Monday, October 28, 2013

Reflections on the Tri-Series

Cricinfo has scorecards of all matches here:

New Zealand
New Zealand will inevitably be disappointed by their performance in this series. Not that they were anywhere near favourites for the title, given their fourth-place finish in the World Cup earlier this year, but to only win the one match, and to lose the others by such big margins, must have been disappointing. Their highest score all series was 109, and in the one match they won they made just 101 and were saved only by a spectacular West Indian batting collapse.

I've nicknamed this the “Calypso Collapso Series”, based on the fact that four of six of the matches saw ridiculously dramatic batting collapses by one of the teams. New Zealand were the main culprit here. In the first match of the series, against West Indies, they collapsed in a heap from 70-4 to 81 all out, an embarrassingly low score. They followed this up with another, even more spectacular, collapse in the fifth match of the series against England, from 74-1 to 106 all out. Without Suzie Bates (the only Kiwi who averaged more than 16 in the series), they would have been in even more trouble.

As they proved at the World Cup, their batting depth is weak and they are certainly still lagging behind the top teams in the world at the moment. The new professional contracts, introduced by NZC back in April, should help, but may take some time to have a real impact.

West Indies
Series champions, and they won 3 out of their 4 matches this series, as well as the final. Assuming this series was at least partly about confirming that their brilliance in the World Cup back in February wasn't a one-off, you could say it's been a pretty successful one for them.

There was obviously the advantage of home conditions. But let's be honest, the difference in the sides this series amounts to four words: Deandra Dottin & Stafanie Taylor. With averages of 39.00 and 40.00 respectively, they far and away topped the series' batting averages. Together, their majestic batting (Taylor 51* in 47 balls, Dottin 46* in 35 balls) swept the West Indies to an easy 8-wicket victory in the final, with 3 overs to spare. Taylor's 51* was her 11th in T20Is and in the process she overtook her namesake Sarah Taylor to become the woman with the most half-centuries in T20Is. And the power of Dottin has to be seen to be believed; she rightfully achieved the Player of the Series award.

Their contributions with the ball should also not be overlooked: Taylor's bowling figures in the final were 4-1-8-1, helping restrict England to 115-5 (at least 15 runs below par). Frankly these two players have single(double?)handedly done more for women's cricket in the West Indies than it achieved in the 50 years before they came into the game.

Here is the problem for the Windies: these two are, in terms of ability, head and shoulders above the rest of the batsmen in their team. In the match they lost to New Zealand, which saw them collapse from 44-0 to 92-8 in their 20 overs, their lack of batting depth was miserably exposed. If as a team you are consistently relying on two of your players to have a good day, you're going to find yourself in trouble eventually. This, I imagine, will continue to niggle at the minds of the West Indian selectors as they move forward from this series.

England will be disappointed by their performance in the final, in which they suffered from a whopping 8-wicket defeat. However, they appear to have used this series at least partly as a development opportunity. With several key players missing the series – Katherine Brunt, Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Laura Marsh – and with Charlotte Edwards missing the fifth match of the series against New Zealand (the first T20 since 2010 which she has missed for England), this was the time for some of the newer players to step up to the plate (am I allowed to use a baseball analogy in a cricket blog?)

What, then, can England take from this series? Two key positives stand out for me. Natalie Sciver is one of them. Having made her debut against Pakistan early in the summer, she is already establishing herself as a key middle-order anchor for England, with her 36* in 33 balls in the final ensuring England's total was at least respectable (and who can forget that glorious huge six off the last ball of the innings?) And her hat-trick in the fifth match of the series against New Zealand – the first by an Englishwoman in T20Is – was probably the highlight of the whole series for England.

Jenny Gunn is the other. Brunt and Shrubsole's absence turned her into the senior pace bowler, but she handled the pressure well and her 11 wickets at an average of 8.00 saw her finish as top wicket-taker in the series. Given that she was captaining England during the fifth match of the series against the Kiwis, her figures of 5-18 in that game are particularly impressive, and add weight to the argument that she is in contention to be Edwards' successor. Okay, so the super over in the sixth match against the West Indies didn't exactly go to plan, but let's not focus on the negatives...

It's hard, though, to ignore some of the strange decisions taken by the selectors during this series, following on from the initial selection of a squad that was, as Syd has pointed out on numerous occasions, one batsman short. This was supremely obvious during the frankly painful collapse against the West Indies, the worst Calypso Collapso of the series in my book, which saw them sink from 69-0 to 96-8. But it was also enhanced by some odd selectorial decisions throughout, in particular playing just four specialist batsman in the last two matches of the series.

It looks like the selectors were using this series as an opportunity to get a look at some of the bowling talent England have got coming through the ranks at the moment (both Beth Langston and Kate Cross made their international debuts), with the Ashes etc in mind, but what happened to the “winning is a habit” attitude?

Anyhow, presumably we'll get a further insight into just what the selectors have made of this series when the ODIs start tomorrow. Or maybe we'll just get more baffling decisions, who knows.

Women's cricket.
There were encouraging signs this series in relation to the status of the women's game in the Caribbean. The final reportedly attracted a crowd of 3500 to the Kensington Oval, supposedly the highest ever crowd at a women's cricket match in the West Indies (the historian in me is always a little sceptical about those kind of claims, but I'll go with it). The big-hitting fireworks of Dottin and Taylor is doing wonders for women's cricket out there, and long may it continue.

It's great, too, that the WICB streamed the series live for free across the world. But it's also unfortunate that for most of us, the feed was so blurry that it was difficult to work out a) what the score was, b) which over was being bowled, and c) whether you were asleep, awake, or so tired you were hallucinating yet another batting collapse. Is it really so difficult to ensure that the stream is of a reasonable quality?

And if the stream is inevitably blurry, perhaps we could actually have some decent commentary? The appallingly uninformed and sexist commentary during Saturday night's final (watch out for a more detailed piece on The Cordon about this soon) was a disgrace. WICB need to seriously rethink their promotion strategy for women's cricket if that's the kind of commentary they think is acceptable during a women's international.

Talking of which, WICB President Dave Cameron's closing gambit in his interview during the innings break on Saturday night – “I think the women are so beautiful they could be excellent ambassadors” – is enough in itself to make me question quite how far the WICB, who ignored women's cricket for so many years, are really on board with the promotion of the women's game. At least, with APPROPRIATE promotion of the women's game. (Naked calendars don't count. Sorry.)

Time will tell.

Final thought
I cannot understand not wearing batting helmets in any international cricket match. Watching Juliana Nero duck under bouncers from Nicola Browne without a helmet nearly gave me a heart attack. I've never even seen anyone bat without a helmet even at women's club level in England. Can't we make them compulsory or something?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

10 reasons England won the Ashes

Before this summer started, it was generally felt that the women's Ashes would be a closely-fought contest, with Australia favourites for the trophy. That prediction now looks rather pessimistic to England supporters. England won 12-4 on points, with 5 wins in a row to end the series, and thoroughly convincing victory margins of 51 runs, 5 wickets, 15 runs, 5 wickets and 7 wickets in those matches. Truth be told, this was a thrashing by England, and one that no one expected. Here are 10 reasons why it happened:

1. Sarah Taylor
Taylor's three successive ducks in the World Cup in February put England on the back foot but she has clearly recovered from that blip in form. She scored 269 runs at an average of 38.42 across the series and her innings at Chelmsford – 77 off 57 balls – effectively secured the match for England. Her glovework was also impeccable throughout. And that's not even mentioning THAT catch at Hove, the best I've ever seen by a keeper in men's or women's international cricket.

