JOHANNESBURG - Shortly after the announcement of the South African squad for the World Cup, a loud cheer erupted around the venue when it was announced that each of the team’s matches at the tournament would be broadcast on SuperSport.
It is a big deal - a very big deal for the players, who rather than be nervous about the prospect of more people watching them than ever before, are embracing the extra attention that will be on them from Sunday when they play their opening match against Pakistan.
This year’s Women’s World Cup has the feel of a big sports event, more so than previous tournaments and its not just that the final is at Lord’s (on July 23) or that prize-money is $2-million, but that there’s been a growth in the women’s game that could have consequences for players beyond just the tournament.
Though the growth has been slower, the creation of T20 Leagues in England and Australia - and the possibility of a Women’s IPL - means the tournament will be a shop window of sorts for many players. Already the likes of Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry of Australia and Sarah Taylor of England are bonafide stars in their countries. While, following her astonishing performance in last year’s Women’s World T20 in India, Stafanie Taylor is a household name in the West Indies.
That West Indies victory was significant in that it broke the hegemony of Australia and England. It signaled that while other nations may not be able to match the resources of Australia and England, a well of talent existed.
Doing so of course would make the World Cup a better product which is what the ICC is banking on this year. With the exception of New Zealand’s triumph in 2000, England and Australia have dominated the event, the Aussies, defending champions who’ve appeared in every final have won the competition six times.
With Perry and Lanning in their line-up they are favourites again this year, but many acknowledge that the gap between them and England and the other six teams has shrunk.
Much of that is down to the exposure the likes of Taylor, Dane van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp and Suzie Bates of New Zealand have gotten through playing in tournaments such as the Women’s Big Bash and the Super League in the UK.
Many commentators are looking forward to bigger scores at this year’s tournament with Lanning, Taylor and Bates set to battle it out for the leading run-scorer in the competition. Katherine Brunt (England), Lea Tahuhu (New Zealand) and Shabnim Ismail of South Africa, are a trio of quick bowlers who stand apart from the usual medium pace that is associated with the women’s game.
SA World Cup Fixtures:
June 25: vs Pakistan, June 28: vs New Zealand, July 2: vs West Indies, July 5: vs England, July 8: vs India, July 12: vs Sri Lanka, July 15: vs Australia. All matches start 11.30am.