Cricket makes pitch for junior girls in Newcastle

Cricket took a step down the wicket at Hamilton’s Smith Park on Friday evening, opened its shoulders – and its wallet – and launched a drive to attract girls to the game in Newcastle.

Cricket Australia, Cricket NSW and Newcastle Junior Cricket Association combined to start a girls’ under-13 competition under the Sixers Girls Cricket League banner. Teams from Newcastle City, Waratah, Hamilton-Wickham Colts, Medowie, Tigers (Merewether) and Charlestown played modified, two-hour T20 games with soft-compound balls.

The push to grow the women’s game follows news last week that the NSW Breakers have become the first full-time professional female sports team in Australia, introducing a minimum wage of $35,000, despite the junior numbers underpinning that elite level remaining tiny compared with other sports’.

Fewer than 100 girls play junior competition cricket in Newcastle. City have an all-girl team in an NJCA boys’ competition, but the Hunter has no senior women’s league, and teenage girls below representative level must play for Sydney clubs if they want to stay in the game. 

Netball, on the other hand, has at least 2000 girls in its Newcastle association, one of 13 in the Hunter, and the number of women and girls playing outdoor football in Northern NSW has soared past 12,000 in recent years.

The NJCA’s administrator, Sharyn Beck, said the all-girl league, which will expand to under-16s in the near future, had the twin objectives of increasing participation and producing star players. 

“It’s a really fun sport, and I don’t think girls really get an opportunity to play it,” Beck said. “Some girls are really scared to play with boys because they’re worried about the dominance of male players, whereas it’s a less threatening environment playing with all girls.

“Definitely the focus is on participation, but the more girls that we can get in at a younger age that learn to love the game, then there’s really fantastic player pathways for them to follow.

“We have had girls’ competitions in Newcastle in the past, but the good thing about this is that Cricket NSW has come up with this format that is quite attractive, it’s uniform, and the girls in Sydney are playing the same rules as us. It’s very structured.”

Northern NSW Football has witnessed huge growth in girls’ participation since launching all-girl Miniroos competitions in 2012, up from five teams to 77 in four years in the Newcastle and Macquarie zones alone.   

Singleton leg-spinner Maisy Gibson, one of the first beneficiaries of the NSW cricket team’s new pay deal, said all-girl competitions were the secret to spreading the game’s base.

The 20-year-old, who starred for Sydney Thunder in the first Women’s Big Bash League final last summer, expected the sport to continue growing, especially after the Ten Network agreed to screen this year’s WBBL on free-to-air television.

“Soccer, you can go and play with the girls, and I think that’s a lot more enjoyable than playing against the boys,” she said. “Hopefully once they see us on TV and know it’s there.”

Cricket NSW’s Hunter development manager, Neil McDonald, acknowledged that cricket had a long way to go to match the participation levels of other sports.   

“Hopefully we can make it a bit more appealing. We’re 100 per cent swamped by most other sports, and maybe some that aren’t always seen as being female there’s quite a number of females playing,” he said.

“Cricket’s got a lot of work to do.” 

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