2. Heather Knight
Back in June at Loughborough, I watched Knight make 14 off 46 balls against Pakistan. Those in the crowd who remained awake spent their time grumbling at her terrifically slow scoring. Yet her record partnership with Taylor at Hove in the third ODI, of which Knight hit 69 off 65 balls, secured victory for England, and she was then drafted into the T20 squad at the last minute by the selectors. And no one can forget her majestic 157 at Wormsley, without which England would almost certainly have lost the Test. She finished as England's top run-scorer, with 301 runs at an average of 37.62, and she was also, deservedly, Player of the Series.

3. Lydia Greenway
It is difficult to exaggerate the impact Greenway's amazing fielding can have; her one-handed pick up and throw in from extra cover to dismiss centurion Sarah Elliott for 10 in the second innings of the Wormsley Test is just one example from this series. She also proved herself once again to be possibly England's best T20 batsman, hitting 80* at Southampton, the highest ever score for England Women in a T20, and gloriously smashing the winning runs to take England to a memorable series victory. One of the stars of the series.

4. Katherine Brunt
Brunt was without doubt the pick of England's bowlers this series. Besides being their top wicket-taker, with 9 wickets at an average of 25.88, she was also by far the most consistent. She looked equally dangerous across all three forms of the game and was finished the series as Player of the Match at Durham, giving away just 14 runs in her 4 overs. The best bowler in the world at the moment.

5. Ellyse Perry
Perry is the Aussie superstar, their big name, but she utterly failed to perform this series with the ball. Of course it was always going to take her time to adjust to English conditions and pitches, but she struggled to find the right line throughout, finishing with only 2 wickets at an embarrassing average of 129.50. On a good day, Perry can blast through a side on one leg, as she proved in the World Cup final. She had very few good days this series.

6. The failure of the Australian openers
Rachael Haynes was Australia's top-scorer at the World Cup earlier this year. The most she managed this series was 25*, and she was ignominiously dropped for the third ODI after two successive ducks at Lords and Hove. Alyssa Healy, who replaced Haynes in the third ODI, and Elyse Villani, opening in the third T20 at Durham, fared no better with a duck apiece. The question of who might open for Australia when England arrive in January is something the Aussies will need to give serious thought to in the coming months.

7. England's top order
A criticism often levelled at this England side has been their over-reliance on Edwards to perform with the bat. I accused them of the same old story after their appalling batting collapse at Lords, but in the following five matches they absolutely proved me wrong. Natalie Sciver's contributions with the bat throughout, including 37* in 44 balls at Durham, demonstrated that England were not overly reliant on the “usual suspects”. And, in the second ODI at Hove, every one of England's top six batsmen contributed double figures.

8. The lack of Australian bowling depth
Unfortunately for the Aussies it is all too obvious that they are missing the all-round talent of Lisa Sthalekar (she retired earlier this year). Captain Jodie Fields spent much of the series juggling a set of bowlers who simply did not look like taking a wicket: Megan Schutt and Julie Hunter were both toothless and expensive. Holly Ferling is a special talent, but she is still young, raw and erratic; she was dropped midway through the series, then brought back for the last two T20 matches, epitomising the headaches of the Australian selectors this series. This lack of bowling depth is another issue they will need to resolve before the follow-up series early next year.

9. England's bowling unit
Edwards blamed England's defeat in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka last year on “a lack of discipline with the ball”. Given that Brunt, recovering from injury, could still only bowl in short spells, and that Anya Shrubsole was injured early on in the first T20 at Chelmsford and was out for the rest of the series, the pressure was on the rest of the England bowlers to provide crucial support. They did not disappoint. By contrast with the Aussie bowlers, the consistent line and length of Laura Marsh, Dani Wyatt and Danielle Hazell saw Australia's batsmen tied in knots and left them with below-par scores, including just 91 off their 20 overs at Durham. Here was the key difference between the two sides.

10. The new format
An obvious one, this, but if the Ashes had been decided just based on that one-off game at Wormsley, we would be talking about a drawn Test and the Aussies retaining the trophy. The new multi-format series, on the other hand, gave England a chance to demonstrate their abilities in the shorter forms of the game and secure a victory on points.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lessons in Cricket Journalism, from a newbie

I recently spent four days at Wormsley Cricket Ground, covering the women's Test for All Out Cricket. It was my first time in a press box (in this case, it was a tent), and I thought I would share the things I learned about cricket journalism below. Enjoy!

1. Cricket journalists aren't the all-seeing, all-knowing beings I thought they were. They don't always see everything. If they miss something, someone else will tell them roughly what happened.

2. Cricket journos can't produce a full report within half an hour of play finishing. They start writing it at tea, if not before, and adapt according to the match situation.

3. If you make it into the press area, food and drink are free. This appeals to the student in me enormously.

4. It is not the Done Thing to go "yesssss!" really loudly when England take a wicket. We are journalists and as such are totally unbiased, even when the opposition are Australia.

5. People read things you write, which makes you heavily accountable for your opinions. (This may sound obvious, but when I write something academic, I often wonder if anyone at all ever reads it. It took me a while to make the transition.)

6. Never try to predict things. You will be proved wrong, and will look like an idiot on twitter.

7. Everything is done in a rush. Thinking time is a luxury when you are trying to watch the cricket, interview people, tweet about the match situation, and write a match report simultaneously.

8. Cricket journos (at least the ones I've encountered) are nice and (fairly) normal people. Even the editor of The Cricketer ;-)

9. People become instantly suspicious when you produce a dictaphone from your bag.

10. Being a cricket journo is simultaneously the most exhausting and the most fun thing I have ever done. People who do it for a job are pretty damn lucky.

And a few others, learned at Lord's yesterday:

11. NEVER start writing a positive match report when England still have time to collapse spectacularly and lose a match they look like winning easily.

12. Press neutrality COUNTS FOR NOTHING when England are playing Australia.

13. Writing a match report when you are annoyed and miserable is hard.

14. Press passes are like gold dust. If you don't have one, you are in trouble. If you do...guard it with your life.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

England v Pakistan Women ODI, 3rd July 2013

Please be warned, this is not a Proper Match Report – if you want one of those, check out Cricinfo's
The following, if this is not too great a claim, owes something to the work of Alan Gibson.

Off I went yesterday to Loughborough from Surrey, a fair distance (though I nearly missed my train thanks to the woman in front of me appearing to check for a sell-by date on the ticket machine). It was an intrepid journey, only to be attempted by a diehard women's cricket fan (I wouldn't have gone if it was in the The North). England Women were playing Pakistan Women at Loughborough University in the second of two ODIs, with two T20Is to follow tomorrow.

Loughborough is the home of the ECB's National Cricket Performance Centre, and a lovely pitch, as it turns out. The main problem was the complete lack of signage when I arrived on campus. International women's cricket matches are rare breeds and some kind of sign proclaiming the presence of the match, with directions, would have helped me and many others a great deal. I ended up having to follow my ear, which fortunately can detect the sound of leather on willow from 100 miles away; a necessity that culminated in me peering through the large hedge at the side of the pitch, rather like a bizarre cricket stalker. It was all rather exciting.

