Lisa Sthalekar: A thrilling WBBL IV has pushed the boundary further in women’s cricket

Lisa Sthalekar
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Mooney seals Heat victory to win WBBL final

WBBL|04 Champions - Brisbane Heat ©Getty Images

For the first time in the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) history, a team based outside of Sydney (Sixers and Thunder) have taken home the trophy.

Brisbane Heat were victors against a dominant Sixers crowd that was close to 5,500 at Drummoyne Oval.

The fourth edition of the tournament saw the standard lift to another level, especially in the batting department. A prime example was that there were four centuries scored in the competition over the past three tournaments, whereas this season saw an amazing six scored and two from the one player, Ellyse Perry who was named Player of the Tournament.

Ellyse Perry in action. ©Getty Images Ellyse Perry in action. ©Getty Images

The numbers that Perry was able to achieve were extraordinary and something that we may never see again. Beating the previous record of 560 runs scored by Meg Lanning in the one WBBL tournament, Perry eclipsed it, by scoring a mammoth 777 runs at an impressive average of 86.33. Though Perry's biggest improvement came in terms of her strike-rate, previously striking it just under 100, it jumped up to a dominant 121. To go along with her personal achievements throughout the tournament, Perry also became the first player, male or female, to score over 2000 Big Bash runs.

Throughout the tournament exceptional catches were taken especially from the International stars. The Kiwi trifecta of Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine and Amy Satterthwaite had us up off our chairs in the commentary box, but the two last-ball finishes in the semi-finals, typified just how far the WBBL has come.

Needing six runs to win off the last delivery, Thunder allrounder, Nicola Carey moved across her stumps and slog swept the ball out to deep square leg. Sweetly timed, it was sailing over the boundary rope until Haidee Burkett from Brisbane Heat plucked the ball out of the air, not only to save the runs but affected one of the catches of the tournament.

With that Brisbane Heat were into their first WBBL final.

Brisbane Heat celebrating a wicket. ©Getty Images Brisbane Heat celebrating a wicket. ©Getty Images

Forty overs later we saw one of the best team fielding displays you will ever witness. Renegades needing three off the final ball, saw Sophie Molineux slash Perry's ball over point to head to boundary rope. Just when you thought the Renegades had caused one of the biggest upsets, the flying Erin Burns managed to slide around the boundary line, tap the ball back to Sarah Aley who fired the ball into Alyssa Healy. Molineux had completed her second run and was on her way for the third, but Healy in one motion turned and fired the ball at the non-striker’s stump to hit them and send the match into a super over.

Even trying to recount what happened, my heart rate increases and I get excited as I visualise what unfolded on that day. Those two matches evaluated the game to be spoken about like every other cricket match.

Everyone was talking about the close finishes, the fielding effort, the agony for the players that weren't able to get their team across the line. It wasn't about did you see the women's game, it was "how about those semi-final finishes!"

Whilst the skills on the field rose to new heights, improvements off field were enabling the game to grow even further.

The new broadcast deal allowed for more women's matches to be telecasted. Instead of the previous 12 WBBL games, it was elevated to an impressive 23 allowing the fans of the women's game and new fans to get to know the players even more.

In addition, a number of matches were played in different regions allowing those fans to engage with the juggernaut of what Big Bash cricket is all about. Engage, entertain, inspire and educate. In Mackay, the Brisbane Heat was able to attract 5650 to their final round match against the Thunder, which was an absolute thriller, going down to the last over as Heat chased down 171 runs to win.

From that moment the Heat gained the confidence and belief that they deserved to be in the finals and had the ability to beat the Sixers on their home turf. The Heat throughout each addition of the WBBL's have given us plenty of joy and then just as quickly have had us scratching our heads wondering why they can't play consistently good cricket.

Yet this year there was something different, firstly they had the X-Factor, Grace Harris for the entire year. If she wasn't blasting runs at the top of the order she was picking up wickets with her smartly bowled slow off-spinners.

Grace Harris celebrating. ©Getty Images Grace Harris celebrating. ©Getty Images

Then we saw a break out year for Sammy-Jo Johnston who not only bowls pace with clever slower balls, but was given an opportunity to bat at No.3 with the license to thrill. No one was disappointed as she struck 260 runs at a strike-rate of 139, which went along with her 20 wickets at a miserly 6.15 economy rate.

Heat's captain Kirby Short is the perfect leader for them, very cool under pressure, handles a somewhat emotional playing group that plays with their heart on their sleeves and marshals the troops around so efficiently that she gets the best out of the group.

Finally the match winner, the one who dictates the terms whilst out there with the willow in hand, Beth Mooney. After being ill with the flu last week and playing in extreme heat and humid conditions, found a way to put her team in best position to win.

The Heat's first title was in every sense a team effort and richly deserved. It is scary to think what this group of players will be able to achieve in the next few years given that it is such a young group of players, that have plenty more years together.

However the biggest game-changer for the WBBL was that the semi-finals and finals were not held before the men's matches. Instead they had their own standalone matches with the highest placed side gaining home crowd advantage.

This is a significant move, as next WBBL will be played from October through to early December before the men's competition has even begun.

And based on the results of this season, you would expect the level of coverage, interest and excitement to continually rise as the standard of the competition goes vertical.


Lisa Sthalekar Team of the Tournament

Ellyse Perry, Sophie Devine, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning, Grace Harris, Heather Graham, Sammy-Jo Johnson, Dane van Niekerk, Delissa Kimmince, Marizanne Kapp, Molly Strano, Sophie Molineux (12th)