Let me start with the phrase, which has been used over and over again, but never ceases to lose its importance. CLR James, one of the most prominent writers of cricket, in his autobiography, ‘Beyond the Boundary’ raised a question, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”
The cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, James was also an organizer and a Marxist scholar who didn’t want to view cricket as a self-contained aesthetic entity. Unlike Navile Cardus, he combined detailed and sometimes recondite descriptions of the technical aspects of the game with constants reference to its place in the wider historical and social setting.
The catch-line of Cricket Australia stressed the fact that they don’t want to make cricket only the most played game in the country but also the game for all. In subsequent years, through several initiatives, they kept their word.
Through various inclusive initiatives, they have tried to incorporate all the sections of the Australian community into the game of cricket. ‘National Indigenous Cricket Championships’ started to get more recognition in both men and women’s categories.
They sent the Australian Indigenous Men and Women’s teams to India in 2018 and England in 2019 respectively. The ‘National Cricket Inclusion Championship’ is a fantastic tournament, which provides cricketers with any kind of ‘disability’, an opportunity to represent their state.
Cricketers across the gender have overcome their hardship in life to project their talents in this championship. The tournament entered its fourth year in 2020, which also witnessed the inaugural Deaf women’s competition.
Women Big Bash League (WBBL), within 6 seasons of its inception has become one of the tournaments to recon with in women’s cricket. Apart from providing the world-class facilities and international atmosphere of the matches to their domestic players, this tournament has paved the way for international cricketers from other countries to prove their worth.
Women cricketers became much more professional from a financial perspective which, is reflected in their games. As WBBL has grown bigger, in terms of viewership, it has provided the platform to spread the message of fraternity and social inclusion through cricket.
Teams and cricketers have come forward as a collective or as an individual to reincarnate the idea that cricket does not lie outside the broader social milieu.
As Sir Donald Bradman had said, cricket works as the lighthouse, guiding man’s footstep into civilization, cricket and cricketers can play a major role in the foundation of a just, equal society.
Black Lives Matter Protest: In August 2020, one unarmed man from the African-American community, Gorge Floyd was brutally killed by 4 policemen in the USA. The nation rose in rage and what followed was one of the most spontaneous protests in the US in recent years.
People, irrespective of their communities, came out in street in protest of the continuous police brutality against people of colour and the ongoing racial discrimination. The Black Lives Matter movement grew bigger with every passing hour and protests overcame the geographic boundaries to reach the larger masses, around the globe.
WBBL: Ellyse Perry returns for Sixers as Thunder take a knee for Black Lives Matter https://t.co/CHppahhrTm
— Guardian Australia (@GuardianAus) October 27, 2020
Protests took place in all the major countries against the hatred that has been carried forward inherently by a certain section of the society.
Cricketers like Michael Holding, Darren Sammy, Nasser Hussain, Stefanie Taylor, and Ebony Rainford-Brent spoke about how they have faced racism in their life, in and outside cricket. Sportspersons across the game started to take a knee in solidarity with the protest and to make their stands clear.
Following the series between England and West Indies, CA left it to the teams and individuals in WBBL whether to take the knee in support of Black Lives Matter or not. Though Hobart Hurricanes and Adelaide Strikers took the knee on an opening day, Thunders took unanimous decision to follow it throughout the tournament.
Thunders captain Rachael Haynes said that the decision came from the team. She said, “And it’s a unique competition in that it’s not just Australian players who play in it. We have players coming from all over the world with different experiences and obviously an opportunity for them to use their platform.”
England skipper Heather Knight who led her team in taking a knee against West Indies, also stood by the decision.
Speaking to Sydney Morning Herald, she said, “Being treated differently perhaps hits a bit of a nerve as women cricketers, we’ve had to fight a bit to move towards equality – it’s a similar strength that runs through the BLM movement.”
Barefoot Circle Ceremony: Barefoot circle is nothing new to the Australian Women Cricket circuit as they have been following this for a year or so. This is an initiative to get connected to each other. Besides this symbolic gesture look to grapple with the injustice committed on the Aboriginals, the original owner of the land, in early times.
Prior to the WBBL, Australia and New Zealand took part in it, and all the teams in WBBL06 had committed to performing the Indigenous Barefoot Circle ceremony ahead of matches during the tournament along with the jersey which was made to the indigenous community.