Eventually I followed the hedge round the corner and found the entrance. By the time I arrived, Pakistan had won the toss and chosen to bat, and were already several overs into their innings. I settled on the grass. Meanwhile Nahida and Javeria Khan, the openers, took Pakistan to 34. No wickets lost, but it took them 12 overs to get there. At a run rate of 2.8 an over, I decided it was safe to eat my sandwich. It wasn't. The ball after I opened my sandwich (the last of that 12th over), Javeira Khan was bowled by Brindle, for 17. Sorry if you want more details than that, I didn't really see it, if I'm honest. (Sandwiches require concentration.)

Edwards put Natalie Sciver on to bowl the next over. She was playing in only her second international match, but she looked an absolute natural, if you ask me. A reasonable pace, and very accurate. In her second over, she took 2 wickets: Nain Abidi, caught by Brindle at extra cover for 1, and Nahida Khan, caught by Edwards at mid-off for 17. She followed this up a few overs later with a wicket-maiden, bowling Asmavia Iqbal for 1. Pakistan were 45-4 at the end of the 18th over.

Sciver finished with figures of 3-28, in 9 overs. It was a lovely performance and I was pleased to see it. I was also pleased to see that, of the group of ten-year-olds sat at the top of the mound watching the match, the ones watching Sciver's bowling most intently were the girls. “It might be you one day, kiddo!” I wanted to shout. (Only, along with my earlier hedge-peering incident, that might have been a bit too far. As well as making me sound at least 20 years older than I actually am.)

Sana Mir and Bismah Maroof went on to build a bit of a partnership, and took Pakistan to 95 before Mir was out, bowled by Brindle. I liked watching Sana Mir bat. England's bowling was tight, and the run rate was only about 2 an over at this point, but she wasn't having any of it. She blamed the bat. To be fair, the over after she changed bats she did hit three fours in a row. But the over after that she was bowled, so I think the bowling probably had something to do with the run rate as well.

Pakistan finished on 155-6. Positives: they batted out the 50 overs, and Bismah Maroof finished on 57*. Negatives: not a great total. The required run rate for England was only just over 3 an over.

Another positive: I managed to find Starbucks and the toilet during the innings break. I told you I was intrepid.

I went to sit on the other side of the pitch to watch England's innings. I'm glad I did, because the commentary on the second half of the game, provided by the people around me, was absolutely unmissable. Brindle and Edwards were opening for England, and began by taking the score to 51-0 in the first ten overs. It was quite overcast by this point – I was FREEZING – so I turned to look at the Duckworth-Lewis score on the scoreboard. It was 16. I figured we were doing okay.

It was around about this point that Enid Bakewell walked by and said hello, and I was actually a little bit starstruck. It's kind of the equivalent of Botham strolling past during a match and cheerily waving at you. I almost missed Brindle being stumped off the bowling of Nida Dar in the 15th over. Lottie got her half-century before being bowled, also by Dar. Then Greenway got out – England 107-3 – and the trouble started.

The run rate went right down. Okay, we only needed just above 1 an over, but was there any need to bat like it? The two ladies next to me clearly didn't think so. “I've played in better matches than this,” one of them declared, after Heather Knight had scored 2 in about 20 balls. “GET ON WITH ITTT.” I'd wager she's more of a fan of Pietersen than Boycott.

England were 135-4 after 33 overs when another of the spectators stood up. “It's like watching paint dry,” she declared. “I'm going for a walk”. She never returned.

The bloke a little bit along from me, holding a camera, also seemed somewhat on edge, but I later figured out it wasn't because of the run rate. “I can't bear to watch Lauren bat,” he told somebody. It turned out to be Lauren Winfield's dad; his daughter was playing in only her second ever international. In Monday's match, she had been out for 1, and he was clearly nervous. He calmed down a bit when she got into double figures (she finished on 15*, and I was impressed with what I saw).

England took the batting powerplay at 35 overs. “We might get up to 2 runs an over now! Horray!” said someone next to me. I think there was an element of sarcasm there. Anyhow, we did get up to 2 runs an over. Winfield even hit two fours. And Knight – who finished with 14 from 46 balls – ended up hitting the winning run, in the last ball of the 38th over. England had won by 6 wickets with 72 balls remaining and the grumbling about the run rate seemed a little unnecessary. Maybe.

Sciver got Player of the Match. Thoroughly deserved. I stayed as the spectators dispersed, some of them still grumbling, no doubt, because if you can't grumble about the match afterwards, then what's the point in going? The Pakistani players were kicking a football around. Apparently they'd only just been taught this mysterious new sport; I was impressed. I was even more impressed by their cricket: their tight fielding in particular, and their general demeanour as a team, even in defeat.

As I tried to say in this cricinfo article, what matters isn't that they lost, but that they played at all. And the Pakistani family who turned up to watch the culmination of the match – mother, father, son, daughter, complete with giant Pakistan flag, all eagerly supporting their team,  and none of them minding a 6-wicket defeat, in the end – seemed to agree with me.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to attract more women to cricket: a response

In Matt Cleary's latest post for Cricinfo's The Cordon, 'How to attract more women to cricket', he writes this:

As for attracting women to the games, it's not as hard as one might think. In spring and autumn, Australian race-tracks are filled with young women who go along to dress up and drink champagne, and have a bet on a horse and a laugh with their friends. They go to flirt and look at boys in suits. And it's all good. They spend a bunch of money and everyone's happy.
Surely cricket can have champagne bars. And boys in suits. And girls can learn to love the game and understand that you don't actually "watch" every ball or every movement on the field, because there's often not much going on and you would go blind.

I appreciate that Cleary is referring to the Australian context and, sadly, I have never set foot on Australian soil (one day, Aussies, one day). But the issue of attracting women to international cricket matches is a global one and as precisely the same gender imbalance applies at every men's cricket match in England I have ever attended, the methods we should use to tackle this imbalance are presumably also very similar.

I agree with Matt Cleary on one thing: we need to think seriously about how to encourage women to rock up at cricket games. But as a woman who attends matches every summer, and considers herself a big fan of the game, I'm not sure that I agree on the methods.

Here's the problem: women don't feel like we belong at cricket grounds. So how do we attract more women to cricket? I've compiled a bit of a list. It isn't exhaustive by any means, and it won't solve the problem overnight - but I reckon it might make a difference.

1. Don't assume cricket fans are men.
When you repeatedly receive emails from Lord's which begin "Dear Sir", it's a little awkward. Not to mention horribly outdated.

Newsflash: women like cricket too. There are far more female fans than there are women going to games. Maybe part of the problem is the cricket authorities assuming we don't want to watch the cricket, when actually, there might just be other reasons preventing us coming to matches.

2. Make cricket grounds child-friendly.
Not that this should be the case, but women are still often the ones left holding the babies. Newsflash #2: It's hard to travel to cricket matches with a baby. Couldn't those in charge make it a bit easier? Make the changing facilities a bit better. Provide space to put the buggies. Free baby food with every pint of Guinness (bleurgh). Anything to make it seem that babies at cricket matches are welcome, rather than a nuisance.

