January 7, 2017

Double-headers don't help women's cricket anymore

They are poorly publicised, don't make sense to the fans for a number of reasons, and do little to increase the game's supporter base
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A tournament final at mid-day in the summer? Whatever for? © Getty Images

As a journalist, I should love double-headers. The food is infinitely better. I have never been offered a massage in the press box of a women's game. And there is always someone there to make your tea for you. Reporting on men's cricket is like a different world.

In actual fact, though, I'd be quite happy to make my own tea in perpetuity if we could dispense with the double-header altogether.

Whoever conceived of double-headers probably had their heart in the right place. The idea was simple: schedule a women's match directly prior to a men's match and you will ensure a bigger crowd and greater exposure, with the women's part of the double-header more likely to be televised.

Honestly, though, I'm really not sure that's working anymore. A recent case in point is this season's Women's Big Bash League (WBBL). I've written previously that the incredible thing about the WBBL is that it helps achieve the vision of a world where cricket recognises that women are equals, on and off the pitch. The live-streaming of every single match by Cricket Australia is doing wonders for the visibility of women's cricket, and the crowds at many of the games reflect that.

But if there was one letdown, it was the final. It was billed as a sellout, yet only 2776 people turned up to watch the women's game. This might have had something to do with the fact that, apparently in order to accommodate the broadcast schedule, it started at 10.45am local time and was played in 38-degree heat right in the middle of the day. Sixers' Ashleigh Gardner had to leave the field with heat exhaustion.

That's before mentioning the fact that thanks to Perth Scorchers topping the league in the group stages of the men's BBL, the Sixers women, having finished the WBBL group stages two points ahead of Scorchers, had to up sticks and fly all the way across the country to play what should have been a home final in front of a home crowd in home conditions. It was hardly a shining example of the supposed benefits of double-headers.

Tickets for the 2015 Cardiff T20I double-header didn't contain information about the women's match © Getty Images

The ECB seems to have been slowly moving away from the double-header model in recent years, and credit to it, we are now down to one international double-header per English summer. And yet it clearly still sees double-headers for domestic women's cricket as a Good Thing. The board recently announced that six group fixtures in this year's Kia Super League (KSL) will be played as double-headers with men's T20 Blast matches.

I guess the ECB is doing this because it was the only way to get Sky to televise any of the group-stage games, but it still seems a bit disappointing. One of the most exciting things about last year's inaugural KSL was the fact that even though all the games were standalone women's games, with each of the six hosts seeking to market their team and build a fan base from scratch, people still showed up in droves. An average attendance of over 1000 at the group games, and over 2000 spectators apiece at the matches at the Ageas Bowl and The Oval. It was a chance for women's cricket to forge its own way, develop its own identity.

"To have men and women playing on the same pitch, shown on the same TV channel, with the same commentary team, is part of this normalising process that we're all trying to speed up as quickly as we can," Clare Connor, ECB's director of women's cricket, said in a recent interview to the Guardian.

Well, it's a nice aspiration, but in practice, as someone who's been there, I can tell you that it doesn't work like that. On at least one occasion (the T20 in Cardiff in August 2015), I've seen tickets to double-headers have the start time of the men's game printed as the official start time, and contain no information at all about the women's game beforehand. There's also the continued frustration of the men's game journalists who turn up halfway through the women's game and file their match report having only seen half the action, if that. Arguably double-headers only really normalise the idea of the women's game as a warm-up act for the men's game. Is that what we really want?

As for the so-called benefits, I'm not sure that in practice double-headers, in their current incarnation, really do very much to increase the fan base for the women's game. The crowd figures are never spectacular. Fewer people showed up to watch England Women v Australia Women in Cardiff in 2015 than had attended the Hove and Chelmsford games a few days earlier. And there are good reasons for this. Many of those who buy tickets for the men's game won't make the effort to attend the women's game first; and those who would normally attend women's T20s are either priced out of the action or find it difficult to get tickets at all, given that the men's games tend to sell out.

Standalone matches will serve fans of women's cricket much better than double-headers © Getty Images

Another issue is that it cannot be ensured that the men's and women's competitors "match up". It was entirely coincidental this year that the same two teams reached the BBL and WBBL finals. Last year both Sydney WBBL teams faced off at the MCG, far away from their home base, because of the results in the men's competition.

As for the KSL double-headers, well, it's one thing to map your women's franchises onto existing men's franchises with their own fan base, as Cricket Australia has done. It's quite another to expect those supporting either Loughborough Lightning or Southern Vipers to show up and watch a match that features Derbyshire Falcons and Durham Jets, and vice-versa. They are totally separate entities. Wasn't the whole point of the franchise model to move beyond county fan bases?

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there's the obvious issue of the huge gap between the women's and the men's matches. This has been a problem for years, but no one seems to have quite cottoned on to the fact that a two-hour gap between games is hardly conductive to encouraging fans to rock up and watch the women first. Why on earth, given that the men's BBL final was scheduled for 4.15pm, did the WBBL game have to start at 10.45? Do the broadcasters or the players really need a two-hour build-up between the matches?

Even some of the female players, who, in this age of professionalism, have to be very careful what they say publicly, have expressed disappointment at this. In her latest column for BBC Sport, Heather Knight acknowledges the problem: "… it would be great to see the time gap between the end of the women's matches and the start of the men's games reduced, in order to get more people to come to both".

That hits the nail on the head. If such a long gap between games is really required, doesn't it defeat the point of a double-header in the first place?

The official line on double-headers appears to be that the boards will persist with them until the women's game is "ready" to stand on its own two feet. Cricket Australia has, to give it its due, already touted the idea of a standalone WBBL final at some point in the future: "We're reasonably open-minded as to what the future looks like. We're learning year on year," WBBL head Anthony Everard has said. Standalone T20s, as it stands, are a future aspiration for the women's game.

