Women's T20 World Cup captains
Women's T20 World Cup captains Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: The Women’s World T20, which got under way Down Under earlier this week, is looking to break down barriers — in more ways than one. The viewership figures and digital coverage benchmarks are threatening to go through the roof and Mithali Raj, the elder stateswoman of Indian cricket, certainly finds it a heart-warming trend.

Heralded as a trendsetter in the women’s game, Mithali (the highest scorer in women’s One Day Internationals as well as holder of the highest individual score in Tests) said that their sport now has an increased following than ever before. “A lot has changed since I was playing in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup. The biggest difference is people are now aware of what’s going on with their national team. When I broke the world record for the highest individual Test score in 2002, people didn’t know about it unless they were going out to buy the newspapers.

“But now, it’s seen by everyone all over TV and on social media — a lot has changed not only in how people get their news but their desire for women’s cricket,” Mithali told the ICC website.

“We rarely got good grounds to play on back in our day. For example, at the 2000 World Cup we played at Lincoln University — quite different to the situation today where the top stars are getting to play at historic grounds like the MCG or the WACA,” said the Indian women’s Test captain.

India stunned Australia in their opening game
India stunned Australia in their opening game Image Credit: PTI

According to figures released by the world governing body after the first four days of action, the Australia-India game, which boasted of an array of stars from the Women’s Big Bash, generated more viewing minutes in Australia than the entire ICC Women’s World T20, 2018 held in the West Indies.

The high-profile league game, won by the ‘Women in Blue,’ was the second most-watched women’s cricket match ever in Australia and on par with TV audience in Australia for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2015.

The opening match between these two strong title-contenders at Sydney Showground Stadium attracted a crowd of 13,432, more than tripling the record attendance for a women’s international match in Australia which was 4,131 at a Women’s Ashes T20I at Manuka Oval, Canberra in 2017. The crowd for the double-header at the WACA on Monday, which featured Australia versus Sri Lanka and India versus Bangladesh, was 5,280, the highest ever for a women’s cricket match in Western Australia.

Looking at the rising popularity of women’s cricket in India, Mithali attributed it largely to their runners-up finish in the 50-over World Cup in England in 2017 — which turned the likes of Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur into household names — not to speak of the senior pros like Mithali and pacewoman Jhulan Goswami.

“Back in my day, we only had male players as inspiration because that’s all we used to see on the television. Today, a young girl can have a role model in the form of a female cricketer and I think that’s the biggest change I have seen,” Mithali said in the interview.

Thailand are playing at their first Women's T20 World Cup
Thailand are playing at their first Women's T20 World Cup Image Credit: AFP

A World T20 of ‘firsts’

Sydney Showground Stadium became an international venue for the first time

Thailand made their ICC World Cup debut as the game expands its global reach

WACA Ground in Perth hosted its first women’s T20 International

South Africa beat world No. 2 England for the first time at an ICC event

Sophie Devine became the first batter ever (male or female) to log six T20I scores of 50-plus in succession when she made an unbeaten 75 in New Zealand’s opening match against Sri Lanka

Mignon du Preez became the first man or woman to make 100 T20I appearances for South Africa.

Rachael Haynes became the first Australian player to score a half-century batting at No. 5 in the order of an ICC Women’s T20 World Cup innings.