India stunned Australia in the tournament opener in front of a healthy crowd in Sydney. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
It was only in 1984 that the Melbourne Cricket Club admitted its first female members.
Until then women had to obtain a “ladies ticket” to enter the Melbourne Cricket Ground’s enclosure exclusively for male members.
You do not have to stretch your imagination to contemplate what some of the occupants of the now-demolished wooden Members Pavilion would make of Sunday’s T20 World Cup final, much less their 19th-century predecessors in the old Smokers Stand.
The flash and flail of this crude limited-overs game! The noisy interruptions from the tannoy! The lascivious post-game entertainment of the scantily clad songstress! All these … women!
Then again, you would like to think the more enlightened men of that age would look out onto the perfectly manicured MCG surface on Sunday, behold the excellent skills of this wondrous generation of female cricketers and succumb to their sheer ability and the joy with which they play the game.
Even if they didn’t take off their hats, loosen their ties and waistcoats and shake shake shake along with Katy Perry.
Ask organisers which Perry they’d rather have in action on Sunday and you may get different answers. (AAP: James Ross)
Any final is, quite obviously, the culmination of a tournament. The final of this Women’s T20 World Cup will be the culmination of a seemingly preposterous idea.
Precisely one year ago the Twenty20 World Cup organisers brought the trophy into the ABC Offsiders studio to promote the idea that they would #FillTheG for the final, scheduled for International Women’s Day.
As much as we wanted to believe this was possible as we cradled the impressive silver trophy, this notion seemed as fraught as it was ambitious.
What if the tournament did not resonate in the manner the organisers had anticipated, their expectations inflated by the Australian team’s recent success and growing profile?
What if the Australians succumbed to the pressure placed upon them to reach the final? After all, they were only human (as the early game nerves in a calamitous defeat to India and the tournament-ending injuries of fast bowler Tayla Vlaeminck and superstar all-round Ellyse Perry would demonstrate).
Ellyse Perry (right) won’t be playing in Sunday’s game, which hurts both the team and the tournament. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
Then, finally, what if the Sydney weather ruined everything because, let’s face it, who in their right mind would schedule a tournament-defining game in Damp City without a reserve day?
Yet it all came together on a nail-biting semi-final night when Australian beat South Africa by nine minutes — the time remaining for South Africa’s rain-delayed innings to begin before abandonment.
Now those who had waited for Australia’s progression to the final can purchase the remaining 40,000 tickets and #FillTheG on Sunday to give this tournament the conclusion that was promised and, frankly, the one it deserves.
Filling the ‘G is part of the plan, not the end
Australia has enjoyed many fine moments in women’s team sports: The Matildas’ heroics at World Cups and in Asian competition; Olympic and world championship medals in basketball, hockey and rugby sevens; periods of utter domination in netball; Fed Cups and more.
You can argue about where a home T20 World Cup final victory might sit among these achievements, but on Sunday it will be the moment as much as the result itself that matters in the public’s imagination — if not to the highly ambitious team itself.
Regardless of the result, this has been a triumph both because of and despite the organisers.
In an excellent series on the Australian Cricketers’ Association site this week, members of Australia’s 1997 World Cup-winning team reminisced about that tumultuous triumph in India.
The crowd for the semi-final was kept away by the pouring rain and no guarantee of a game being played. (AAP: Craig Golding)
As we marvel about the recent rise of women’s professional sport it is often forgotten that final between Australian and New Zealand attracted a crowd estimated to be anywhere up to 80,000 to Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
But where that was a spontaneous demonstration of the passion of a cricket-crazy country, the T20 World Cup has been an example of how the interest in women’s teams sport can now be leveraged into major events.
When the entertainment for the final was announced there were inevitable jeers from those who believed people were being enticed to see the wrong Perry — Katy rather than Ellyse.
Of course the same detractors don’t mention that the Super Bowl or the AFL and NRL grand finals also augment the sporting entertainment with top-shelf musical acts.
Perry performed at half-time of the Super Bowl in 2015. (Reuters: Mark J Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)
Inevitably the strong TV viewing figures for prime-time matches, solid crowds and the general buzz around the tournament have ensured an occasion that might once have been patronised as a quaint novelty has instead been embraced as a truly first-class sporting event.
There is a rule of thumb among sports media that public interest can be measured by the amount of controversy an athlete, sport or event create.
That issues such as Perry’s relatively lowly position in the Australian batting order (before her injury) prompted passionate chatter was indicative of a World Cup that resonated with hardened sports fans; even more so the feeling that an entire country was gripped by the host nation’s rain-threatened attempt to reach the final.
Most will no doubt consider the tournament’s legacy the once unfeasible sight of the MCG packed for a women’s cricket match.
But the lasting impact will be on those local clubs beset with the happy problem of finding the extra grounds, changing facilities and equipment to accommodate young girls inspired to play cricket.
Whether Australia or India wins the final, this T20 World Cup almost promised too much but has delivered even more.
Offsiders will broadcast live from the MCG at 10:00am on Sunday for the ICC T20 World Cup final.