But the most exciting developments in women's cricket in recent years - professionalism, standalone sponsorship deals, T20 leagues - have come when boards decided to take a risk and not hang around waiting for the women's game to somehow be "ready". Let's have faith in the women's game right now, as an exciting product in its own right. Let's not rely on double-headers any more.

Raf Nicholson is an England supporter, a feminist, and has recently completed a doctoral thesis on the history of women's cricket. @RafNicholson

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on February 10, 2017, 10:36 GMT

    The crux of this article is in the last para - " Let's have faith in the women's game right now, as an exciting product in its own right. "

    Well, I can understand the ECB's reluctance here. Like many British cricket followers, I am just not convinced that standards of play are anything like as high as they need to be.

    To compare tennis, the skill levels in the women's game are very high and I can say with certainty that the 200th best woman in the world is a brilliant player, performing in a way that amateurs can barely dream of. I see the same with male cricketers, but not, as yet, with the women's cricket. Until it gets to that point, it will struggle to attract significant attendances at least in England.

  • Suryadip on February 9, 2017, 15:36 GMT

    KARTIKEYA, you're remarks are spot on! So disappointed that fans are being so sexist in their comments and someone even remarks that women's cricket is not watchable because women get pregnant. In the 21st century, we should really be ashamed that such reasons are being put forward in comment section of a blog hosted by such a reputed cricketing site.. And that person even puts forward a solution- stay child free! RIDICULOUS! Coming to more practical points, ANTONY_LUCAS' suggestion is interesting and could be tried out.

  • Kartikeya on February 9, 2017, 13:34 GMT

    @PaulRobson: Before making up your mind about complicated things like a the quality of a sporting contest, perhaps you ought to consider that "equal" and "same" are not synonyms.

    Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras both won the Wimbledon singles title in their respective competitive categories. They're both equal Wimbeldon champions on and off the court. This does not mean that they're the same.

    The whole point of saying that women's cricket is equal to the men's game on and off the pitch is to say that it ought to be considered on its own terms, just as men's cricket is considered on its own terms. It means that it is equally a sport and deserves respect as one. It is not a claim about the speed of the bowling or the power of the hitting.

    Saying that women's cricket is equal to men's cricket is no different from saying that baseball and cricket are equally sports.

    With that out of the way, what do you have to say about the WBBL?

  • Des Aitken on February 9, 2017, 13:04 GMT

    I think there is still a place for some double-headers, but they need to be implemented better. A gap for the innings break in an ODI is 45 minutes. They need to look at setting the gap between double matches at 1 hour. This allows plenty of time for a Super Over to take up an additional 15-20 minutes. The 40-45 remaining should be oodles of time to make the field preparations and for the new teams to warm up.

    That said, I do think it is time for the Final and probably the semis to be stand-alone.

  •   cricfan69564930 on February 9, 2017, 5:29 GMT

    RAF i prefer the double-header concept but i think the long gap between double-header games is the main issue-maximum 30 minutes would be ideal...when women's games are played before men's games many fans have the option to turn up early and watch some women's cricket and hopefully see an exciting finish...and the ticketing and promotion should make it clear that women's cricket is taking place as well...i think the boundary rope should stay in the same place for men's and women's games,obviously most women batters will have a lower boundary percentage than male batters and i am comfortable with that fact...of course the TV commentary team is a great promoter of the first match and should show some highlights either before the men's match,or in the men's match innings break...lastly,if people only want to see the women's match they should have cheap or free ticket options to cater for that market..

  • Jeff on February 8, 2017, 17:21 GMT

    Womens sport will never be anywhere near equal to mens for one simple reason - pregnancy. A professional sportsman will train 52 weeks a year, every year of thier career barring injury. This could be actual game training in season, or a couple of days a week at the gym out of season - but he will always be keeping fit. A sportsman who slacks it off for merely a couple of months is usually ruined as a professional and rarely can get back to the top level. A woman on the other hand is totally 'slacked off' for about a year every time she gets pregnant. Pregnancy both destroys the sportswoman's physique, kills her training routine, and sets her back several years in competency of her chosen sport. Around 95% of pro sportswomen never play at the top level again after a pregnancy - it kills more careers than the dreaded anterior cruciate. And yes around one in ten now choose to be childfree, but even that dilutes the talent pool by 90%, instantly making the mens game 90% better.

  • REDO988259782 on February 8, 2017, 11:29 GMT

    I think you're right. In Australia, the AFL (australian rules football) women's comp has just started for the first time, and has attracted very large crowds. I think one reason it has been so successful is because it is being held in the preseason of the men's competition. People want to see AFL, so with no men's games they come to see the women play.

  •   Paul Robson on February 8, 2017, 11:23 GMT

    "As also noted above women's T20 is still proper cricket!"

    Only in the sense that my village cricket and Shane Warne's leg breaks are "still legspin". The chances of anyone paying to watch me are nil.

  •   Paul Robson on February 8, 2017, 11:20 GMT

    "where cricket recognises that women are equals, on and off the pitch"

    That's the problem ; they aren't. Women's cricket is barely watchable. If you don't pair it up with the men's in some way you will get virtually zero interest.

  • nalin on February 8, 2017, 10:43 GMT

    In the early years of the women's league these double headers may be a good idea with women's match ending 30-40 minutes before men's match and this could be dinner time. women's match starts at 3pm and men's match starts at 7pm with both matches televised. The popularity of women's tournament could be gazed by having the semi finals of men's and women's on separate days and same with the finals.

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