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Christina Matthews and Perth Scorchers pushing the boundaries

It may have started with six ducks as a 12-year-old in Glen Waverley, but Christina Matthews built an impressive record for Australia.

Now a key administrator for the game she loves having been the WACA chief executive since the end of 2011, Matthews’ bigger contribution has been felt by the next generation.

Matthews will be watching on in St Kilda this morning as Perth Scorchers open their fourth Women’s Big Bash League campaign against Hobart Hurricanes.

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Matthews never earned a wage and was about $4000 a year out of pocket in her playing days, while the Australian players now earn about a minimum of $80,000 — the top ones much more. State players are paid about $40,000 but it wasn’t so long ago that number was just $1500. Matthews and others used their influence to change that.

But there is one moment that really stands out for Matthews. It was 1997, she was team manager for Australia and they had just won the 50-over World Cup in Kolkata.

“We got to do a lap of the ground at the Sydney Test,” Matthews says. “I went into the hospitality room and started talking to David Murray, who was the CEO of Commonwealth Bank at the time. By coincidence, Belinda Clark, who was the captain, had gone to a clinic at his daughter’s school and he was talking to me about how brilliant Belinda was. One thing led to another and we talked about how much the players were paid and he said: ‘Not any more, I want you to ring this person.’ To-ing and fro-ing happened and the Commonwealth Bank started sponsoring the female game that day and haven’t stopped since. That was the last time players had to pay to go on trips. I think Cricket Australia started to take it a little bit more seriously after that.”

Australian captain Meg Lanning, who just led her country to a fourth World T20 title, is one of the key beneficiaries of this moment.

But even she never imagined she could make a career out of it when she started playing.

“The last two years is the first time you could say we were professional cricketers,” Lanning says. “Up until that moment you were sort of studying or working as well so it really has been quite recent in terms of just focusing on cricket. It’s made a massive difference to our team. We’ve been able to put so much more time and effort into becoming better cricketers and I think the rewards are coming now. We are very lucky to be in the position that we are.

WACA CEO Christina Matthews.WACA CEO Christina Matthews.
Camera IconWACA CEO Christina Matthews.Picture: Simon Santi

“Hopefully the game is different again in 10 years’ time. A lot of the past players did a lot of work to get the game to where it is now. We are very privileged to be reaping the rewards of that. We want to keep moving them forward on and off the field.”

For now, Lanning is the star recruit Matthews is hoping will deliver a long-awaited women’s title to the WACA.

Just having the big-hitting superstar playing for Perth is big. Matthews still remembers the date last year she became a Scorcher. August 24 is now to referred to as Meg Lanning day when she received a call to say the star batter was available.

But Matthews says it’s about much more than winning, that takes care of itself, especially under Keightley, who she rates the best female coach in the country.

“Our goal is by the end of this strategy period, which is 2022, to have an average crowd of 10,000 for WBBL,” she says.

“When the commercial team last year came up with 4000, I thought that was ambitious. They did it. This year, they’ve gone for 6000. The way it is now is its best chance of cementing itself as a top-level sport going forward because we’ve got well paid players, we’ve got TV coverage and we’ve got the head body backing it. There are a lot of people like me who have banged the drum for a long time but now we’ve got strategies to embed it in the psyche of people.”

And with 100 girls teams up and running, Matthews believes there is no limit.

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