Fireworks expected at MCG as Katy Perry factor gives Women’s World T20 a boost | Adam Collins

With the singer’s help, a record 100,000 crowd for the final at the MCG could provide a lasting legacy

There is an image that is often recalled from the last time a major international cricket trophy was played for by women in Australia in 2009 – the one-day World Cup final of that year. It is striking because nobody is in the frame on the hill at North Sydney Oval. As players from that game have described, it was an intimate affair with friends, family and not many more.

The picture is used to illustrate the progress that has been made in the decade since, especially, in this country, since the start of the Women’s Big Bash. It is because of this foundation the sport now has within its grasp famous MCG moment. The aim for next year’s Twenty20 World Cup final is simple but profound: to fill the biggest cricket stadium in the world. To achieve this would also break the record for the highest number of patrons to ever attend a women’s sporting event, scheduled helpfully for the evening of International Women’s Day on 8 March.

For the existing global benchmark, you have to go back another 10 years – to 1999 – when the USA’s women footballers won their home World Cup final in Pasadena. On that watershed afternoon, 90,185 came through the gates. The conclusion of a dramatic penalty shootout saw Brandi Chastain calmly walk to the spot, slot home and then rip her shirt off in elation – acknowledged since as the most iconic photo ever taken of a woman athlete.

Watching it back, something else stands out from that game: the higher tone of the crowd’s cheering. Just as it was when England’s women cricketers won the 2017 World Cup in front of a full house at Lord’s, it was an audience of predominantly girls and young women. In keeping with that theme, Belinda Clark recalled that in 1997, when her Australian side topped the world in Kolkata, a young Jhulan Goswami – India’s most prolific bowler – was inspired from the seats to make the game her life. If Melbourne can make this happen – and who would doubt it with its reputation – the legacy would surely be felt for generations.

To mark 100 days until the beginning of the tournament, the big and bold theme has been amplified further with the news that organisers have secured Katy Perry to perform at the final. In addition to boasting mindboggling numbers of downloads and one of the most re-watched Superbowl half-time shows in 2015, the American singer has more Twitter followers than anyone but Barack Obama – some 108 million. Adding 87 million more on Instagram, Perry has one of the biggest megaphones on the planet. And she’s using it, as of this morning, to tell her followers to buy tickets to the cricket. If they want to see her in Australia, this is the only way – there will be no sideshow of festival appearances, this is an exclusive gig.

Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi! Let’s break some records - join me in Melbourne on March 8, 2020 for the ICC t20worldcup Women’s Final. We’ll Roar in support of these awesome women on International Women’s Day! 🐯🏏…

— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) November 12, 2019

“I have a 14-year-old daughter who is extremely excited by the news,” said Martin Pakula, the Victorian Sport Minister. “Maybe she’ll attend her first cricket match as a consequence. It’s wonderful. In terms of a big international name, this is an example for other codes to follow and I think it is a great credit to cricket that they have not only had the vision to ask the question about getting Katy Perry out here but to actually succeed in doing so. It is a really major coup and it is going to add something really special.”

When the organising committee for the 2017 World Cup said they wanted to sell out Lord’s, it wasn’t hard to hear the sniggering from those who couldn’t imagine such a thing. In turn, there was a degree of anxiety from decision-makers that maybe they had pulled the wrong lever and were setting up an avoidable fall. Instead, the reverse was true and every public seat was sold. It’s this ambition that Pakula and the state government are encouraging and congratulating. “If we are able to draw a crowd of 90,000 for the final would be a milestone day for women’s sport not just here but globally, which is why we are pushing so hard for it. And none of us know whether we [Australia] are going to get there but that shouldn’t dull our ambition.”

Australian all-rounder Sophie Molineux, a Victorian who knows what it is to come along to a packed MCG as a spectator to watch her Collingwood Football Club play, cannot wait. “To be running out there in front of that many people you have to pinch yourself,” she said. “Opening the paper this morning and seeing Katy Perry on the front page headlining this event just shows how far it is coming and the momentum it is building. Fast forward 100 days, it is only going to get bigger. If 95,000 come along and Katy Perry is singing, and then hopefully Australia then win a World Cup, it would be a dream come true.”

All told, administrators are backing themselves to attract one million spectators through the gates across the country from the tournament-opener at Sydney when Australia’s defending champions take on India on 21 February. Ever mindful of price point considerations, adults will be able to come along for just $20 and kids $5. What seems certain is that by the time the World Cup has been run and won, there will be another series of images that will be returned to time and again, telling this proud story of vision and growth.


Adam Collins at the MCG

The GuardianTramp

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