Women’s cricket has come a huge way over the last decade or so, and those pioneers of the game can reflect on a job so well done that this World Cup has gained more attention, and sold more tickets, than any previous edition. The final at Lords tomorrow is sold out, a state of affairs scarcely imaginable only a few short years ago.
The fact that England, who have been strong in the women’s game for many years, are facing India adds to the global appeal, and for the first time this tournament has been broadcast live there. There is little doubt, women’s cricket is on the march, and the BCCI have announced significant bonuses for their players for reaching the final.
It’s also true that as far as England is concerned, the ECB can take satisfaction in the increase in both profile and the levels of participation, which have shown significant rises in recent years. Indeed, such has been the progress that overall participation figures would look truly grim were it not for the female half making up for the decline in recreational cricket.
Many clubs now have a women’s section, indeed some are pushing towards having 2nd XIs, a tribute to the hard work put in creating it from scratch. As ever, the silent heroes and heroines are the ones who do this unpaid for no other reason than that they think it’s worth doing.
When I first started playing there were some women and girls who played, but they could only do so in the men’s teams and there was unquestionably a patronising attitude towards them. Being bowled by a girl would be grounds for mirth and teasing, something those playing couldn’t have been unaware of, but who still wanted to go out and enjoy a sport that they loved. For those who did so, the current attention must feel like vindication. Those battles aren’t over by any means – having been slightly involved with the creation of a women’s team, I can recall the fight to ensure the team was called the Women’s 1st XI not the Ladies.
With the development of the sport, so have standards risen. Any club side can see how much better all the players are from starting out as novices, and at the highest levels the quality of play is infinitely higher than it was. If they aren’t household names, then there is a degree of player recognition that wasn’t present until very recently. Sarah Taylor is recognised as not just an outstanding wicketkeeper in women’s cricket, but one who is very likely every bit as good as most male professionals, and arguably better than a couple of international keepers too. She is genuinely superb behind the stumps. For India, Harmanpreet Kaur played an innings in the semi-final that was breathtakingly audacious, and there will be a buzz when she gets to the crease tomorrow.
And that sentence still needs saying, for it is still the case that some patronising views remain prevalent, although the players involved are significantly better than those who tend to adopt such positions. And equally, unintentional condescension – the pat on the head for doing very well – is too often seen. For this is a side of the game that should be celebrated, and is being celebrated.
Sporting occasions are often described as seminal, but this does have the feel of a breakthrough moment. The recent TV deal which included free to air coverage for the England teams notably included the women, and given the more limited scale of female international cricket, that might well raise the profile significantly.
As for the match, England are the favourites, but not overwhelmingly so. They have shown signs of nerves when chasing, not least against South Africa in the semi-final, when a comfortable chase became a tense affair that went right to the wire. Jenny Gunn in particular demonstrated a calm mind at just the right time.
This is the first post from this blog specifically about a women’s match, and there was discussion in the team about whether that would be seen as jumping on a bandwagon. But it feels like the right time, and it won’t be the last.
Good luck to both teams tomorrow.