Olympic years always sharpen the focus. For some they go as far as ephemerally re-aligning the mindset. The usual hopes, goals, aspirations and expectations evolve in line with the carrot that dangles at the end of a ten month journey. Selection for the Olympic Games re-addresses the personal goals of those individuals, jolting the previously stone set priorities and objectives. Personal form and talents gain significant value, creating a dichotomy between an individual’s pursuits and those of the team.
For those involved in a sport’s administrative strata, the dirty L-word rapidly tops most agendas to the point where it morphs into a cringing cliché. Talk about post the Olympic Games becomes almost as frenzied and important as the event itself. No longer can a host construct the fields of dreams, experience the games and leave the edifices of concrete, steel and plastic as veritable street furniture, the host city fulfilling a somewhat philanthropic role. Now talk abounds with regard to legacy. The stadia and arenas must have a life after the Games, finance and outlay can no longer disappear down the drain.
Legacy tends to be a reference solely used with regard to the aforementioned edifices but there are three categories that could be placed under the legacy umbrella: asset legacy, on field legacy and off field legacy. Asset legacy is the most obvious, closely followed by on-field legacy; how a host team’s performance will affect the sport in that given country. Off-field legacy is a more subtle nuance.
For the Olympics one could substitute women’s cricket with regard to on-field legacy. Twelve months on from success at the World Cup and those dramatic scenes on the Lord’s greensward, the third season of the Kia Super League in some respects presents something of an acid test with regard to the burgeoning popularity of the competition in the hearts and minds of cricket supporters. The tournament’s second season enjoyed a marked increase in popularity and ticket sales in the aftermath of the World Cup success as the stars of that England team showcased their skills to much fanfare. Would the third season prove the difficult third album?
From a playing point of view the success of the second season and the World Cup bounty materialised in an increased schedule, the number of fixtures almost doubled from 17 to 32, whilst more games would be scheduled on the same card as T20 Blast matches with coverage on Sky Sports. One ponders such a policy though as it very much goes against the grain of that employed by the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia, the perceived market leader in such matters. In contrast, the WBBL is played as a standalone competition largely at smaller stadia perhaps more in keeping with the spectacle and the number of spectators in attendance. Hosting match after match in the vast MCG, for instance, with its capacious playing area really would prove churlish.
Nevertheless, the Super League thankfully continues to visit an eclectic mix of venues with the likes of Guildford, Cheltenham, Loughborough, York and Scarborough likely providing a more genial experience. Included in such a list is the beautiful Arundel Castle venue, providing a brief pied-a-terre for the Southern Vipers from the concrete confines of the Ageas Bowl.
For how long such journeys will be made is very much a matter for debate and conjecture though. Plans are afoot to align the teams involved with the women’s premier T20 competition to those of the new men’s extravaganza due to arrive two summers hence, dictating that the present six teams will become obsolete. Further articles highlighting that the new men’s competition would be held at eight of the main test grounds with non geographic names dictates that sojourns to pleasant outgrounds such as Arundel and Guildford may well be a thing of the past, despite the success of such policies in the much vaunted Women’s Big Bash. Drawing a line under a slowly appreciating competition seems a retrograde step, particularly as the different teams provide the women’s game with an identity which is likely to be lost if they are shoehorned in as an undercard to the men’s equivalent.
The beauty of the Kia Super League is that the teams involved are creating their own niche in the cricketing world, independent from the men’s equivalents. Now the women’s game is threatened with regression, little more than an adjunct of the men’s system with matches likely serving as an unloved aperitif before what is deemed to be the main event. One of the attractions of the Super League is the extremely affordable ticket prices at just £5 for adults. With a mirroring of the men’s tournament will it be a case of double-headers aplenty and paying for two matches regardless of whether one only wants to watch the first? Supporters of the T20 Blast at least have that tournament to fall back upon. Equivalents of the Kia Super League have been left with no viable alternative.
Such questions will not be wholly answered until further down the line but one retains great doubts over the aforementioned policies. For the moment it is a case of cherishing the here and now, the immediate legacy rather than that of two summers hence. Thus, the palatial surrounds of Arundel Castle’s famed establishment offers a pleasant opportunity to investigate how the Super League is fairing twelve months after that momentous day at Lord’s. Rather conveniently, the contest taking place features the respective champions from the opening two seasons of the competition: the Southern Vipers and the Western Storm. The latter begin the contest at the summit of the six team table, the former second from bottom after a couple of losses at the Ageas Bowl and Aigburth.