3. Have a few female club members show up.
You know those shots on TV when they zoom in on the members, and they're all men? I know you do; it happens every Test. It's not the greatest advert for county cricket clubs in the world, to be honest. It's also a little off-putting.

If there were more female club members, more women would attend matches. And then they'd be on the TV. And then more women would want to join the club. Win-win for the club, right?

Admittedly, I may be exaggerating this problem, because I spend most of my time at Lord's. Every single MCC member that you see is a bloke. And when you remember that the MCC only let in female members with great reluctance 14 years ago, it doesn't exactly make you feel at home.

All of which brings me on to my next point:

4. Make cricket grounds feel more "gender-neutral".
Women exist. Hello. We also play cricket, and have done since the 18th century. You wouldn't think that if you rocked up at any cricket ground round the world, and had a stroll round. Read the names on the gates. Look at the statues. Go inside and look at some of the photos on display.

Here's an idea: build a Rachael Heyhoe-Flint statue at Lord's, to honour her successful campaign for female membership of the MCC. Or put in an Enid Bakewell gate at Trent Bridge.

Anything to show that cricket grounds aren't exclusively male spaces. Because it sometimes feels that way at the moment.

5. Don't have female cheerleaders at the IPL.
When women watch (men's) cricket, do we see other women? Not very often. And when we do, who do we see? Stunningly beautiful, skinny, skimpily-dressed IPL cheerleaders. And you wonder why we don't want to rock up at the Oval in an "I love cricket" hoodie and jeans (the weather doesn't usually allow for less).

How about more female cricket presenters? How about more female commentators on TMS, and not just during women's tournaments? (The Sofa are better than most at this, which is encouraging, but nobody's perfect.) How about a female umpire or groundsman? How about having a woman ring the bell to signal the start of play at Lord's? Or - now this would be fun - have a woman announcer.

If we see women involved in cricket matches, and not just as objects of fawning male admiration, we might end up being more likely to come along.

6. Promote women's cricket.
I'm boringly predictable, aren't I? Good.

It's part of the same thing, really. The point is that those involved in the game need to show that women and cricket do mix, to disprove the feeling many women experience that we need to keep quiet about the fact that we love a game which "only men can really understand". If we can read every day about other women who play the game a damn sight better than most men we know, it'd be pretty encouraging.

Why do you think that the only matches with more female spectators than male are women's matches? It's because it's a place where women feel we are allowed to like cricket. If we felt the same at men's matches...well, you do the maths.

Finally, don't patronise us. I've understood the laws of cricket since I was 10. I may be female, but I don't need champagne or boys in suits to make me head to Lord's or The Oval on a summer weekend.

And, unlike my dad, who normally fits in a snooze somewhere between lunch and tea, I quite like watching every ball.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What Margaret Thatcher did for women's cricket

Margaret Thatcher died yesterday (as if you didn't know).

She was, in the words of the BBC's Nick Robinson, "a woman who inspired passion - both love and loathing." The twitter reaction proves as much.

I have my own political views, of course. But that isn't what this blog post is about and I will keep those to myself for the moment.

This post is about what Maggie did for women's cricket.

The Lords Taverners, in case you hadn't heard of them, are the UK's leading youth cricket and disability sports charity. Their mission is "to enhance the prospects of disadvantaged and disabled young people using cricket and other forms of sport and recreation to engage with them." In the last decade (according to wikipedia) they have raised and distributed over £30 million to schools, clubs and special needs organisations.

The Taverners was formed in 1950 by a group of actors, including Martin Boddey, the founding Chairman; they were drinking buddies at the Tavern pub next to Lord's Cricket Ground. From the very beginning, the members raised funds for grassroots cricket "through an eclectic mixture of showbusiness and cricket" - including, notably, cricket matches starring big names from both worlds. They also quickly established the tradition of granting the sitting Prime Minister honorary membership of their organisation.

But there was a rule. Only men could become members.

The Taverners had been around for 29 years when Thatcher became the UK's first female Prime Minister. No one expected it - least of all the Lords Taverners. It is unlikely that they had even thought about what to do if she won the 1979 general election.

Dilemma: How do you grant honorary membership of an all-male organisation to the standing PM, when the standing PM happens to be a woman?

Discussions took place behind the scenes well into the 1980s. It took a while to answer the question above, but in 1987, eight years into Thatcher's premiership, a solution was reached: the Lady Taverners, an all-female branch of the organisation, was formed, with Thatcher becoming Honorary Lady Taverner No. 1.

23 other women were also invited to join - those who had already had some involvement with the Lord's Taverners, some who were wives of male members, including Joan Morecambe (the first President), and possibly the best known female cricketer to ever play for England, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint.

Intriguingly, the Lady Taverners website states that "there was some opposition in the early days" to their formation. It's that old chestnut, isn't it, that women and cricket just don't mix. But Thatcher was Prime Minister, and suddenly they had to.

There are now over 1,000 members of the Lady Taverners and, much like their male counterparts, they have proved an incredibly effective fundraising body, donating over £12 million to various causes since their formation in 1987. There are other legacies too. It is perhaps natural that an all-female organisation, with Rachael Heyhoe-Flint as one of its earliest members, would choose to devote resources to the encouragement of girl's cricket. One recent example is their support of the ECB's national girls-only cricket competitions for U11, U13 and U15 girls, which have brought many girls into the game who might well otherwise have never picked up a bat.

And one more. Throughout the 1990s, Heyhoe-Flint led a campaign for female membership of the MCC, in the face of continued "no" votes from the members, who appeared to think that if women were allowed into the Long Room the world might end. It took until 1998 for the necessary two-thirds majority to be secured and a change in the MCC's constitution to be effected, paving the way for the first female members in 1999 (Heyhoe-Flint among them). From what I've read, Rachael's membership of the Lady Taverners greatly increased her credibility in the eyes of some MCC members - and it also provided her with several contacts who managed to drum up high-profile support for the campaign, such as Tim Rice, David Gower and Rory Bremner.

I haven't found any evidence to suggest that Thatcher was personally interested in women's cricket. But without her, the Lady Taverners would quite likely not exist, and it's possible that the MCC would still be the last bastion of misogyny in England. Maybe, just maybe, having a female Prime Minister did change a few things after all.

If you would like to find out more about the Lords or Lady Taverners, please visit their website:

Friday, April 5, 2013

On Raj, "Resting", and Player Rotation

India Women have just concluded a T20I series whitewash against Bangladesh, minus two of their leading players, Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. Prior to the series, it was announced by the BCCI that they had not been selected. The word "dropped" was very carefully not used when the announcement was made. Instead, Gargi Banerjee, chair of the women's selection committee, stated that the two players were being "rested" for the course of the series.

This is an interesting use of the term and in my view, it calls into question broader issues about the "resting" of players in both women's and men's cricket.

The resting of players, or "rotation policy" as it has been termed, is a fairly recent phenomenon in the cricketing world. A trawl through recent history suggests that it has come into vogue largely since the introduction of T20Is into the cricketing calendar nine years ago, a fact that has not only increased the workload of players at international level, but has lured many into further loading their personal schedules by heading abroad to play in T20 leagues, notably the IPL.

