The walk from Federation square to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, winding first past the Yarra river, was a precursor to what we would see later in the evening. A festival had consumed the riverbank – rides, food stalls, boat shows, the works. Thousands of people thronged the riverbank, eating, watching, chatting. Most importantly, attending.
Melbourne has a tremendous attendance culture, some ICC officials who have been plotting this night told me when I got to Australia. If we sell 50,000 tickets in the lead up, just the movement of so many people towards the ground will let us #FillTheMCG.
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Come 4 PM, it seemed that was very much on the cards. Hundreds thronged outside at the gates, which had opened at 3:30 PM for a 6 PM game. For hours before that, fans took advantage of the Fan Zone in the neighbouring Yarra park. By 5 PM, which was when fans were expected to be seated, the ‘G was only half full, but by the time the game started, it was heaving and frothing. Perhaps that told us that most of the fans were there for the cricket, and not just Katy Perry’s Roar.
The cricket itself beat the opening act for the first half of the game. Australia produced a performance straight out of the World Domination Playbook. After starting the tournament shakily, they had improved with every match, and finally found crescendo on the biggest stage. On the way they lost their fastest bowler and best allrounder. And still they ended the tournament true to billing: the No.1 team in the world, who can beat most teams even when they aren’t at their best.
Contrarily, beating Australia demanded that their opposition be at their best, and India were far from it. Perhaps it’s their own fault; to fill the MCG, an Australia-India final was necessary. Such is India’s following that it helped boost the attendance numbers to 86,174. But perhaps India were victims of their own popularity. In front of a never-seen-can’t-hear crowd, India were nervous, no question about that. The first three balls Deepti Sharma bowled were full tosses. Shafali Verma and Rajeshwari Gayakwad dropped both openers in the first three overs. They made sure to kick on, scripting a 115-run opening partnership. Australia never looked back. India never looked in the game.
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India may not have been at their best, but the crowd certainly was. With more Australian supporters than Indian, they were treated to the best T20I cricket in the women’s game. Alyssa Healy’s striking was irresistible. Her use of the feet to disrupt the Indian spinners completely overturned their narrative of dominance in this tournament. They looked toothless, resorting to giving her a sendoff after her 75 off just 39 balls, featuring five sixes. More importantly, she walked off to an ovation 80,000 strong. She would usually be used to no more than 8,000. But this is now normal for women’s cricket. These are the people who will turn up to watch the best play.
At the start of the second innings, the players were greeted by a guard of honour, or maybe it should have been called the honourable guard, so esteemed was its membership. Belinda Clark and Karen Rolton were flanked by the likes of Mithali Raj, Debbie Hockley and Sana Mir. As Australia’s fully professional cricket team strode out, they were clapped in by a generation of cricketers who regularly paid to play. To the rhythm of the past, the Australian team took the field to claim their fifth title, and significantly, equal prize money. Cricket Australia will happily cough up the $900,000 difference between the men’s and women’s T20 World Cups pots.
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At the start of the tournament Australia looked decidedly beatable. They finished it looking invincible. Before the tournament, a crowd of 5650 was a record for a standalone women’s match. That record swelled to 86,174. Does it matter that the World Record was missed by a few thousand? Hardly, because a record may not have been set, but a bar has. 2017’s World Cup saw every match available to watch, either live-streamed or broadcast. 2018’s World T20 saw the first standalone, and every match on TV. 2020 will be remembered as the tournament in which all the stars aligned to set the tone for the decade. No longer will the hypothesis that women’s cricket must be played at boutique grounds hold water. The notion that women’s sport can’t fill large stadiums has been busted again.
Australia may have played the perfect game. India may have been overcome with emotion, at the start and the end. Beth Mooney may have taken home the Player of the Tournament. Katy Perry might have started the show. Australia might have ended it by sharing her stage.
But the real show stopper of the T20 World Cup was the T20 World Cup final.