The ever-growing profile and accessibility of women's cricket in Australia has fuelled an extraordinary surge in the presence of female teams and competitions throughout the nation, according to a report released to coincide with International Women's Day.
In addition to a rise of around 700 per cent in the past two years in the number of cricket associations that now provide an all-girls competition for aspiring female players, the number of women's teams at community level has grown from just above 200 to more than 750 over the same period.
The report, entitled 'Press for Progress' to mirror the theme for today's International Women's Day, also finds that in excess of 275,000 girls are now registered in school cricket programs Australia-wide and around 3,500 women are playing the game at club level.
However, in welcoming the findings of the report which is the first of annual updates in line with the 'Australian Cricket Strategy' launched last year, CA Chief Executive James Sutherland noted there is still much to achieve in order to attain true gender equity in the sport.
"Australian Cricket recognises that equality is the future of cricket, and while women have always been a part of the sport, we know that more still needs to be done to truly make cricket a sport for all," Sutherland said today.
"We're proud that we can point to several successes over the past few years as an indication that we are making meaningful steps to achieving our goal.
"At the same time, we are under no illusion that we still have significant ground to cover if we are to be successful in our ambitions, and a key element of the 'Press For Progress' report is to call out those areas.
"For example, this inaugural report shows that more needs be done to increase the representation of women working across Australian cricket, from the board level down, with women currently making up just 34 per cent of our workforce.
"Our data also shows that while there have been gains in the number of associations offering all-girls competitions, the majority of female participation is still via school-based sampling programs, rather than a sustainable playing base.
"We also have significant ground to cover in growing the women's elite game to where we want it, with our stated target for the ICC Women's World T20 (tournament scheduled for October-November 2020) to be the largest women's sports event seen in Australia.
"Last, but not least, with women and girls representing half of all Australians, there is also clearly room for improvement in ensuring our elite matches are entertaining to all."
The five-year 'Australian Cricket Strategy' was unveiled by CA in conjunction with the nation's state and territory associations to help ensure cricket's sustained growth and development as 'Australia's favourite sport' in a rapidly changing social and cultural landscape.
In identifying its three core constituencies – the game's fans, its participants and volunteers, and its elite-level players and teams – the strategy outlined four central ambitions through which it would work to achieve cricket's growth into the next decade.
Among those is the unambiguous aim to be "the leading sport for women and girls" at a time when competition for female sporting talent and participation in Australia is reaching unprecedented levels.
As a result, CA has committed to providing an annual update to gauge how they are tracking to meet that goal and the 'Press for Progress' report released today is the first instalment.
In addition to the widespread growth of women's competitions and teams across the country, the report also highlighted the impact of Australia's women's team that recently won their Ashes series against England, and the increasing popularity of the Rebel Women's Big Bash League.
Attendances at WBBL|03 matches this summer rose 25 per cent on a year-on-year basis to top 150,000 for the tournament, and average viewership for matches that were carried on free-to-air channels was around 224,000.
Other initiatives to help achieve gender equity for cricketers in Australia included CA's decision to install parity on prize money on offer to men's and women's teams in domestic competitions, and to significantly increase payment to top-level women players under the newly negotiated Memorandum of Understanding.
Through that agreement, which was concluded late last year, Australia's elite women's players now earn an average annual salary of around $180,000 which makes them the highest paid national women's sporting team.
The report also indicates that women continue to be under-represented at the decision-making and administrative level of the game, with females holding just 20 per cent of directorships on national and state association boards.
They currently also account for 31 per cent of executive and other management staff, and 34 per cent of cricket's total workforce Australia wide.
"The 'Press for Progress' report reinforces our commitment for cricket to become a gender equal sport, and the importance we continue to place upon women and girls as we look towards the future," Sutherland said today.
"The report is about more than just talking about what we as a sport need to do to achieve our ambition to become the leading sport for women and girls.
"It provides transparency about the progress we are making.
"I hope that all those involved with cricket in this country can take this report as an opportunity to reflect honestly on where we need to redouble our efforts, celebrate where we are making progress, and recognise the significant opportunity we have to make cricket a sport for all."