Earlier this summer, our local cricket club was out recruiting new members. When I approached an older man to ask about the junior team, and whether my five-year-old daughter could join, he seemed happy about my plans and repeatedly assured me that the days when cricket was a boys’ sport were over. He then ruined it by telling me to “bring my husband and have a beer one evening,” but as far as the kid was concerned, it was no problem at all. When I later took her to a training session, that same attitude was echoed by other members of the club. “We’ll make a lady cricketer of her!” were the exact words, I think.
When I caught the cricket bug a few years earlier, I was lucky enough to find a cricket team in Germany that would let me join. Full of enthusiastic Australian, British and Indian expats, the team was always on the lookout for like-minded people to have a bat and a beer. The fact that I was the only female player didn’t bother anyone, and most of the guys were happy to give advice and help with my bowling technique once they realized that I was genuinely interested in the game. My batting was beyond useless, so we never reached the awkward point were I insisted on playing league games, and we happily stuck to practice sessions. It was all good, and had I been any decent at it, league games probably wouldn’t have been a problem.
It’s all looking good for the girls, and earlier this year there was talk of England wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor joining the men’s county championship. There followed some discussion in the press, then not much was heard for a while, and somehow it never happened. The thought was there, though, and if anything, it has reminded people that women play cricket, too. They have been doing so since the 18th century, with women’s leagues forming since the late 19th century. These days, women’s cricket is governed by the ICC, the same body that coordinates the men’s game. It’s up to every country’s cricket association to promote their women’s efforts. Australia, as a cricket-mad nation, are doing well, and I’m getting just as many updates on the women’s game as the men’s Ashes. I can only imagine that the England and Wales Cricket Board are aiming for the same kind of promotion, but I don’t subscribe to their facebook feed. (Can’t stand the heartbreak. Go Australia… Sigh). The women’s Ashes coincide with a very one-sided men’s competition this year, so it might well be that a few more strongly fought-over Test matches will get more coverage than a women’s match might generate otherwise. Then again, Test Matches between England and Australia, which have been played since 1934, are obviously riding high on the wave of excitement and innate competition that the men’s Ashes are known for. A great opportunity then for the women to show what they do best.
Since there are very few Test Matches played in women’s cricket, and The Ashes as a five-Test series have no precedent in this format, this year’s series against Australia is a multi-platform one: there is one four-day Test, three One Day Internationals (ODIs), and three short 20-over matches. It reflects the state of women’s cricket, where one-day matches are the most popular format, but it also runs the risk of putting off the traditionalists who see any contest between England and Australia as special and worth the extra time. The question is whether cricket traditionalists would have any time for women in their sport anyway – and what exactly other nations have to do to deserve such special treatment. Making the women’s Ashes a multi-format competition gives it the feeling of a historical occasion, while showcasing what women’s cricket is about, and that’s mainly the shorter formats of the game.
The Test Match took place last weekend, and unfortunately ended in a draw. There was no television coverage, so we have to rely on commentators and players assuring us that it could have been an interesting match on a faster pitch. The ODIs to come should bring that bit of excitement, and maybe even some live coverage. As it is, we are left with the stories off the pitch, like Sarah Elliott breastfeeding in-between scoring a century. It’s awesome in so many ways, and shows just how obsessive anyone can get when it comes to cricket, but it hasn’t put the women’s game on the TV schedule yet. It’s a pity these women should have to work on all those things too, and not just play good cricket.