One year on from that iconic day in Melbourne, we look back on the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup Final.
In 2016, the West Indies took out both the Men’s and Women’s World Twenty20s on the same day in Eden Gardens.
The women’s Final was first, and had a smaller crowd as the Kolkata stadium slowly filled in time for the men’s game, where Carlos Brathwaite would famously deposit Ben Stokes over the ropes for those four sixes.
Among those in the crowd for both matches was Nick Hockley, the CEO of the next Men’s and Women’s World Twenty20s to be played in Australia in 2020.
A year earlier, Hockley had been the General Manager of Commercial and Marketing for the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. A whopping 93,013 fans had gone through the turnstiles at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the final of that event between the two hosts.
“The 2015 Cricket World Cup really opened our eyes to how big ICC events could be and how big they can be in Australia,” Hockley, now the interim chief of Cricket Australia, told icc-cricket.com ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Women’s T20 World Cup Final 2020.
With that knowledge in hand and having had the chance to reflect on the 2016 tournament, an important decision was made.
“That 2016 Final in Eden Gardens, the Women’s Final felt a bit like a curtain raiser and we just thought we can actually do it better ,” Hockley reflected. “The first key decision was to play the Women’s event as a standalone tournament in February and March.”
The next big call was to host the Final at Australia’s greatest sporting cathedral, the MCG.
It was here the stars aligned to inspire an attempt to set a world record.
The Women’s T20 World Cup would be played in February-March. International Women’s Day, March 8, fell on a Sunday that year, lining up perfectly with the end of the tournament. The MCG had a maximum capacity of roughly 95,000.
The record for the highest attendance at a women’s sports event was 90,185, set when the USA hosted China in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Hockley’s team had the perfect date, the perfect ground, and, if the hosts were good enough to make the Final, the perfect opportunity to set a new record.
But make no mistake, chasing a world record was not a simple novelty. At the heart of the thought process for Hockley was one thing.
“Obviously, we want to make this a massive cricket event but how can this become bigger than cricket and be about equality in sport and cricket’s leadership on that journey?” he said, taking himself back to machinations that led to the rallying call of #FilltheMCG.
“We know that we’ve got a journey we’re on, we know that there is a lot of opportunity for the women’s game to catch up and be at the same level as the men’s game.
“Change over time is not linear, it’s not a straight line. So, it is how do you take this World Cup that doesn’t come around every day and use it to really shift the needle.”
Hockley and the ICC were not going to be quiet in their pursuit of history. Unafraid of things backfiring, they were vocal in their calls to sell out the MCG.
“Fear of failure didn’t really come into it. If we didn’t attract a really big crowd it would just highlight that we still have a long way to go until we have equality in sport. Thankfully, it did capture the imagination of the public.”
Nevertheless, even the most optimistic of tournament organisers would have known that if they were going to fill the MCG, they needed Australia make the Final.
Given they had won their past seven T20I campaigns – eight, if you include winning two of the three T20Is in the Ashes – that seemed a reasonably safe wager. As things turned out, Australia only just scraped into the big dance. Their road to the Final could hardly have been rockier.
On the eve of the tournament, star fast bowler Tayla Vlaeminck was ruled out with stress fractures in her foot. Then, Lanning’s team lost their first match of the tournament, going down to India to put themselves right under the pump for the remainder of the T20 World Cup.
A match later, they were 8/3 in pursuit of 123 and it looked like they might even go out of the tournament in straight sets. They recovered to win that match before a more comfortable victory against Bangladesh.
Going into their final group game against New Zealand, Australia needed to win to make the semi-finals. And win they did, but only just, holding on by four runs. It came at a devastating cost too – Ellyse Perry’s tournament was over. The star all-rounder had torn her hamstring for the cause.
Despite all the grit they had shown, Australia still only finished second in their group. Given Sydney’s inclement weather, that looked set to cost them dearly.
Thirty millimetres of rain were forecast for Sydney on 5 March, where the Sydney Cricket Ground was hosting both semi-finals on one day. As the second-placed finisher in their group, a washed-out match against South Africa would end Australia’s tournament.
Things were looking grim for the hosts that grey Thursday, with the rain showing no signs of relenting. The day’s first semi-final, between India and England, did not see so much as a coin toss and as a result Harmanpreet Kaur’s outfit were booking passage to Victoria.
Three hours later, Australia hopes were suddenly looking much brighter. The rain had finally eased and the coin toss was happening. There were even plans for a full 20-over-a-side match. Sent out to bat, the Australians were held to 5/134. It was less than they would have liked but enough to realistically defend.
Then the skies opened again and the rain set in – Australia’s hopes were gurgling down the drain.
The cut-off time to start South Africa’s innings was 9:49pm. By 9:18 the rain had lightened but not stopped. Still, Australia’s players warmed up on the edge of the field – ‘rain, what rain? Let’s get going.’
At 9:40pm, with nine minutes to spare, South Africa’s innings finally started. Chasing a DLS-revised target of 98 in 13 overs, the South Africans pushed Australia all the way. In trouble at 26/3 after five overs, they rallied to 71/3 with two overs to go. Eventually, Australia got home by five runs despite a brilliant 41 not out from 21-year-old Laura Wolvaardt.
Australia’s feelings at the end of the match?
