The MCG and the SCG are set to host standalone WBBL games for the first time in the competition’s history, as Cricket Australia looks to push the women’s game into the spotlight in the early part of the Australian summer. CA released the WBBL fixtures on Thursday, with the final five matches of the 56-game home-and-away season set to be played at the major venues of the Adelaide Oval, the MCG and the SCG from Friday, November 24 to Sunday, November 26.
The MCG and the SCG have not hosted WBBL matches since the competition became a standalone event in 2019-20 while being played in the months of October and November, separate from the men’s BBL in December and January. Alistair Dobson, the head of Big Bash Leagues, said the move to play standalone WBBL games at the major stadiums is a big step for the competition.
“We see the evolution of the WBBL continuing to demonstrate that it’s the best cricket league in the world with the best players in the world, and looking to start to play games in the biggest and best stadiums is a really important part of that,” Dobson said. “Doing it on a smaller scale, if you like, this year with three or four matches at different venues is a good way of starting to build momentum as part of a longer-term journey. What that looks like in the medium to long term is all part of what we’ll find out, but it’s a really obvious and natural next step for us.”
There have been 12 WBBL matches played at the MCG previously, including the 2015-16 final, but all 12 have been played as lead-ins to men’s BBL games. The SCG has also hosted nine WBBL matches previously as lead-ins to BBL games, but none since December 2018.
But Australia’s two most iconic cricket venues will host standalone derbies in the coming season, with Melbourne Stars playing Melbourne Renegades at the MCG on November 25. Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder then face off at the SCG on November 26 as the second of a WBBL double-header, with Hobart Hurricanes and Adelaide Strikers also playing at the SCG earlier in the day.
The MCG famously hosted the women’s T20 World Cup final in 2020 in front of a record crowd of 86,174, although a crowd of that size for the WBBL is not a realistic expectation. The WBBL will endeavour to maximise attendance at the MCG and SCG, and Dobson is hopeful that there will be enough people wanting to turn up to encourage more WBBL games at the bigger venues in the future.
“We’ll judge the success of those games in different ways,” he said. “We wouldn’t really put a number on it from an attendance perspective. Obviously, we’ll work really hard with our clubs and the venues and all our partners on getting people there, but equally now it’s about the experience of the players – and the experience of the fans – that are there.
“I think we’re seeing around the world at the moment [that] when you put great cricket on in big famous stadiums, people want to turn up. We’re seeing it in the UK at the moment [with the women’s Ashes]. We saw it in the WPL, and it’s an obvious one from a WBBL perspective to give it a run as well. The players are excited.”
The majority of the tournament will remain at the smaller boutique venues that have become synonymous with the WBBL, like the North Sydney Oval and the Junction Oval in Melbourne. Thunder will host games at Cricket New South Wales’ new high-performance facility, Cricket Central, at Sydney Olympic Park.
There will also be fewer neutral games, as the WBBL looks to move towards a fully-fledged home-and-away competition after several years of having festival-type weekends, with a host of teams playing several games at one venue in one city.
“There’s been a strong message from [the players] for a number of years that reducing neutral games, playing more often and home, all those other things that I think are really key developments for this schedule is based on a lot of strong feedback from players who have a real sense of ownership and legacy of this competition that they feel really passionate about it and want to do anything they can to make it succeed as much as possible,” Dobson said.
The WBBL will have much more clear air this season in Australia after being played in the shadow of the men’s T20 World Cup in Australia last summer. It will run concurrently against the men’s 50-over World Cup in India, but there will be no men’s international cricket in Australia during the tournament.
The competition will also remain a 56-game season – plus the finals – with no plans at the moment to reduce the season despite the men’s BBL being reduced to a 40-game season, plus the finals.
The WBBL will also have its first-ever overseas draft this season, with the format and date to be announced in the coming week.