The 8 captains and 5 indigenous players – Ashleigh Gardner, Mikayla Hinkley, Anika Learoyd, Hannah Darlington, and Ella Hayward – as well as the Stars’ Elyse Villani and Georgia Wyllie from the Scorchers met at Sydney Showground Stadium to connect to the country and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land.
All the players removed their shoes and formed the Barefoot Circle on the wet outfield of the Sydney Olympic Park ground. Heat’s Hinkley and Thunder’s Darlington readout acknowledgments towards them. After the ceremony, all of them came together for the 2nd time while Ash Gardner talking about the barefoot rituals.
Make sure you look out for teams coming together to form a Barefoot Circle to connect to country before their matches. pic.twitter.com/KMc50Zgvs5
— Weber Women's Big Bash League (@WBBL) November 13, 2020
“It’s awesome to see all clubs and the WBBL getting on board to support something that’s so close to me and a lot of people in this country,” Gardner, a Muruwari woman, said to cricket.com.au.
NAIDOC Week: Teams marched one step forward as NAIDOC Week was approaching. Indigenous culture and inclusion had been celebrated from Nov 8 to 15 in various forms this year in WBBL. It was postponed from July due to the impacts of COVID-19 and for the first time, the week fall during the WBBL season.
Perth Scorchers, Sydney Thunder, and Melbourne Renegades all wore Indigenous uniforms for their matches at Sydney Showground Stadium and Drummoyne Oval. The Scorchers’s Jersey was designed by Kevin Bynder. Through the work, he painted the story in itself.
While the strip projects to dream big, the small and big circles represent the youth and elders respectively. The top part of the design shows the tribal area of the Whadjuk people who were the traditional owner of the land near the WACA.
17 YO Kya- Nicholson-Ward, a member of the Wurundjeri community, designed the Renegades Jersy for the Week. The circle in the center of the shirt represents togetherness, while the lines speak about players standing for each other in their journey.
Members of the team have been depicted through the 12 smaller circles. The Thunder’s kit was designed by Rheanna Lotter, a proud Yuinwoman from the south coast of New South Wales. The design shares the story of the Thunder’s connection and commitment to each other and the wider community- teams, fans, staff, sponsors, and the local population.
Apart from the jerseys, the Kookaburra balls for the 8 matches in the week also had the Walkabout Wickets, engraved in them while grounds also had been pained. Both Sydney teams also wore are the Walkabout Wickets logo, designed by Fiona Clarke, on their sleeves this season.
Educating Shelves: While talking about the Barefoot circles and NAIDOC Week, Ash Gardner pointed out that all the initiatives that have been taken by CA should not be seen as a token gesture.
She focused on how rather than mere tokenism these initiatives can lead up to educating ourselves about the indigenous Australian culture and the way they have been subjected to injustice.
Ash Gardner, the Muruwari girl, so organized a one-hour session when her Aunt Dorie Shillingworth with much more personal narratives to share, told the stories to the Australian girls.
Dorie focused on how these non-aboriginal people can know more about the life of the indigenous people which will eventually help the nation to do away with racism. Gardener with her personal capacities has painted few shoes for the cricketers like Sophie Devine with indigenous symbols. Along with that, she has opened her own organization which will cater to the aboriginal kids their studies and sports.
Hosted by former Australia international Mel Jones, Cricket Connecting Country, is a series of online panel discussions that have been initiated by CA to address racism, present in cricket . It also looked to increase the involvement of Indigenous Australians and other Australians of colour in cricket.
There, Dan Christian spoke about how ‘casual racism is still prevalent in cricket and how BLM movement has actually helped people realize the privileges they carry. Dan stated that on the other-side BLM movement has given people the chance to talk about and learn from past mistakes.
In the later episodes, Ashleigh Gardner and Hanna Darlington raised their views and how people are showing interest in the stories of the communities.
The Australian vice-captain too acknowledged the importance of learning about the indigenous culture which eventually can help people to treat others better. And instead of doing lip service, she did her part too.
Rachael Haynes, the Sydney Thunders captain held the shirt presentation ceremony on the southern edge of the Parramatta River to pay tribute to the local Wangal Clan.
Adelaide Strikers captain and Australian international fast bowler Megan Schutt in her article for The Guardian said, “as a nation, we need to be much better when it comes to educating ourselves about the true history of this land and the people who have called it home.”
Even though she knows that it’s a long journey to travel she feels that cricket has an important role in shining a light on racism in society.
Echoing her words I would like to conclude that WBBL is not just about cricket, but much more than that, the change it promises to bring is not only confined to cricket, rather the positives will be reflected in society.