With T20 leagues springing up around the globe and a growing international schedule, a veteran star warns a tipping point looms for the game
27 November 2022, 05:14 PM AEST
Laura Jolly previously wrote for News Corp Australia and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and is now cricket.com.au Women’s Cricket Editor providing dedicated coverage to all aspects of the women’s game
As the curtain closes on the eighth edition of the Weber WBBL, never has the women’s game presented more opportunities for its players.
And with these opportunities will come challenges, as female players start to find themselves facing the same tough workload decisions that have become commonplace for male cricketers.
The WBBL has spent the best part of a decade establishing itself as the leading female domestic T20 tournament and has since been joined by The Hundred and the FairBreak Invitational.
The first iteration of a women’s Indian Premier League is set to launch in March, while a women’s Pakistan Super League is also on the way.
This is happening alongside a gradual expansion to the international calendar, with two new teams joining the ICC Women’s Championship, while there is an ICC event scheduled every year until at least 2031.
New Zealand and Perth Scorchers captain Sophie Devine mulled the changing landscape of the women’s game with cricket.com.au as Australian Cricket celebrated Women and Girls Week, while also reflecting on how the WBBL has evolved since she first played for the Adelaide Strikers in the inaugural season.
When Devine debuted for New Zealand in 2006 aged 17, remuneration came in the form of a $30 a day food allowance. Now aged 33, the White Ferns skipper is a regular in leagues in Australia and the United Kingdom, while she has also lived through New Zealand’s journey towards full-time professionalism.
"When I was a teenager that $30 was heaps of pocket money for me," Devine laughed.
"But to where we're at now, in terms of the remuneration that's available, the competitions that exist, the Big Bash, The Hundred, the IPL hopefully starting, it's pretty incredible.
"The other day I was looking back at WBBL|01 where we played two games in a day, so to think even in that time how far this competition alone has come is pretty incredible.
"But globally as well, it's not only the resources and the pathways and the competitions that have really grown, it's also the professionalism of the athletes themselves.
"I think that's been the biggest thing for me, seeing the growth of that … I think Australia's been leading that in terms of what's available to their domestic players and you're starting to see the rewards of that now, you've got athletes that can bowl quicker, they can hit the ball further, they're diving, they're throwing from the boundary.
"The athleticism of the whole woman's game has probably been the biggest improvement that I've seen since my involvement. It's cool to think where it can potentially go to as well."
Devine has spent the past eight years making the most of increased opportunities in Australia and the United Kingdom alongside her New Zealand duties.
From 2023, she and cricket’s other female superstars will be able add even more to their plates, thanks to the arrival of a women’s IPL and PSL.
It appears both these competitions will start with fewer teams and matches then the men’s versions, but will likely expand rapidly in coming years, filling more space in an increasingly busy calendar.
"It's awesome, don't get me wrong, it's absolutely unbelievable and I think it's always been a dream of a lot of female cricketers is that you can travel around the world and play in these leagues and also play international cricket," Devine said.
"I think the really important thing to remember is that balance, and that's where I hope that we can learn from the men's game.
"We're obviously seeing it become a bit more common now that are men are deciding which formats to focus on … I hope that we can get that balance right, so that we're getting the best players, and we're (also) providing opportunities for all players to play in these different leagues, but also to turn out to their international teams.
"At the end of the day, playing for New Zealand is my absolute number one priority and I don't want to jeopardise that in any way."
Devine agreed that building windows for leagues into the future tours program was one way of ensuring that balance.
"I just really hope that all the boards can align themselves, because we all want good opportunities, we want good cricket being played … and I think to do that, you've got to work together," she added.
Devine has experienced firsthand how the demands of a packed schedule can take a toll, she took a break from cricket in early 2021 to focus on her mental health.
The balancing act between international and T20 league commitments has continued to be a tricky one for Devine in 2022; in the last five months, she has spent one night on New Zealand soil – and that was simply in transit from the Caribbean to Australia.
During that time, Devine helped New Zealand secure a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games, turned out for Birmingham Phoenix in The Hundred, played a bilateral series against West Indies in Antigua, then travelled to Australia for the start of WBBL|08.
The Scorchers captain admitted during the final week of the WBBL regular season that she was fatigued, as she emphasised the importance of players learning to manage their workloads so they can perform when it matters most.
Devine reiterated that thinking this week.
"There’s myself and Amelia (Kerr), and even look at Meg Lanning and Nat Sciver recently (taking breaks from cricket)," she said.
"We all want to be playing as much cricket as possible, but we also want to be healthy humans as well, we don't want to be playing so much that we're burn ourselves into the ground.
"I know from experience, and I've certainly seen firsthand that when you're well as a person and you're happy off the field then on the field you're going to get a lot better out of me and out of other players.
"The tough thing with that is there's no blanket rule – what's good for someone might not be for someone else, so you've got to take an individual lens to it.
"But for me it's getting that balance right and letting people figure out what works for them."
As opportunities increase, Devine believes younger players will be more susceptible to feeling they must say ‘yes’ to every offer than comes their way; or simply say yes because they do not wish to miss out.
That is where she believes governing bodies and player associations will play a significant role in helping cricketers figure out what balance is best for them – not only in terms of cricket, but also study, work and other interests outside of the game.
"I think senior players, older players have a real role to play in it as well," she said.
"If I was a 20-year-old, my eyes would be wide open, I'd be wanting to jump on everything possible.
"I think there does need to be a bigger perspective taken … when I first started, you had to have something else to fall back on, so I've studied and I mean, I've never really worked a nine-to-five job in my life, and I'm pretty thankful for that, but I've also started to plan around what is my next step looks like outside of cricket.
"How can we prepare players, whether they're at the start of their journey, in the middle, or at the end, in terms of what's next?
"I think we've really got to wrap around particularly younger players, because a real concern of mine is seeing how much cricket there is going to be available to young female cricketers coming through and that they will try and do everything for everyone, rather than looking out for themselves."
Leadership from current senior players will be just one element of navigating the next phase in the women’s game.
Encouraging young leaders is equally important, which is why Devine threw her support behind the WA Cricket Foundation’s Emerging Leaders program, which empowers young women to become leaders in cricket, during WBBL|08 with her annual charity challenge.
"I think back to the start of my career and if I had a forum like that to be able to learn and grow and ask questions, it certainly would have benefited me massively," Devine said.
"It was a no brainer for me to line up with that with the charity challenge this year, and I'll be donating $1,500 out of my back pocket to that foundation and I'm really thankful to all the teams that jumped on board.
"Alyssa Healy chipped in with a very kind donation there as well.
"The more that we can have these sort of programs in place, I think it's really going to benefit everyone in the long term."
Devine returned home to Wellington on Friday but will be quickly swapping her orange kit for black and white, with New Zealand beginning a home series against Bangladesh starting Friday.
She will lead her country in three ODIs and three T20Is before finally enjoying a well-earned break at the end of December.
"Then I'll have two weeks off over Christmas, which for me is about managing my workload, we've got an important World Cup coming up in February over in South Africa," she said.
"That's been worked out with the staff at New Zealand Cricket, making sure that I'm fresh, and not just talking the talk but walking it as well."
The WBBL|08 finals week coincided with Australian Cricket’s inaugural Women and Girls Week, celebrating female participants in all areas of the game.
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