Women's T20 World Cup: record attendances and investment grows game

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Women's T20 World Cup records: Heather Knight, Beth Mooney & Shafali Verma star

Seven years ago, England and Australia's women played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to a crowd consisting mostly of friends and family.

This was the Women's Ashes, the first one-day international of the multi-format series, and the G was all but empty.

On Sunday, Australia lifted their fifth Women's T20 World Cup title at the same ground, cheered on by 86,174 people, a record attendance for a women's sporting event in Australia.

The tournament organisers dreamed big with their #FillTheMCG campaign and it paid off.

Here, BBC Sport looks at what we learnt from the tournament and how it reflects the development of women's cricket.

The game is growing…

Thailand's inclusion, South Africa beating England and Pakistan stunning West Indies would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

But there is more strength in depth now - although the gap between the top three teams and the rest is still wide.

Australia have dominated this tournament, winning five of the six finals they have reached, losing to West Indies in 2016.

England have reached the final four times, beating New Zealand in the final of the inaugural tournament in 2009 to register their sole victory.

However, teams no longer go into a tournament expecting England and Australia to make the final, and it makes for a better contest.

Thailand may have left Australia without a win, but they have shown what happens when there is genuine investment in the game.

India's appearance in the final, and their unbeaten run in the group stages, is also heartening, but their lacklustre performance shows that more investment is needed.

A Women's Indian Premier League has been held for the past two years but there are only four teams, and in order to attract the world's best players, the tournament will need to grow quickly.

...but Australia are still dominant

Australia women's cricket team
Australia beat India to claim their second T20 world title

Australia are reaping the benefits of continued investment in the women's game, and a marketing campaign that put them front and centre of the home summer.

An investment of $4.23m in 2016 made cricket a viable career for women in Australia, which in turn allowed them to train together, work together and ultimately form a world-beating team.

Since then, Australia's women have won the T20 world title twice and retained the Women's Ashes with relative ease.

A recent pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the players also showed how far the game has come, with the male cricketers refusing to sign contracts until their female counterparts had equal conditions.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who was at the MCG on Sunday, said that Australian cricket was sending "a great message" in terms of gender equality.

"The men and women are supporting each other. Why not? What is the big deal? It's fabulous," King said.

England are catching up

England arrived at the tournament with a new coach and the scars of a terrible home Ashes series.

However, they have reaped the benefits of Lisa Keightley's influence. The players are relaxed, enjoying their cricket, and they grew in stature throughout the tournament.

Rain ruined their semi-final and their chances of reaching the final - England's opening defeat by South Africa proving doubly costly as India, who finished top of their group, progressed without a ball being bowled.

But there were plenty of positives for England. Spinner Sophie Ecclestone ended the tournament as the world number one bowler. The 20-year-old impressed with her maturity and control, taking eight wickets and was one of only two bowlers to have an economy rate of under four runs per over.

Leg-spinner Sarah Glenn, also 20, took six wickets and, together with Ecclestone, is forming the basis of a world-beating team.

The increased investment from the England and Wales Cricket Board will also help. Mirroring Australia, it has announced a £20m investment which will fund 40 full-time professional contracts.

With Australia pulling away - they have, after all, dominated the last two women's ashes series - the increased money should help grow the pool of players available to England.

Ambition pays off

The initial plan for the women's final was to hold it at the Sydney Cricket Ground, which has a 48,000 capacity.

But the International Cricket Council decided to be ambitious. They instead opted for the MCG, a huge cauldron of a stadium in the heart of Melbourne.

Of course, not every game attracted such big crowds and with larger stadiums, attendances felt smaller, but they were still healthy. More than 2,000 people went to watch England play Thailand in Canberra for example.

Posters and banners were everywhere in Australia, from signs at the airport to players doing meet and greets in the city centres before the tournament.

Signing up Katy Perry to perform at the final was a risk - and some cynics said this would be the only way they would break the record attendance for a women's sporting event - but it paid off as the final ultimately became a celebration of women of all ages and backgrounds.

This success should encourage other governing bodies to aim higher - the interest is there, with the women's game now more commercially viable than before.

The Hundred, which is set to take place in England this summer, has taken a step towards that by offering equal prize money to the men and women's teams, although there is still work to be done with the pay gaps.

Power hitting is at a peak

Australia's Alyssa Healy
Australia's Alyssa Healy hit 75 in the final against India

One of the biggest criticisms of women's cricket has been that the play is too slow; that the batters are unable to clear the ropes in the way the men are.

The 2020 tournament saw 76 sixes hit - the most at any Women's T20 World Cup - with Alyssa Healy hitting the biggest of the tournament in the final game at 83 metres.

Every team now has players who can clear the ropes which makes for a better and more competitive game.

What's next?

With tournaments such as the Women's Big Bash League and the Hundred more visible than before, women's players are now becoming role models for young girls and boys.

The players that have shone in the tournament, such as Australians Healy and Meg Lanning - will be competing in the inaugural Hundred tournament, with Beth Mooney expected to join them.

The Hundred, which runs from 17 July - 15 August, will be covered extensively across the BBC's television, radio and online platforms.

The next global tournament will be the 50 over World Cup in 2021, where England will attempt to defend their title in New Zealand.

Such competitions allow players to develop, let fans get closer to the game and, crucially, strengthen the depth that is already there in women's cricket.

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