first time ever we are moving the WBBL finals to standalone fixtures separate to the men’s competition, in a move that is sure to please players, clubs and the fans,” McConnie said. “Both semi finals will be played on Saturday, 19 January, at the same location, hosted by the top-ranked team of the regular season, while the final will be played on Australia Day. Giving the WBBL its own window for finals is an important step for the League as we look ahead to a standalone fixture in the 2019-20 season.
“Our new landmark partnership with Fox Sports and Seven West Media has enabled us to almost double the number of broadcast matches to 23, which will help us on our journey to be the leading sport for women and girls in Australia.
“We know there is a demand for women’s cricket, with more people than ever before tuning in to watch the sport, so the strong relationship we are forming with our new broadcaster partners will continue to reinforce the WBBL position as a competition that inspires young girls to understand that cricket is a game for girls too, and that they can make a career from the sport – not just at the top level.”
In keeping with the theme of expansion, the tournament will begin with three successive carnival weekends. The first will feature four matches over two days at the refurbished Junction Oval in Melbourne on the first weekend of December, the second will include eight matches over two days, including four at North Sydney Oval and two in Burnie in Tasmania, and the third will include four games at Bellerive Oval in Hobart.
Competing players and teams had been unhappy in the past with the staging of the semis and the final as curtain raisers to the men’s playoffs. In 2018, for instance, this meant that the first-ranked Sydney Sixers and second-placed Sydney Thunder were compelled to play their semi-finals matches at the home grounds of the fourth and third Adelaide Strikers and Perth Scorchers.
Elyse Villani, the Scorchers captain, stated ahead of the final in Adelaide that she believed change to a standalone arrangement was due. “I definitely do, heading towards the T20 World Cup in 2020, that’s a standalone competition,” Villani said. “So I think that’s a move Cricket Australia will make pretty soon and we’re definitely ready for it and looking forward to the challenge of continuing to create our own brand.”