Sports, Cricket

The changing landscape of women’s T20 cricket

Published : 23 Jan 2023 07:57 PM

It feels like a lifetime ago that rockstar Alyssa Healy and pop star Katy Perry lit up the MCG at the ICC Women's T20 World Cup 2020.

The gathering storm of a global pandemic blurred memories of a tournament that was a quantum leap for women's cricket.

It was then the most watched women's cricket event ever, reaching more than a billion, and that final drew 86,174 fans into one of the game's greatest cauldrons.

For the first time since that historic day, February will see women's cricket lovers return to stadiums at a major ICC event.

The South Africa showpiece will be a crucial stock-take for a sport and format that is approaching another paradigm shift.

A closer look reveals that the step-change for the pace of T20I cricket came in 2017.

That was the year the game changed as the number of fielders permitted outside the circle in non-powerplay overs was reduced from five to four.

The impact was immediate. Batters from the 10 2023 Women's T20 World Cup teams were striking at 89 in 2015 and 95 in 2016, and that jumped to 102 after those changes.

"I still remember the first Ashes I was involved with in 2015 - the average winning score in T20 cricket was about 120," says former Australia head coach Matthew Mott.

"We were trying to score closer to 140, and even that was considered a bit over-the-top adventurous."

Mott, who recently led England to a memorable men's triumph Down Under, was at the helm as Australia captured T20 World Cup titles in 2018 and 2020.

They are still out on their own, beaten a handful of times in the space of three years.

December's thrilling five-match series against India was the modern game at its zenith, with 172 the lowest first-innings score posted by either side.

India, thanks to a sparkling knock from Smriti Mandhana, successfully chased down 187 to force a Super Over and inflict a rare defeat on the Australians.

Harmanpreet Kaur's side nearly did it again a week later, falling just seven runs short of a towering target of 188 that would have been insurmountable not so long ago.

Key figures have stepped into the Australian team since 2020, with all-rounders Tahlia McGrath and Heather Graham now figuring for key roles.

Leg-spinner Alana King and teenage quick Darcie Brown are now at the vanguard of the bowling attack, with Grace Harris scoring runs faster than pretty much anyone in the world.

It is down to the rest to find a chink in that armoury and New Zealand did it twice in the space of a couple of months to secure wins in late 2020.

On both occasions the White Ferns were able to restrict their rivals to totals in the region of 120 and 130.

But the heightened range and power of batting across the board means that it's now no longer a case of needing to skittle top teams to find an opening.

Before October 2017, only three hundreds had ever been scored by women in the format.

Since 2018, nine of the 10 nations participating have seen batters bring up three figures, those teams scoring 15 in all.  

Another twist in the T20 tale surely awaits - and it all gets underway at Newlands on 10 February.