A dominant Australia have grown women’s cricket, rather than make the sport “boring”, writes Karunya Keshav.

If there’s one thing sports marketers know, it’s that more fans turn up to a sport when their team is winning. So what happens to the popularity of a sport when only one team is winning?

Back in 1976, a seminal study in sports psychology established that a person’s self-esteem was linked to the performance of the sports team they supported. That is, people like to associate themselves with success. Cialdini et al. learnt that fans were happy to wear their team jerseys and BRIG or Bask in Reflected Glory of how good “we” were after their team won. Alternatively, after a loss, fans tended to CORG or Cut Off in Reflected Failure about how “they” made mistakes and “they” were just not good enough.

Since then, research has built on this and backed what you already suspected when you nearly punched a wall and moped for days after your team lost: supporting the losing side is bad for your emotional well-being.

This would explain why for the past decade or so, women’s cricket for anyone not an Australian fan has been, with only a few interruptions, one major pity fest.

“You guys are very annoying,” said Sune Luus, the South Africa captain, after Australia beat her team to lift their sixth ICC Women’s T20 World Cup trophy on Sunday.

Earlier in the 2023 edition, New Zealand captain Sophie Devine had quipped, “Australia are still winning, so that’s pretty boring.”

They jest, but after another tournament where teams played for the right to take on – and lose to – Australia in the final, it’s a sentiment that has gained legs. The suggestion is that if only one team is winning, and everyone else either feels terrible or is simply reconciled to the fact that they can’t, the sport can’t appeal to new fans.

But linking the motivation of fans, fair-weather or diehard, new or veteran, to only victory simplifies the reasons why we watch sport. And in this case, does a disservice to the Australian team and all they’ve done for growing women’s cricket.

Did the 12,782 people turning up at Newlands to watch the home side take on the greatest side in the world go back home saying “nah, women’s cricket is not for me” just because Australia won again?

Arguably not. The sense of occasion, the camaraderie of watching sport with loved ones, the pride that comes from being part of something bigger is all something they can BRIG in as well. It’s what defines fans, and sport, beyond success.

And for consistently raising the bar in sport, for pushing their competition to be better, and for giving the audience a spectacle to savour, world cricket has Australia to thank.

When it comes to the top dog, sports fans have a tendency to schadenfreude, or hope for their misfortune.

But watch Beth Mooney put her body on the line at the boundary to stop a couple of runs even after her team has all but won the trophy.

Watch Ellyse Perry dive at the ropes and swat away, while aerial, a shot destined for four to help her side save the semi-final.

Or Jess Jonassen spend most of the tournament warming the bench before being trusted with the death overs and immediately making things happen.

Watch as player after player in green and gold elevates aspects of batting, bowling and fielding to an art form, and you can only root for this team.

How can you but not admire what a team does for the sport when they wrest the vagaries of luck to their advantage by a combination of wits and will?

Twice in the past 12 months, in the 2022 Commonwealth Games final and in the 2023 T20 World Cup semi-final, Harmanpreet Kaur threatened to snatch victory from the eventual champions. Twice they came back to win when, as all-rounder Ash Gardner put it, when they had no right to. Last week, when Kaur’s luck abandoned her with bat stuck short of her crease, Mooney’s throw from the deep and Alyssa Healy’s awareness to take the bails off made it a moment to remember.

“People keep having digs at us that winning is boring, but it’s not boring for us,” said pace bowler Megan Schutt. “Every time that we come, we come to win … We have to keep pushing our standards. We are really hard on ourselves. We reflect on ourselves quite honestly, but we’re trying to make sure we’re as sure as we can be. We’re working hard in the gym, on the field … We don’t panic, we don’t take it out on each other if there’s a misfield or a dropped catch. That’s where we stand out as a team. We’re a team first.”

You have to celebrate the system that produces an all-rounder like Tahlia McGrath with a T20I batting average of 61.50 and bowling average of 18.53, yet barely needs her to win the cup.

Off the field, Australia have constantly forced other boards to raise their standards for women’s cricket. With every win, they prove the value of investing in female sportspersons, the virtue of giving them the resources they need to succeed. It is a win for professionalism, for striving towards parity of male and female players, and an acknowledgement that there is work yet to be done.

“We don’t get tired of it,” said Mooney, the Player of the Match in the final, talking about winning. “Something we speak about as a group is making sure we’re always evolving. We’ve seen in this tournament there are teams around the world getting better as the years go on and we know we’re being hunted. People look at us for what we do and how we go about it, so it won’t last forever. But we’ll enjoy it for as long as we can, and hopefully we can keep piling up those trophies.”

Until that changes, as fans of women’s cricket, we can all bask in the reflected glory of what Australia have achieved.