Thu, 21 Nov 2019

There will be another important milestone for women's sport on Friday with the start of the first standalone WBBL when local rivals the Sydney Sixers and the Sydney Thunder go head-to-head on primetime television.

It is the fifth instalment of the WBBL and is now in its own window until early December rather than running alongside the men's tournament which begins shortly before Christmas.

Australia has led the way in women's cricket in recent years, but the last few months have been especially significant both on and off the field with an Ashes series win, a world record 18 ODI victories in a row, a new parental leave policy and a commitment from Cricket Australia to match the ICC's increased prize money for next year's T20 World Cup.

ALSO READ: WBBL previews: squad lists and players to watch

Being staged at this time of the year does not give the WBBL the advantage of the school holidays which is when the BBL takes place, but the competition has been built around a series of festival weekends, the first of which is at North Sydney Oval, with the hope of maximising weekend crowds.

Viewing figures and crowd numbers will be watched closely during this year's competition but instant judgement will be resisted and there is a sense that this is another staging post in a longer-term aim.

"Tomorrow night's exciting, it's a great occasion at a great ground but for me it's far more long-term than that," Ellyse Perry, the Sydney Sixers captain, said. "It's this whole season and we've got to be realistic and give it a couple of years, like the Big Bash for the men, I don't think that took off for a couple of years. It's our role to cement in the public psyche that the WBBL is at this time of the year, it's a great product, a unique product and it's worth watching

"This platform gives us an incredible opportunity to build a really competent and exciting competition on its own, hopefully it's a really great family event, people can come down on a Friday night or across the weekend, and enjoy the entertainment and everything that goes with it."

Perry was the leading run-scorer in last year's WBBL with a record 777 runs but her team were pipped to the title by the Brisbane Heat after a finals series that produced thrilling cricket, including the Sixers' stunning run out to earn a Super Over against Melbourne Renegades - a moment that Perry calls "the most amazing play I've seen on a cricket field."

Perry can be expected to be one of the leading lights again, along with Australia team-mate Alyssa Healy who helps form a formidable top-order for the Sixers, while there is a strong collection of overseas names across the eight teams, albeit not including the India players who are unavailable due to touring West Indies which also means T20 stars such as Stafanie Taylor and Hayley Matthews are only around for short windows.

For some of the overseas players, it is another a chance to see first-hand what significant investment in the women's game can achieve.

"A bit jealous, really!" Rachel Priest, the New Zealand wicketkeeper, joked when asked about all the developments in Australia. "They are really, really lucky, the investment in this country is phenomenal. You can see from the performances of their team, they are streets ahead of anyone else at the moment. it's up to other countries to catch up a little bit and probably take a leaf out of their book

"It's as close to international cricket as you'll get, we are really lucky but so are the domestic players. A few of us were talking at training, we can't believe it's been five years, in my career I never thought competitions like this would exist."

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