Post winning the toss the Storm elect to bowl first amid breezy but sunny conditions. On this particular afternoon the outfield of the Castle ground is mustard yellow after the glorious summer, presenting an appearance which seems a little out of keeping with the usually magnificent, pristine confines of this corner of West Sussex. Nevertheless, the castle flag is raised and extended, prompting a pondering as to whether this is, akin to the Queen at Buckingham Palace, because cricketers are in residence?
Somewhat disappointingly, the Vipers are without Tammy Beaumont after the England international suffered concussion post being struck by a ramp shot whilst keeping wicket during the previous match but today’s contest begins with a heavyweight genesis courtesy of Anya Shrubsole opening the bowling to Suzie Bates and Dani Wyatt. The Vipers’ power top three are soon shackled though as the hosts struggle to 28-2 at the end of the powerplay; Wyatt and South African international Mignon du Preez both dismissed whilst Bates can only muster a handful of singles. The Kiwi’s afternoon does not improve as Dani Gibson clings onto a sharp return catch in the next over. Bates’ fellow Antipodean Sara McGlashan provides some glue to the crumbling innings but the hosts still only reach 52-4 at the halfway point of their overs.
McGlashan’s tenure is soon curtailed courtesy of a smart stumping from Rachel Priest and the dismissal prompts the wheels to fall off of the Vipers’ innings. Left with little option but to chase runs the lower order is adeptly picked off by the Storm’s varied bowling attack, the final wicket falling with just 91 on the scoreboard and with almost a dozen deliveries to spare.
Any thoughts of the Vipers producing a similar bowling performance to that of the Storm are soon dismissed as Rachel Priest strikes three boundaries off of the opening over. Four mote equivalents are bludgeoned off of the second over and the Storm are a third if the way to their target after just a dozen deliveries. Priest falls to a smart diving catch from Sara McGlashan but fellow opener Smriti Mandhana takes over the scoring reins, striking clean shots over the infield as the Storm reach 61-1 at the end of the powerplay.
As a contest the match is effectively over. Suzie Bates rotates the Vipers bowlers but Mandhana and Heather Knight accumulate runs with ease. West Indian star Stafanie Taylor stretches enthusiastically on the boundary but one suspects her batting skills will not be required this afternoon. Knight strikes two consecutive cut shots off of Arron Brindle to the boundary and the target is within touching distance. One more lofted shot from Mandhana, over mid-wicket, and the visitors have cantered home with more than ten overs to spare.
Victory for the Western Storm may have proved convincing and conclusive but the shortened nature of the contest did not detract from the afternoon in such beautiful surroundings. Despite being played on a week day afternoon some 1500 spectators sat around the perimeter of the famed Castle Ground, enjoying the sunshine and the marvellous ambience that is afforded at the venue. Curiously, some estimated that there was a similar sized crowd for the Vipers’ previous home match at the Ageas Bowl half a dozen days previous. On that occasion some remarked that the crowd appeared sparse amid the vast confines of Hampshire’s headquarters, despite the number in attendance arguably being similar to that at Arundel. In many respects the atmosphere at Arundel is arguably more in keeping with the burgeoning Kia Super League and where it currently resides in the cricketing structure. Crowds are growing but are still likely to be lost amongst the giant stands of the international arenas.
All of which makes the decision to ditch the Kia Super League and align the women’s competition with the new men’s incarnation all the more baffling. The former has forged its own niche in the calendar in a short space of time and is well suited to more bijoux venues such as Arundel, Guildford, York, Aigburth and Loughborough. Thus, re-inventing the wheel and then rendering the resultant re-invention as little more than an adjunct to the men’s competition, an aperitif in those vast stadia before what is likely to be deemed as the main event seems a retrograde step. There seems to be a slavish desire to replicate the Big Bash League and the Women’s Big Bash League when it comes to the new competition but certain aspects are being conveniently ignored. All of which potentially puts at jeopardy the foundations of an excellent legacy that has grown from England’s success in the World Cup twelve months previous. Of all the controversies regarding the new competition and the various nip-tucks afforded it by the ECB the eschewing of the Kia Super League is one of the biggest travesties.