Like Chris Gayle, Meg Lanning is a cricket superstar who can win a game single-handedly. Like Gayle, she averages more than a run a ball in Twenty20 internationals, and regularly smashes bowlers all over the ground with the carefree panache of Shane Warne on Tinder.
Unlike Gayle, though, Lanning is not serially sleazy towards female journalists. And if her bedroom has a mirrored ceiling, she’s not known for posting boastful photos of it on Instagram, a site upon which she has not chosen to nickname herself “UNIVERSE-BOSS”.
Instead of focusing on herself for yet another selfie, she focuses on cricket. Last year, Lanning captained Australia to an Ashes victory, and was named the ICC’s one-day cricketer of the year. This summer she’s captaining the Melbourne Stars in the new Women’s Big Bash League, and is one of the major reasons for its instant success, with four half-centuries in the six games so far.
Lanning produces runs as consistently as Tony Greig used to produce cricket memorabilia. She’s an extraordinary leader, a world record holder and she’s only 23. So if we were going to spend the week discussing a cricketer, wouldn’t it have been an excellent idea to choose her instead of Chris Gayle?
Off-field behaviour isn’t the only significant difference between Lanning and Gayle, though. No prizes for guessing which one of them gets paid to play full-time, and which one could afford to simply laugh off the $10,000 fine for his now-notorious conversation with Channel Ten’s Mel McLaughlin.
It’s not clear how much Gayle is earning for this stint down under, but in 2011 he turned down an offer of $250,000 from the Perth Scorchers. That’s probably more than Meg Lanning has earned from cricket across her career to date.
Fortunately, things are changing. Lanning and the other brightest sparks among the Southern Stars received a significant salary increase last May, and the strong audience appeal of the WBBL, both on television and at the grounds, is likely to lead to significantly higher contracts still.
It should be no surprise that we’re warming to the women’s game given the stark contrast with men’s cricket. I don’t mean in terms of the play – sure, women’s sixes might not be quite as massive, and the pace is less likely to cause severe injury, but the contest between bowlers’ guile and batters’ skill is no less engrossing.
No – the biggest contrast is the lack of behavioural issues. The WBBL promises equivalent excitement without the gauche egomania. What’s not to like?
Not all women are paragons of sporting virtue, of course, as Marion Jones’ steroid-fuelled athletics career amply demonstrated. But women’s team sports still seem to be played primarily for love. That commodity often feels in precious little supply amongst sportsmen these days.
Professionalism was undeniably good for men’s sport to begin with, opening it up across the class divide, but in many sports, the deluge of money from television deals has created a generation of obnoxious, entitled multimillionaires. We seem to be paying our male sports stars to disappoint us, and many of them are very happy to oblige, with a level of preening self-regard that Vladimir Putin would consider excessive.
Compared to the tedious cycle of disappointment, outrage, condemnation and limp apology that we see in men’s professional sport, women’s sport feels almost zen-like in its focus on the fundamentals of the game itself.
What’s more, Australia is winning in women’s team competitions, and we all enjoy that. The Hockeyroos are always in contention, the Diamonds won the netball world cup last year and the Matildas went further at the FIFA (soccer) World Cup than any senior national team ever has before.
But money is tight here, too – the Matildas followed up their success with a protracted pay dispute with the game’s governing body, and their pay is still extremely modest compared to the men whose international accomplishments they have now surpassed.
Fortunately, this gulf in attention and compensation does not exist in all sports. When it comes to the Olympics, interest and coverage levels are broadly equivalent, and the same goes for tennis after many decades of campaigning from pioneering female players like Martina Navratilova.
Surely it’s no coincidence that in tennis and the Olympics, the men and women compete simultaneously? This summer, scheduling WBBL matches as double headers with the men’s games has been invaluable for its promotion, and the same approach should probably be adopted elsewhere.
At the last two FIFA World Cups, we got three chances to wake up early and cheers for the Socceroos, and it felt like we were out of things too early. Wouldn’t it be great if we could also barrack for the Matildas during the world’s largest sporting event? While their heroics last year received significant coverage, I’ve no doubt that running the two competitions simultaneously would lead to far more.
The gender pay gap is broad enough to make all of us blush, baby. Our excellent female athletes deserve parity, both because of their accomplishments on the field and their lack of nauseating misbehaviour off it. And it’s a problem we can fix from our couches when we choose what to watch.
Of course there’s a chance that a huge outpouring of money into women’s cricket would create fresh egomaniacs – something along the lines of a Christina Gaylina. It’s a risk worth taking.