Notable examples from the past 12 months include Anderson's exclusion from the squad for the third Test against the Windies in June 2012, the non-selection of Anderson, Swann and Trott for England's ODI series in India in January 2013, KP missing the New Zealand ODIs in February, and of course a number of high-profile decisions by Australia to rest players - including, possibly most controversially, Mitchell Starc, who missed the second Test against Sri Lanka in December 2012 after taking 5-63 in the first Test. I could go on...

But you might be wondering why it is that I haven't used a single example from women's cricket. Well, player rotation in women's cricket is practically non-existent. Why? Let's think for a minute about the chief reasons which have been put forward to explain why player rotation is now regularly practised in the men's game:

1. There is a hell of a lot of international cricket being played these days.

2. It prolongs the careers of players, in particular fast bowlers, if you don't select them for every single match.

3. Resting players will mean they perform optimally when they return to the side, and will possibly return hungrier for success.

4. It's a good idea to have a large pool of players to choose from, in case of injury (which is inevitably going to happen to your top players at some point). To improve the performances of your secondary players, they need to have as much international match experience as you can possibly give them.

5. It gives the fans and journos something to moan about.

None of these (bar reason 5, ahem) are applicable in the women's game. While it would be amazing to have a large player pool, in a sport where resources are stretched to the maximum and there is minimal funding, most squads for international tours contain only 15 players. Players cannot be rushed over from abroad mid-series, and, with only limited contracts available (this varies between countries), there is far less opportunity for new players to break into the squad at short notice.

Too much international cricket? The concept in women's cricket is, frankly, laughable. In 2012 Raj played 28 days of international cricket. Yes, 28. (By comparison, the top male players are playing for probably 10 months of every year, not including stints in the IPL.) The next series India are scheduled to play has not yet been fixed (such arrangements are often made at the last minute), but will most likely not be for several months. The women's game is crying out for MORE cricket, not less. This also invalidates reasons 2 and 3, because players by most measures simply do not play enough cricket to worry about being too tired to perform at their best, or having their careers cut short (for most women retirement still comes at a time when other commitments, such as the careers they are forced to have outside cricket, take over, and not when their bodies wear out).

In short, "resting" players in women's cricket is - right now, anyway - totally unnecessary.

Which leads me to think that ultimately, this whole thing isn't really about player rotation at all. What is it about? Banerjee said the following when questioned about the decision:
the seniors such as Mithali and Jhulan have played more than 100 ODIs. Also, they are 30 years [Raj is 30, Goswami is 29] and I don’t see them playing in the next World Cup, which is four years away. We have to look at the future.
Aside from the fact that 30 is hardly past it, especially for Raj, a batsman; that neither player looks past their prime; and that both performed admirably at the recent World Cup, in spite of the team's overall poor showing there, this throws into question the use of the word "rested". The term is totally inappropriate to describe what has happened to Raj and Goswami. They don't need rest (unless there's something going on behind the scenes with either player, which I doubt). They've been sidelined to make room for newer players.

There are wider issues at stake here. In my view there is nothing wrong with "resting" players in theory. The real problem with player rotation is that no one is quite clear precisely what it means, or when it is being used.

Is it only about giving players who look tired a rest, or is it also about not using players in formats of the game in which they are weakest? (Then again, isn't that just being "omitted", or "dropped"?) Is it partly about making players keener to compete for their place in the side, even if they don't feel tired? Should players miss whole series', or just individual games? Should it be used when there is a dead rubber, to "blood" new players? Should it be used against "lesser" teams, when there is a bigger series like the Ashes coming up?

Is it only really applicable to fast bowlers with a large workload? Do the players get a say in it? Who decides when a player needs rest? The player themselves? The coach? The sports scientists behind the scenes?

As far as I can see, no one has answered any of these questions satisfactorily.

This isn't the first time the term has been used deceptively. At the end of last year, Peter Siddle missed the Boxing Day Test. The selectors claimed at the time it was because he was being rested - but we later found out he was in fact already carrying an injury. This was deliberate deception on the part of the Australian administration. The concept of "player rotation" has also been used to justify the poor treatment of Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith, who were brought in for the first match of the ODI series and then discarded for the remainder. All this quite possibly explains why Inverarity is so touchy about use of the term "player rotation".

Inverarity reckons the fans and the media have no right to know if a player is being "rested" or is injured. In his words, in the press conference following the Test matches against Sri Lanka: "I don't think it's in the interests of the player to reveal every little niggle. Players don't want to be seen as vulnerable or physically suspect and we respect that. We'd rather take the heat than the players. We won't always say that he's got a bit of a bad knee because more can be made of it and it's awkward for the player." I happen to disagree with Inverarity here. I can't quite see the point of trying to cover up an injury when presumably it will come out at a late date anyway. Does being dishonest really benefit anybody in the long run?

But in any case, the trouble with so-called "Informed Player Management" is that it's not informed at all. I'm willing to bet that both Raj and Goswami, given the choice, would have bitten your right arm off to play those three T20Is. So what if it's "only" Bangladesh? They play so little cricket as it is that for these women, each time they get to walk out onto a cricket field in an Indian cricket shirt and represent their country is doubly, no, triply precious. It's obvious they had no involvement in the decision.

I think it's similar for male cricketers - because the risk always, of course, is that someone else will come in and do well, and possibly knock you out of the running. Anderson made it quite clear that he wanted to play in that third Test against the Windies. He didn't get to. Back in 2007, Kallis was "rested" for the T20 World Championship without being consulted first - and promptly quit as vice-captain. Presumably the vast majority of these decisions are made without input from players?

Do players even understand whether they are being rested or omitted due to lack of form? As Stuart MacGill said recently, in reference to the Australia selection policy:
I don’t think the rotation system has been clearly defined to the players. If it is clearly defined you might have a difference of opinion. For example, in one day cricket I thought the best way to stem to flow of runs was to take wickets, whereas John Buchanan thought it was to keep the run rate down. I disagreed with him, but I was comfortable with the selection policy at the time. I don’t think that same clarity can be claimed now.

The latest example of confusion came only yesterday. Matt Prior has been omitted from England's provisional squad for the Champions Trophy this summer. Eh?? This is the best wicketkeeper-batsman in world cricket, who has just miraculously saved a Test for England. Several people on twitter described this as "resting" Prior. Is it resting? Or do England still not consider him good enough to bat in this format? It would be helpful to know.

So, here's my point: the selectors, in both men's and women's cricket, need to come right out and actually say what they mean. Trying to obfuscate the issue by using the terms "rested" and "rotated" when what they really mean is "we lack faith in this player in this particular format", or even just plain "we have dropped this player", is not helpful for the players, the media or the fans. There are occasions when resting is appropriate, of course, and maybe it's fair enough to not have selected Raj or Goswami for a series against a weaker team like Bangladesh, and to bring in some newer players - but to use the term "rested" as a synonym for other issues is a problem. It doesn't tell the whole story, and it undermines the whole concept of player rotation.

We'd have one less thing to moan about, but it would be nice, all the same, for the selectors to practice a little bit of Informed Fan Management when it comes to player rotation.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A feminist analysis of Homeworkgate

Homeworkgate: noun. A controversy in which four Australian players (Watson, Pattinson, Johnson and Khawaja) were dropped for the third Test after failing to provide coach Mickey Arthur with feedback on their own and the team's performance in the humiliating loss against India.

