Dubai: Brett Lee, the charismatic former Australian speed merchant, calls the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup final between defending champions Australia and India in Melbourne on Sunday as one of the “biggest days” in women’s sport - and few would disagree with him.
It was even till the 2016 edition in India that the women’s version of World T20 used to be button-holed with the men’s event - with the women’s final acting as a curtain-raiser for the men’s title-clash to follow later in the day. The International Cricket Council (ICC)’s decision to make it an independent event from 2018 seemed to be a prudent one - as the TV and digital viewing figures released on Saturday would testify.
A release from the ICC reveals that there have been a stupendous 1600% increase in viewing minutes in Australia during the tournament while India saw a 213% increase, and there have been over 700 million video views across ICC’s digital and social platforms to date.
“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,” Mithali Raj, India’s Test captain and an iconic figure in women’s cricket, told the ICC website during the earlier stages of the tournament.
“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 said.
The first 12 matches of this event alone have attracted 2.46 billion viewing minutes in India, across the first 12 matches versus 787 million viewing minutes for the same matches in the 2018 event - representing a 213% increase.
The viewership record is expected to go for a toss when the sports-loving Australian public will want the women to extend their lease on the crown - while the Women in Blue have been on an unbeaten run and will like do an encore of the tournament-opener when they upset Australia in a tightly contested game.
In Shafali Verma, India boast one of the most talented players in the world and you feel that for Australia to win the game, dismissing her will likely be their first job
“Usually ahead of a final, there’s a favourite and an underdog but I think it’s so hard to separate these teams,” Lee observed. “The key for both teams is to enjoy the occasion – moments like this don’t come around too often in cricket so you want to make sure you take in every moment of the day,” he added.
While Meg Lanning’s bunch are hardcore professionals and know how to raise their game on the big day, Lee has been bowled over by Shafali Verma - India’s teenage sensation.
“In Shafali Verma, India boast one of the most talented players in the world and you feel that for Australia to win the game, dismissing her will likely be their first job,” said the paceman who has his own band of loyal followers back in India.
“I’ve been so impressed with the opener – it’s staggering to believe she’s only 16 with the confidence she has in her own ability and the way she strikes the ball so cleanly. She’s such good fun to watch and I’m not sure the women’s game has seen anyone like her for such a long time,” he observed.
“Shafali is already a record breaker but if she can steer her side to their first Women’s T20 World Cup title at just 16, then the sky really is the limit for her career,” he added.