Trying to make cricket a ‘normal thing for young girls to do’

Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy have become household names thanks to their starring roles for Australia, and the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) becoming a summer fixture.

With events like the WBBL and Australia’s Twenty20 World Cup win, cricket’s popularity has been attracting women and girls like never before.

More than 76,000 females now play the game and participation is up 61 per cent in four years. And Cricket Australia (CA) has launched a new strategy to get even more women in the door.

The program aims to make cricket the first-choice sport for girls aged 9-12 — and at least top three for girls 4-8 — while increasing the number of female coaches and creating positive club environments that encourage female participation.

“It’s critical that cricket becomes the normal thing for young girls to do,” said former Australia captain and current general manager of community cricket at CA Belinda Clark.

“We are not quite there yet and that’s OK, but we’ve made some big steps forward.”

Making it “normal” is key because CA-commissioned research found fear of judgement was the biggest hurdle for girls looking to get into the sport.

Wearing helmets and carrying their bats, Perry and Healy look at each other and smile as they walk off the field

Wearing helmets and carrying their bats, Perry and Healy look at each other and smile as they walk off the field

The WBBL has become a fixture of the summer of cricket.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

“But it’s an issue that society is getting over, where women are able to have a go at something and not be measured [unfairly],” Clark said.

Facilities are also a problem, with most being built years ago when fewer women were playing team sports.

Girls’ teams shouldn’t be tacked on, they should be part of the club

Clark said a welcoming environment was so important to attracting girls at a club — everything from the names on the honour board, to the pictures on the walls, to the person who greets you when you are signing up.

“We are investing in people that have started the journey, we know that once you have a girls’ team, then you can get two teams, three teams, four teams,” she said.

“Secondary to that we are looking at where are there black spots [with] no girls’ competitions.”

Evidence also shows most girls prefer to play with their friends, rather than mixed competitions.

Kaila and Elyse Levett echo the data.

Two girls in cricket gear sit in front of the nets.

Two girls in cricket gear sit in front of the nets.

Kaila and Elyse Levett both enjoy playing in girls’ teams more than mixed.(ABC News: Chloe Hart)

Heading into their second season, the sisters would rather just play with girls.

“One boy was annoying us last season, chasing us and we couldn’t concentrate properly on cricket,” Elyse said.

“They can be too competitive,” Kaila added.

What you can see, you can be

The MCG crowd is visible during play in the women's Twenty20 World Cup final between Australia and India.

The MCG crowd is visible during play in the women's Twenty20 World Cup final between Australia and India.

The crowd of 90,000 at the Twenty20 World Cup final in March showed how far women’s cricket has come.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

Australia’s dominance in all formats of the game and the emergence of the WBBL has put women’s cricket in front of more eyeballs than ever before.

Captain Meg Lanning said the initiative could create pathways into the game for young girls and ensure the 90,000-strong crowd for this year’s Twenty20 World Cup final in March is not a one-off.

Kaila and Elyse only watch women’s cricket on television and they’ll have plenty to watch over the summer.

The sixth Women’s Big Bash League will be played in a Sydney hub, over 59 matches starting in late October.

“We feel incredibly lucky to be in the position we are in, seeing the development and the evolution of women’s cricket, their interest in it and knowing it can be a career is just amazing,” Perry said.

“To have that platform to inspire young girls to play cricket and do what they want is really cool.”

And it is working. Elyse Levett wants to follow in her namesake’s footsteps.

“If you watch someone you can copy their skills and get better,” she said.

“I like Ellyse Perry because she’s able to do anything and when I grow up I want to be just like her because she’s amazing.”