We've all read about it and we've all (with the possible exception of some Australians) had a pretty good laugh about it. But what, precisely, is behind it all?

It's obvious that it's about more than just the failure to complete a piffling piece of homework set by Mickey Arthur. If that was all it was, it would, indeed, be the "very harsh" punishment Watson considers it to be, and the ridiculously drastic move it has been labelled by commentators and fans. But that's not the whole story.

So what is it about? The key is this statement from Clarke, in a press conference yesterday:
"I want the public and the media to's not just about one incident. Firstly on this tour our performances have been unacceptable and there has been some stuff off the field [that has been unacceptable] for the standards an Australian cricket team needs to present itself to achieve what we are trying to achieve...In my opinion, for the four players to not do it, not only does it let the team down, it also shows a lack of respect for the head coach and in the Australian cricket team that is unacceptable."

In my view it's not the lack of respect for the coach that really matters here. Homeworkgate is symptomatic of a more significant problem in Australian cricket: a lack of respect amongst a not insignificant group of players, influenced by the media and the fans, for their captain. Why is it lacking? With my feminist hat firmly in place I can safely say it's about something pretty damn fundamental: masculinity.

As many have pointed out, this is not the first time that Clarke has faced issues with other members of the Australian team. Previous form has included the infamous confrontation with Katich, the ending of Symonds' career, and the rumoured fall-out with Hussey following his retirement earlier this year. Pat Howard has also alluded to "difficulties" in the relationship between Michael Clarke and Shane Watson prior to this incident. In the media coverage of and fan reactions to all these incidents, Clarke has faced continued criticism. He has more often than not been portrayed as the one at fault. Why? His lack of "blokey" credentials.

The Katich scrap is the perfect example. Apparently what happened was this: following a match victory, Clarke wanted to leave the after-party in reasonable time in order to spend the evening with his girlfriend. Katich felt this was unreasonable, so to try and prevent him leaving he GRABBED HIM BY THE THROAT, and the whole thing escalated from there. Does this sound like reasonable behaviour on behalf of Katich? No. But in almost every media outlet "Katto" was portrayed as "the ultimate bloke's bloke", defending the team against the guy who wanted to betray them all by leaving the party a little early. No doubt the term "under the thumb" was bandied around too. Then, when Clarke became captain and Katich was dropped, Katto was again the mistreated hero of the hour.

This is important because we're talking about a nation where the cricket captaincy is, more than most, historically associated with masculinity. Greg Chappell. Allan Border. Steve Waugh. "Hard-nosed warriors that would rather hammer a slab in the dressing sheds than go anywhere near a cocktail party", as this article from the Sydney Morning Herald in November last year suggests. Clarke just doesn't match up to that traditional idea of what it means to be Australian cricket captain. He dates models. He takes his shirt off for TV ads. For goodness' sake, this is a guy who CRIED in a press conference after Ponting retired. (This is presumably why a lot of Aussies didn't want him as captain in the first place.)

Clarke has consistently defied the critics since he took over as captain - taking Australia from fifth place in the Test rankings to third, and scoring a mammoth 1595 runs, including four double-centuries, in a calendar year. But an incident like this one, in the midst of a disastrous and humiliating tour, seems to have brought to the surface some of those old doubts about his fitness to lead his country. Doubts that some within the Australian cricket team seem to me, in refusing to complete Clarke and Arthur's assignment, to share.

Homeworkgate is therefore, at its heart, about Clarke struggling to assert his authority over his team. Unfortunately, he has chosen to do this through his insistence on the importance of "thinking" to one's place in the team:
"We were asked to do one thing from the head coach. It was giving information back to the head coach about not only improving your game - what you've learnt from the first two Test matches - but also how can you help this team turn things around and have success...It was a very simple task. Yes, it took a lot of thinking because you had to look at your game and where you thought you could improve, what you had learnt and what you could do to help this team level this series."
Why unfortunately? Because as has become obvious, most fans and commentators disagree with Clarke here: the general feeling is that players should be concentrating on training, playing and physicality more generally - the very antithesis of the intellectual exercise which has given this whole incident its name, "homeworkgate". Or to put it another way: the Aussies are in India to play cricket, not to fill out bloody forms.

This incident has therefore had the unintended effect of serving to detract from Clarke's so-called "masculine" credentials even further. Why? Because intellectuality and traditional conceptions of manliness just do not mix. Clarke is seen as siding with the intellectuals, and Pattinson as the guy who has bowled his heart out for his country and been dropped for not doing the paperwork.

This is of course a ridiculous dichotomy. Cricket is a game where self-analysis is fundamental to improving your performance. Ducking Beamers said it better than I could in his blog on the subject:

"Mickey Arthur...wanted his cricketers to reflect and think about their game. It's a very common exercise in coaching - 'Tell me what you think you did wrong' - as it forces you to get out of habit and to see your flaws...this wasn't really that ridiculous an assignment at all - if you want a bunch of players who can analyze their strengths and weaknesses and express them clearly enough, then this makes perfect sense to me."

In this respect, the best cricketers are often NOT the most "manly" ones. They are the ones with the best cricket brains. But Clarke is still, it seems to me, facing the challenge yet again of having his masculinity, and thus the respect of the players, called into question.

If this all sounds a bit far-fetched, just look at what Osman Samiuddin said about the incident on twitter:
"I want views of Chappell, DK Lillee and Rod Marsh on punishments for not doing homework. This feels like a seminal moment in Aus manliness."
Cricinfo later included this in their article with the comment: "Osman Samiuddin says aloud what everyone else is thinking".

Sadly, I think they're right.

Where is Australian cricket going wrong? It's nothing to do with the captain and coach now being a laughing stock the world over, and everything to do with the fact that some key players do not have the respect for their captain that they should, seemingly for the most stupid of reasons. Did Australia's Southern Stars win the World Cup because Jodie Fields was the blokeist captain? Errr, no. They won because they played the best cricket. Clarke is a damn good cricketer and the other members of the team, the cricket media, and the fans, need to have a bit more respect for that. Stop questioning his manliness, stop questioning his authority, and start trying to win some cricket matches.

But then, I'm a feminist. So that's what I would say, isn't it?

Friday, March 8, 2013

5 pioneer women cricketers (in honour of International Women's Day)

1. Molly Hide 

One of the best women's cricketers the world has ever seen - and she played the game at a time when women were starved of the best coaching and resources. She played in 15 Tests, including the first ever women's Test match between England and Australia at Brisbane in 1934, and captained England from 1937 to 1954, when she retired.

Her batting was both graceful and powerful. She made two centuries in her career, at a time when this was a rare feat in women's cricket - the first against New Zealand at Christchurch in 1935 (when she also put on 235 with Betty Snowball, in a match which New Zealand lost by an innings and 337 runs), and the second against Australia at the SCG in 1949, in which she finished on 124*, and in the wake of which her portrait was hung in the SCG's pavilion. She also hit five international 50s.

She retired with an average of 36.33 and remained involved with women's cricket, becoming President of the Women's Cricket Association in 1973.

Neville Cardus witnessed her 124* against Australia in 1949, and later wrote: " I was completely astonished. The stroke-play seemed authentic; in fact, there was a grace and freedom in Molly Hide's batting that rather improved on the congested utilitarianism of many a county professional."

