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Between late November and mid-January, there was a distinct shortage of women’s international cricket. This situation was corrected in an exciting way by the Australia England series which ended on February 8.
The multi-format series included a test match, three one-day internationals and three T20s, with the overall winner determined on a points system, with four points being offered for the test and two for shorter format matches.
As the highest-ranked women’s side in any format, Australia underscored that status with a convincing win in the T20 opener in Adelaide, while rain allowed just 4.1 overs. be played in the second T20 and none in the third. That left Australia with four points and England two, thanks to a point for abandoned games.
Victory for Australia in the test match in Canberra would have secured eight unassailable points from the 14 offered for the series. In a contest of wildly fluctuating fortunes, the outcome hinged on the very last innings, with England needing 12 runs to win and Australia one wicket. Commentators and players were of the opinion that it was one of the great dramatic Test matches, a wonderful advertisement for both the longer format and women’s cricket.
Australia had recovered from a shaky first innings start to score 337, before England were saved by their captain, Heather Knight, who scored 168 from a tally of 297. After losing the last two day three sessions due to rain, Australia declared their second innings from 216, calling on England to score 257 from 48 overs to win in what would have been the biggest fourth inning chase in history female tests.
Their top-notch hitters went to work with alacrity, hitting 218 in 40 overs to require 40 in the last 10 with seven wickets remaining, a position from which victory looked likely. However, Australia staged a remarkable fightback, claiming six wickets for 29 runs, leaving England needing 13 runs from 12 deliveries. Instead of trying to score the points, the tactic was threefold: securing a draw, preventing a loss that would have handed the Ashes to the hosts and planning to win all three ODIs. This safety-focused tactic backfired, as Australia crushed England in all three ODIs.
The thrilling end of the Test Match was watched by a combined non-streaming average audience of 437,000 on Seven Network and Foxtel. That was more than double the Australian Women’s Test final day viewership figure against India in October and higher than the opening ODI against England in January. Future opportunities for repeat performances are remote as the Australian women are not expected to play another Test match at home until 2026.
Elsewhere, the South African women, ranked No. 2 in the world, hosted the West Indies. An original schedule called for the two teams to play three T20Is and five ODIs between January 15 and February 6, hastily revised to four ODIs. This no doubt reflected both teams’ desire to prepare for the eight-team ODI Women’s World Cup tournament in New Zealand, which was due to start on March 4.
While South Africa had qualified by a higher position in the ODI world rankings, the West Indies managed a qualifying competition in November in Zimbabwe. This was scrapped mid-term due to travel restrictions imposed following an outbreak of COVID-19. If the tournament had gone to its conclusion, it is possible that the West Indies would not have qualified.
Rain interfered with the opener, causing South Africa to retire midway through the response. West Indies’ innings were notable for the performance of fly-half, Deandra Dottin, who scored 150 of 224. Dottin was also in the spotlight in game two, sharing a 25-run super-over that determined the West Indies as the winners after both teams were eliminated for 160. South Africa won the series by winning the last two games.
Preparation for the ODI Women’s World Cup will be between New Zealand and India. From February 9, six matches are scheduled – one T20 and five ODIs – all of which are to be concentrated in Queenstown, South Island, to reduce domestic travel and reduce the likelihood of exposure to the omicron variant of COVID-19[FEMININE[FEMININE
The Pakistan women’s team began the final phase of their preparations on January 27 with a 10-day pre-departure camp in Karachi, after which the team traveled to New Zealand on February 8. The draw pitted them against India in their first game on March 6.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh started their preparations for the Bangladesh National Cricket Board Academy on January 29. The team has played little ODI cricket since October 2019 except for the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe. There they beat Pakistan and the United States, but lost to Thailand. In the end, Bangladesh’s lack of playing time did not prevent them from qualifying, as their overall ranking was ahead of the other teams in the abandoned tournament.
One of the issues with staging international cricket matches during the coronavirus pandemic has been the cost of creating bio-bubbles. These require sponsorship and/or investment for which a return is expected and difficult to provide in countries where viewer engagement is not strong. This was the case for the under-prepared Bangladesh women’s team.
As women’s international cricket emerges from the constraints imposed by the pandemic, the focus remains on short formats.
Although the exhilarating four-day Test match between Australia and England has revived calls for more women’s Tests to be played, gaming authorities are showing a limited appetite to encourage it.
Instead, the expansion of the women’s game is expressed in terms of future T20 competitions in India and Pakistan and July’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. Promisingly, rumors abound of a Test being added to the upcoming South African women’s short-form series in England.
Multi-format series certainly offer the most immediate route to develop, promote and assess the potential of women’s test cricket.