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The Big One: How Australia came to dominate women's cricket

February 24, 2023

The Australian women's cricket team are unmatched, having won the last three World Cups across both 20 and 50-over formats. A game-changing investment in domestic cricket in 2017 helped propel the team to new heights.

Australia lift the 50-over World Cup and yell in delight
Australian regained their 50-over World Cup title after beating holders England in the finalImage: Sanka Vidanagama/AFP/Getty Images

As the old adage in cricket goes, there are the "Big Three" ... and then there's everyone else.

It may remain true in men's cricket given the domination of Australia, England and India, but when it comes to the women's game, Australia sit atop that perch all by themselves.

The Southern Stars have been serial winners on the biggest stage since the inception of the Women's 50-over World Cup in 1973 and the women's T20 World Cup in 2009. In the longer format of the game Meg Lanning's side have clinched seven of the 12 available titles, while reaching seven consecutive finals in the shorter form, en route to picking up five of the seven accolades on offer.

It's more of a "Big One," a situation Australian all-rounder Annabel Sutherland puts down to the senior players' continual desire to improve and enhance their game:

"If some of the best players in the world are always trying to get better [after winning trophies] then there's no reason why everyone else in the team shouldn't be," the 21-year-old tells DW. "It motivates everyone."

Yet, despite all the accomplishments various iterations of this team has enjoyed, over the course of an 18-month period between 2016-17, as investment in professionalizing the game across the world grew and teams began catching up, the Southern Stars seemed to be on a downard spiral.

A crisis looked to have engulfed the side after they lost the 2016 T20 World Cup final against an unfancied West Indies before falling in the semi-finals in the following year's 50-over World Cup to India.

Historic agreement transforms women's game domestically

The catalyst to a return to success came from an unlikely source, when some of the most senior and talented male Australian national team players threatened to strike during a contentious 10-month negotiation period throughout 2017 as they sought a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with governing body Cricket Australia (CA) - whose CEO at the time was Sutherland's father James.

Rather than simply seeking more money for the international squads, the players' union, the Australia Cricketers' Association (ACA), demanded a much-enhanced deal based on a revenue share model that ploughed money specifically into grassroots cricket for girls and boys and gave parity to male and female cricketers.

The unprecedented five-year MoU that was thrashed out for the period from 2017-22 wasn't only the first negotiated jointly for all players, male and female, but also included the biggest pay rise in the history of women's sport in the country plus a revenue sharing scheme which applied to 30% of guaranted revenue - projected at the time to be around AUD $500 (€321m / $339m).

A group of Australian players celebrate
Australia have reached a ninth World Cup final in their last 10 competitionsImage: Dan Himbrechts/AAP/IMAGO

Sutherland: 'A huge step forward ...making players feel valued'

Annabel Sutherland directly benefited from the deal, having been playing domestic cricket at state level for Victoria alongside her schooling at the time.

"That 2017 MoU deal was a big step forward in support for women's cricket as a whole, making the players feel valued and setting a minimum foundation to build from," she explains. "The more exposure female cricketers have domestically, with better facilities, time to train and getting proper financial support, that goes a long way towards improving the brand of cricket.

"There is so much depth to Australian women's cricket now as the domestic players are exposed to the big stage through the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL), playing in televized games, seeing plenty of cameras around and having a lot of spectators at the matches.

"It makes the step up to the international level seamless and not as big as other countries might find, when their players haven't had that kind of exposure."

The Australian cricket team raise their arms and the T20 World Cup trophy and yell in celebration
Australia lifted the 2020 T20 World Cup on home turf in front of 86,000 fansImage: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Immediate results

The increased investment paid off almost immediately, with the gap between the domestic and international players lessened helping the Southern Stars to win the last three world titles on offer. 

Lanning’s side clinched the 2018 and 2020 T20 World Cups, the latter in front of over 83,000 in Melbourne, and the 2021 50-over World Cup trophy.

What's more, a new one-year MoU for 2022-23 saw the average salary increase for up to AUD $86,000 (€55,239 / $58,406) for a female domestic player who plays 20 and 50-over cricket.

"The quality of cricket in the domestic league has gone up and there is no doubt a factor of that is simply more time the players have spent training and not having to worry as much about other financial avenues," Sutherland says.

"There have been eight seasons of the WBBL now and we've seen many examples of players taking the step up to the national team and slotting in seamlessly, like Georgia Wareham, Darcie Brown and Grace Harris."

"There is still a long way to go, we want to keep improving and keep giving those girls more opportunities to train and play more, and help the domestic game to continue to grow."

Team focused on growing global game

The increased investment has understandably widened the gap between Australia and the rest of the world, where only England and India are fully professional.

But, while winning silverware remains a driving force, the team are intent on passing on their knowledge and skills and enhancing the women's game globally, even if it means improving their opponents.

"We sat down at the start of last season and spoke a lot about whether we have a bigger purpose," she recalls. "Naturally the goal is to keep winning but we spoke as a team about how we can have an impact on the game at a global level. 

"We are invested in taking opportunities where we can, educating other teams or talking to sides we come up against who might not have the same opportunities that we have.

"Everyone is open to trying to keep bringing other countries forward. Finding ways to do that for teams on our international level but also when we travel abroad, taking time out to do a clinic with kids and having an impact that way too."

Then, one day, the "Big Three" adage might apply to women's cricket, too.

Edited by: Matt Ford