Probably my favourite ever female cricketer.

2. Diana Edulji

Aside from Mithali Raj, India's best ever female cricketer, in my view. If Hide pioneered the game in England, Edulji did so in India. She began her cricket in the 1970s, at a time when the game was widely ridiculed in Indian society, and her name is probably still synonymous with women's cricket in India.

Her international career spanned the years 1976 to 1993. A left-arm spinner, she played in 20 Tests and 34 ODIs. In Tests, she took 63 wickets at an average of 25.77; in ODIs 46 wickets at an average of 16.84. In 1993, she took 4-12 in a World Cup match against England - her best ever bowling performance in ODIs, and it came against the side playing in home conditions, who went on to win the World Cup.

Her best ever performance in Tests came against Australia, the best team in the world at the time, in Delhi in 1984 - only India's fifth Test. She took 6-64, and in the process broke the record for most wickets in women's internationals. She is still the third highest ever wicket taker in women's Test matches.

In an interview in 1987 she was asked about her future, and her marriage prospects. "I am married to cricket", she replied. She has gone on to be an administrator in women's cricket, and more recently partake in one of my favourite activities - criticism of the BCCI's treatment of female cricketers.

At the height of her career, she bowled to visiting men's teams from England and the West Indies, and both Clive Lloyd and Ian Botham are on record as saying that they did not believe that a woman could bowl so well until they faced Edulji.

A true great of women's cricket.

3. Myrtle Maclagan

The first true all-rounder in women's internationals. She played in 14 Tests, including the first ever Test match in 1934 alongside Molly Hide, making a total of 1007 runs and averaging 41.95, as well as taking 60 wickets at an average of 15.58. In the first ever women's Test she took 7-10, which remained a career-best, and was instrumental in England's victory.

Her batting was truly special. She hit the first ever women's century in the second women's Test at Sydney in 1935, and hit another in the Blackpool Test against the Australians when they toured England in 1937. She also made six international 50s.

Her career can be aptly summed up by the Morning Post's assessment, published in 1935, following England's loss in the men's Ashes:

What matter that we lost, mere nervy men
Since England's women now play England's game,
Wherefore Immortal Wisden, take your pen
And write MACLAGAN on the scroll of fame.

4. Betty Wilson

Arguably the greatest Australian female cricketer of all time and certainly the leading woman cricketer of her day. She played in 11 Tests between 1948 and 1958. Her debut against New Zealand in 1948 was spectacular: she scored 90 and took 4 for 27 and 6 for 28. During the 1949 Adelaide Test against England, she made 111 and took 9 wickets.

Her best performance, though, was against England in the 1958 Melbourne Test. During this game, she became the first cricketer, male or female, to take 10 wickets and make 100 runs in the same match. This included the first ever hat-trick by a woman in a Test.

She finished her career with 862 runs at an average of 57.46, and a total of 68 wickets at an average of 11.80.

Beyond all this, though, my favourite fact about Betty Wilson is probably the fact that she refused a marriage proposal to play in Australia's tour of New Zealand in 1948. When asked why, she responded: "Why would anyone get married in preference to playing cricket for Australia?"

The Australian Under-19 Championship is named the Betty Wilson Shield in her honour and in 2005 she was awarded an honorary baggy green.

She deserved it.

5. Grace Gooder

Little is known about Grace Gooder. She only played one Test for New Zealand, against England at Auckland in 1949. (This was at a time when New Zealand were the minnows of the women's game, participating in only four Tests in the course of 20 years between 1934 and 1954.)

But in that one Test, her sole shot at international stardom, as it turned out, Gooder took 6 wickets for 42 runs in 23.2 overs. Her wickets included three of England's most dangerous batsmen - Cecilia Robinson, Mary Duggan, and Grace Morgan.

It remains the third best bowling performance by a New Zealander in women's Test matches ever - and all at  a time when New Zealand could barely draw a Test. They went on to lose this one by 185 runs.

Gooder should have played more Tests, but she never got that opportunity. I think of her as symbolic of a whole generation of women for whom that was true.

Cricket is a game where many fans have an above average knowledge of its history. Unfortunately the early internationals of the women's game are largely forgotten. Today of all days, we should take a moment to remember Hide, Edulji, Maclagan, Wilson, Gooder, and those like them - the pioneers.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

10 ways to identify a Cricket Misogynist

A week on from "PoshTelGate", here are 10 ways to spot that (hopefully) dying breed, the Cricket Misogynist.

1. They use the term "batswoman".

2. They rave about how hot Ellyse Perry is. Then, when you ask them how many international wickets she's taken, they have absolutely no idea, and don't really give a damn either.

3. They persistently refer to women's cricket as "ladies' cricket", then when you reciprocate by talking about "gentleman's cricket" they look at you like you're insane. (I mean, really. When was the last time you heard Charlotte Edwards or Suzie Bates refer to themselves as a "lady cricketer"?)

4. They find it hilarious to make puns about "fine legs", "slips", and "maidens" (not realising these jokes were already old 50 years ago). They also find it hilarious that you DON'T find it hilarious.

5. They refuse to criticise any female players, because "gosh, I didn't realise women could actually DO that. We need to celebrate this fabulous achievement."

6. They ask if women's cricket is played with a tennis ball. (The correct answer is, "no, and if it wasn't for female cricketers, Jimmy Anderson would currently be attempting to bowl reverse swing underarm." Another correct answer is to punch them, but the former is possibly more effective in the long-run.)

7. They offer to move the boundary rope in for the players before a women's match.

8. They agree to umpire in a women's game, then spend most of the match offering the players coaching tips and "encouragement" in between deliveries (such as patting them on the head when they score 4 runs).

9. When a female clean bowls them, they smile and saunter back to the pavilion like they intended it to happen. They are, after all, a "gentleman".

10. "I could play for England Women", they tell you, as they struggle to stand up from the sofa, pie in hand.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Combatting the Critics

I've spent a lot of today on twitter, joining in the general chorus of indignation which has (happily) erupted as a response to an article by some bloke called Alan Swann published in the Peterborough Telegraph (yes, clearly an extremely famous and well-respected publication, ahem). I'm not going to put the link on this blog, because I've already increased traffic to the poxy publication far too much (and you can google it if you really want to), but here are the key sections relating to women's cricket:

Never before can so much screen time have been awarded to a sport that provokes as little interest as women’s cricket. I followed the World Cup on Sky Sports because local girl Charlotte Edwards is the England captain, but I hope she will forgive me when I say her sport is as dull as..... well pretty much every other sport that involves solely females. It’s a biological statement rather than a sexist one, but women just don’t push my buttons in a sporting sense. They aren’t quick enough, and they aren’t strong enough which should be enough to ensure that they aren’t as richly rewarded in terms of prize money or funding. England’s lady cricketers, have benefitted from some clever marketing in the past notably by staging Twenty/20 matches as warm-up encounters ahead of a men’s international. But such an innovation can backfire. Comparisons between the male and female versions of the game are inevitable, and unflattering to the fairer sex. True, the ladies have started to hit more sixes, but as the batters generally face a set of trundlers, it may not mean that much.The standard of ladies cricket looks pretty low to me. I wouldn’t expect any England player to be able to hold a place down in Peterborough Town’s starting XI for a Northants Premier League match. I know Arran Brindle once cracked a ton against Market Deeping in the Lincs Premier Division, but that’s a sub-standard competition and Deeping haven’t had a decent bowler since their groundsman’s heyday in the early 1960s. ...
Of course I’m certain to be accused of blatant sexism by the hard-of-thinking and the easily-outraged, but the viewing figures and live attendance totals will back my opinion up. Those numbers should also be taken into account when sports funds are allocated. Financial help should be determined by the level of public interest and not by the desire to chase a few cheap medals. Otherwise it’s just a waste.
(If you would like to contact the publication expressing outrage, please do so. You can tweet them at @peterboroughtel or email

Naturally, I hesitate to give this sort of drivel the publicity it does NOT deserve. However, some of the responses on twitter, as well as the very fact that the folks at the Peterborough Telegraph saw fit to publish the article in the first place, indicate that these kinds of attitudes remain both acceptable and common parlance in the world of sport in the 21st century.

