They came to Bangladesh holding the 50-over World Cup and as defending champions of the World T20.
They left Dakar with another trophy, snaring a third T20 championship. Over the last six years there has not been a country that has been able to knock Australia’s female cricket team off the top perch on the world’s biggest stage. They are to female sport what Barcelona is to football. Champions of the highest order, but with one notable difference from the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar – they are poorly paid. Most of them have jobs to sustain their love of the game. The “semi professional” status is a hard tag for such sporting superstars to wear and third party sponsorship deals are practically non-existent. Amazingly though many of them feel fortunate because it is an improvement on what they have historically been up against. Alex Blackwell has been at the summit of women’s cricket for more than a decade and knows how far the game has come in terms of financial reward for female athletes. “I played with players that used to have to pay to play. Now we are semi professional. I anticipate we will be fully professional in the not too distant future,” she says at a ceremony at the Sydney Cricket Ground honoring the Southern Stars triumphant return. For those Australians with silvering hairlines, the “Healy” name is synonymous with cricketing excellence. Ian Healy was one of the greats – still a name uttered around summer-time barbecues. But ‘generation next’ know of another Healy. Alyssa, the niece of Ian, is making headlines in her own right. And while she knows her team-mates are a long way from the pay packets her uncle was privy to, she’s optimistic that reward will come. “I hope in my generation it might happen. At the moment we are paving the way for women’s cricket to be professional and I feel like we are well on the way to doing that.” For now their success is inspiring the next generation of Blackwells and Healys – and there is a growing number of eager youngsters desperate to emulate their success. “Nineteen per cent of cricket participants are female now and growing every day so it is nice to see it come into fruition,” says Healy. Cricket Australia has set out to encourage more female participation, at both a player and administrative level and should be applauded for that. But they would no doubt admit they have a lot of work to do. The success of the Southern Stars amplifies just how much work lies ahead for administrators. While Australia’s male and female Twenty20 squads were competing in the tournament the list of Cricket Australia’s contracted players came out. It meant million dollar paydays for some of the men – something their female counterparts could only dream about. The men won just a single game at the tournament. Australia’s females left with a trophy. While the female players might not deliver the same television audiences, or crowd attendance as the men they have a key roll to play in promoting healthy lifestyle choices for young Australians. Surely any team that delivers a trophy to the nation’s cabinet deserves equal celebration, recognition and adulation.