Southern Stars relishing tighter links with their Australian male counterparts

Cardiff: It was a simple gesture, but it was noted by the Southern Stars, the newly crowned women’s Ashes champions.
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Australia’s men’s team had just lost their World Twenty20 final to England in Barbados in 2010. Rather than immediately slink off to commiserate, then captain Michael Clarke led a contingent of players who remained to watch the Stars team play New Zealand in the women’s final. After the women successfully defended their meagre total of 8-106, Clarke and David Warner were among the men’s players to join the celebrations in the dressing rooms afterwards.

Similarly, when Australia’s Ashes squad bunkered in their hotel as rain delayed their tour match in Northampton new captain Steve Smith, Peter Siddle and Pat Cummins were among the players huddled around the TV watching their female counterparts in the concurrent Test in Canterbury.

Since the Stars’ World Twenty20 victory in 2010 the men’s and women’s teams have shared eight Twenty20 double-headers at home and – weather-permitting – are due to so again on Monday.

Alex Blackwell, who was the Stars’ acting captain in the Caribbean and played her record-breaking 200th match in the Test, said the links between their team and the men had strengthened.

“We’ve had some great support from the Australian men’s team. I know Steve and I have had chats over the years and we see each other in the gym at Cricket NSW and we talk a lot of cricket,” the vice-captain said.

“It’s great to know that the guys are following. I know that they’ve watched some of our matches, and for Dave Warner to also say that we’ve set a standard [because] we’ve won three T20 world cups in a row – and I know the guys are desperate to win one of those – that support is amazing for us.”

When Blackwell and Smith shared a media appearance to promote Monday’s Twenty20 double-header Smith made an unprompted tribute to the Stars for beating England away for the first time since 2001 – which, incidentally, is the last time the men triumphed in England.

“We all know how difficult it is to do that, so for them to be able to do that over here it’s an extraordinary achievement – and also to be No.1 in all three forms of the game. That’s what us as a men’s side are striving for and the girls have performed brilliantly over here. It’s really exciting going forward,” he said.

Blackwell said she hoped the Stars’ women’s Ashes victory would be a fillip for the launch of the Women’s Big Bash League this summer.

“We look up to the Australian men’s team . . . they’ve been playing some wonderful cricket. It hasn’t turned out the way they wanted for the Ashes but they’ve played great cricket throughout. [But] we don’t set about comparing ourselves to [the men’s team]. We want to learn how to win games of cricket and we’ve proven that we can win tough games when it counts. To defend 107 in a T20 the other night just shows that,” she said.

“What we’ve seen here in England over this Ashes series [is that] every match has been live on TV and we’ve had sellout crowds for standalone women’s games. I hope to see the women’s Big Bash generate a lot of interest, get the crowds in to watch us, [in] particular with the double-headers that will occur with some televised matches.”

While there was a huge gap in the level of local TV coverage of the women’s Ashes compared to back in Australia for this series – all seven matches were shown in England by Sky Sports, with only the final Twenty20 shown by Channel Nine, on GEM – Cricket Australia executive general manager of operations Mike McKenna said he was optimistic that gap would be narrowed in future.

“We’re encouraged by the fact they [TV broadcasters] are interested in doing it,” McKenna said. “I think the recent women’s [soccer] World Cup has awakened broadcasters that people do watch women’s sport as a spectacle – and I think our women deserve it.

“We’re paying for the women’s Big Bash League to be produced because we want to bring that sport to the audiences and we think over time they’ll grow to like it. If broadcasters at the moment can help us with that, which Channel Ten are doing with the WBBL and Channel Nine [with the Southern Stars], it really helps them, and helps us at the same time.”

Given Blackwell, who turns 32 on Monday, is comfortably the oldest player in the current Stars squad, she said she hoped there could be enough continuity within their squad for them to be able to “dominate world cricket . . . for many years to come”, next of all with a fourth consecutive World Twenty20 title in March next year.

Jesse Hogan is covering the women’s Ashes with the support of Cricket Australia.

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