“Relief is a very good word to describe it,” Lanning told icc-cricket.com last week. “It was raining the whole day. I still don’t know how we got a game in. We were just so lucky with the weather and what happened. It all just fell into place for us.”
With that, the stage was set for a chance at history.
Not that Lanning knew just what the Australian team would be walking out to. It was only on her way into the ground that she realised the enormity of the crowd they would be playing in front of.
“It was pretty amazing, to be honest,” she said of the moment she realised it was a near-capacity MCG.
“Up until that point we weren’t sure how it was going to pan out. Even before the tournament when they said 90,000 people, I was a little bit sceptical. At the start and all the way through you weren’t sure if people were really going to jump on board.
“We realised there were going to be a fair few people around when we were driving to the ground. It was just so packed. The lines to get in the gates were extremely long and there was just a real buzz about it.
“It was really exciting to get the chance to play in front of so many people. To go through that experience is something you dream of, and it was really cool knowing that it was going to happen.”
In the end, they fell short of the record-breaking attendance Hockley had been aiming for, but the crowd of 86,174 people was still a sight to behold by anyone’s measure.
For Hockley, who prior to his work in cricket had been involved in the planning and organising of the London Olympics, the sight of a packed MCG for a Women’s Final tugged on something deep inside him.
“I was pretty emotional… I had my two young girls there, who at the time were eight and four. Seeing it through their eyes (was special).
“You looked at the crowd and it was such a great mix of ages, genders and backgrounds, and families all together. There was just a really great spirit at the event.”
Alongside Hockley and his two daughters, among the 86,174 were a who’s who of cricketing greats, as well as international pop sensation Katy Perry and sporting icon Billie Jean King.
“Major events don’t come around every day; they’re very rare, they’re very special,” Hockley said. “The reason I love major events is because they bring so many people together.
“Extending an invitation to former greats and people with a genuine and influential voice around gender equality – we made lots of those invitations. We were very humbled and thrilled that people bought into the vision.
“Billie Jean King, she is synonymous with the phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. I remember talking to her on the night and she was very excited about this visual symbol of a World Cup final played in the biggest cricket stadium in the world absolutely packed to the rafters.
“It can have a very meaningful impact.”
Having scrapped their way to the Final, Australia could not have scripted the match itself any better.
In front of the biggest crowd they had ever played in front of, Australia ran away to win the match by 85 runs. Alyssa Healy (75) and Beth Mooney (78*) both scored half-centuries, putting on a 115-run opening stand in a total of 184/4. A four-wicket haul from Megan Schutt put to bed any hope India had of winning from there.
“It was amazing. The night could not have gone any better, to be honest,” reflected Lanning, a veteran of six ICC event tournament finals. “To have the crowd on our side, cheering every wicket and every boundary, it is something you dream about being involved in.
“It was definitely the best atmosphere I’ve played in front of.”
The margin of Australia’s victory allowed them something few teams ever get to enjoy in a final. The opportunity to soak it all in. To enjoy the enormity of their achievement and the cacophony of noise around them.
“Once we got to a point where we were going to win the game, we actually got a chance to look around and really take in the whole experience and just enjoy the moment.
“We don’t often get to do that in big games. We were very lucky in that respect to look around at each other and smile and take it all in.”
As special as that night was, Lanning and Hockley know that the real impact of the tournament will only be felt in the years to come.
“I really hope it opens people’s eyes to think big, that there needs to be a sense of urgency about driving equality through sport,” Hockley said.
“I hope it is a moment that people will look to and say we generated great momentum. We were very fortunate that we were able to play the tournament before the world went into a very difficult time with the pandemic, but we need to not lose any momentum and get back to that level as quickly as we possibly can.”
For Lanning, it was about showing kids everywhere what was possible.
“I think it can really inspire the next generation of not only female athletes, but just young kids to want to go out there and chase their dreams,” she said. “To know that there are real big opportunities to be involved in sport and how powerful it can be.
“Hopefully there are a lot of young Australians and young kids around the world watching that and wanting to go and take up a sport because there are so many positives that can come out of it.”
Sophie Molineux, Erin Burns and Molly Strano danced their way down centre stage. Ashleigh Gardner took a selfie with Perry and the whole team mid-concert. Strano picked up a pair of heels from one of Perry’s back-up dancers as a souvenir.
It was all quite surreal but as special as the impromptu karaoke session was, the moment that has stuck with Lanning didn’t come on stage. Nor did it come with bat or ball on the field. It came from the crowd around her.
As Australia closed in on victory, MCG patrons came together to light up an already shimmering night.
“Everyone had their phones out and they were waving their lights around.
“I remember looking at Rachael Haynes and Ash Gardner and we just had the biggest smiles on our faces just looking around at the crowd and how much they were enjoying it. We were able to really lap it up. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
The moment that has stuck with Hockley is from a similar vein and there is something telling in that. For him, it was seeing the Mexican wave go around and around the MCG.
What both those things have in common is that they require unity.
“With a Mexican wave, you need to all do it together,” Hockley said. “That was a shared experience for everyone at the ground. It was quite a euphoric atmosphere.
“Seeing a Mexican wave go multiple times around the MCG at a Women’s Final and the energy in the crowd, that for me will be the lasting memory.”
It’s that kind of unity that will take the game forward.