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A free-to-air World Cup final is about more than just viewing figures

‘See it to be it’ – England’s free-to-air World Cup final against Australia is a reflection of the growth of women’s cricket and a catalyst for future stars

When Heather Knight’s team face Australia on Sunday, it will not just be in front of a cheering Christchurch crowd, but, thanks to a huge move by SkySports, an army of bleary-eyed fans and potentials stars back in England will be able to watch on free-to-air television.

The importance of free-to-air coverage of this iconic event cannot be understated. It is a showcase of two of the world’s top sides playing for the biggest title their sport has to offer so it’s only logical that as many people as possible should be able to view it. This move is about a celebration of the talent on show, the development of the women’s game, and most importantly, inspiring young girls and proving to them that cricket is a place for them.

We witnessed the thirst for the women’s game in 2017 when England lifted the trophy in front of a sold-out Lord’s. Since then, cricket has seen some significant milestones and overcome unforeseen barriers while growing at an astonishing rate. When the pandemic struck in early 2020, women’s sport was hit hard. Was this a case of “last in first out?” or was it just the easy option to cancel women’s events because they were considered of less importance or because the demand was less?

Regardless of the answer, women’s cricket fought back and reared it’s wonderful head again thanks to the ECB’s introduction of the 50-over competition, The Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, later that summer. The success of this and the chance for women’s cricketers to put their hands up and get noticed meant that 2021 saw a second women’s competition - the Charlotte Edwards T20 Cup – added. Without these such tournaments, the likes of Charlie Dean and Sophia Dunkley, undeniable breakthrough starts of England’s tournament, would not have had such opportunities to throw their hats in the international ring as such a young age.

I give you another piece of evidence. The Hundred. Say what you want about this competition, but there is no denying that its impact on the women’s game was beyond anything organisers and fans could have dreamed of. The standalone opening women’s match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals drew a peak audience of 1.95m across. Not too shabby for a women’s game in a controversial event. It was also streamed live over 180,000 times across BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport online, with further viewers tuning in on Sky Sport YouTube. The beauty of this event was how accessible it was made to young girls and boys – the affordable tickets and the extensive coverage – and there is no doubt this visibility of top-class female cricketers has been another huge landmark moment for the growth of the women’s game. See it to be it – that’s the ticket.

So, free to air eh? Think of those young players waking up early on Sunday morning, tousle-haired and armed with coco pops watching the brilliance on display. Think of those girls who want to play cricket but were told it was for boys. Think of those dads proudly driving their daughters to nets. Think of those mums excitedly clapping her daughter’s her first boundary. Think of those brothers when their sister bowls them in beach cricket. Think of those girls. Those players of the future. Those who one day might say “I saw the World cup final and I knew I could play cricket too.”

The build-up and live action from the World Cup final between England and Australia starts at 1:00am GMT on Sky Showcase (channel 106), PICK (159) and the Sky Sports YouTube channel and fans will also be available to listen to ball-by-ball commentary on BBC 5 Live.


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