Few people would describe the situation in as extreme a way as Alan "Sexist Pig" Swann, but I have heard many statements similar to the above expressed in everyday conversation regarding the women's game, and I'm sure others have as well. Additionally, even if such sentiments are not expressed outright, it is clearly still the case that women's cricket is severely under-reported and receives less exposure than it deserves. Cricket is still considered Blokey (I wrote a post on this a few weeks back, but I'm not sure anyone read it). Many journalists and bloggers who I deeply respect, and who are far more talented than me when it comes to analysis of the game of cricket generally, ignore women's cricket completely when a major tournament is not ongoing.

I therefore think that it is worth considering some of the issues which have been raised by today's debate, in a rational and considered manner (which is not generally possible in 140 characters), and establishing how, when faced with inaccurate statements regarding women's cricket, we as fans should respond.

Here goes:

Inaccurate statement #1: Women's cricket is dull, so no one should bother investing in it.

Though it's not often said outright, I actually think quite a few people would agree with this statement. In the era of "T20 is god" cricket, the fact that you don't see a ton of mis-hit sixes in every single women's game appears to devalue it as entertainment in many people's eyes.

How to respond? Well firstly, I'm sure almost everyone would admit that men's cricket is sometimes dull. The middle overs of an ODI? Watching a team amass 700+ runs on the first two days of a Test match on a batsman's paradise pitch? The last session on the fifth day of a high-scoring draw? I love all these things about cricket - but it doesn't mean that every moment is scintillating.

It is of course okay to find women's cricket dull. I don't watch football for precisely that reason. The key point is that it's a matter of opinion. Frankly, I'd rather watch a game where runs are scored through skill and tenacity, than one where the ball is blasted over the head of the bowler a few of times an over (that's why I will always prefer Test cricket). But that's up to me. One person's opinion of the sport should not dictate to others what they should and should not invest time and money in.

The reason why the Alan Swann piece is misogynistic, therefore, is not because he finds women's cricket dull, but because he concluded the piece by suggesting that his opinion of women's sport makes the whole shebang not worth investing in. This argument is based on several other inaccuracies, which I will now deal with:

Inaccurate statement #2: Women's cricket is not as good as men's cricket, so no one should bother investing in it. (This is often expressed in the form of "I could play for England Women", or some such similar claptrap.)

I hear this all the time - most recently regarding the whole Sarah Taylor hoohah. The point is, one isn't better or worse. They are DIFFERENT. The comparison is redundant - it's like showing up for a T20 match featuring KP, and having to sit through a day's Test cricket with Boycott at the crease. If you're expecting women's cricket to be exactly the same as men's cricket, you probably will be disappointed.

We need to stop with the endless comparisons. It devalues the women's game and gives people like Alan Swann a voice. The media should be covering the women's game on its own terms (and they also need to give it a damn sight more coverage, but that's a separate point).

NB: If you do end up in conversation with someone who implies they would fare well against a women's side, it's worth delving a little deeper. You may well end up finding out that the bloke in question's claim to fame is that he once scored 25 for Peterborough Town.

Inaccurate statement #3: No one turns up to watch women's cricket, so it clearly isn't as worthwhile as men's cricket and no one should bother investing in it.

Two key points here: firstly, it is completely absurd to suggest that the value of a sport is in direct proportion with how many people turn up to watch it. Seriously, what?! It's like saying all Test matches played in England are automatically better than those played in India, purely because tickets always sell out. Ridiculous.

Secondly, I will admit that yes, it is disappointing that so few people turn up to watch women's games, even World Cup games. But the answer isn't to say "oh well, it must be rubbish then" and bugger off to the pub for a pint. The answer is to treat the women's game with respect by giving it more publicity - both in advance, so that locals are aware a match is going on, and during, so that people can follow the sport properly. The lack of decent publicity has always been a problem for the women's game, and has meant that it has not been able to develop the same kind of fan base as men's cricket. As coverage increases, as we saw during the recent World Cup, the fan base will develop - and this in turn will encourage more people to turn up to matches in person.

Which takes me on to inaccuracy number 4:

Inaccurate statement #4: The media should not bother reporting on women's cricket because no one is interested.

This is one of those stupid circular arguments. As I've just argued, people will not be interested in a sport that they cannot read about, watch on TV, or follow in the media. On the other hand, if women's cricket is regularly reported, it will become part of the sporting map and people will accept it as such.

Look at what happened with English cricket during the 2005 Ashes series. A whole load of people became fans of the game who didn't give a rat's arse about Test matches before the series started. Do you think they would have suddenly become transfixed if the matches hadn't been televised, and the games hadn't made the front pages of all the newspapers? I don't think so.

Of course, that requires a high enough standard in the women's game to produce the kind of exciting matches we've just witnessed in the World Cup. Which requires investment - which brings me neatly back to finances:

Inaccurate statement #5: Because the standard is lower. female cricketers should not be paid as much as male cricketers.

This seemed to be the main point of the aforementioned article. Which just goes to show that he hadn't done his research. Nowhere in the world are women's cricketers paid anywhere near what their male counterparts earn.

This is, of course, nothing to do with the standard. It's because we don't yet have fully-professional female cricketers. Maybe we will one day, but in the meantime the financial situation in which the women's game finds itself leads to the final inaccurate statement of the day:

Inaccurate statement #6: Men's cricket subsidises women's cricket, and this is a waste of valuable resources.

The first part of this statement is obviously true. For example, in England, some of the revenue which men's cricket generates is used to enable female England cricketers to play semi-professionally.

However, as people have pointed out on twitter, Test cricket is also used to subsidise English county cricket. The logical conclusion of this argument would therefore be that county cricket is also a waste of resources.

The point is that it's not all about instant profit-maximisation - or it shouldn't be. The English counties develop the players who are the England match-winners of the future. Similarly, increased investment in the women's game in England enabled us to produce a team of world-beaters (in 2009 England's women won every match they played). Can you put a value on that in pounds?

I'd also say this: given enough investment, and media coverage, I genuinely believe that eventually elite women's cricket will pay for itself. What's required is a little bit of patience. Unfortunately, misogyny doesn't seem to allow for that.

Here's what I'd say to those of Alan Swann's ilk: It's okay to find women's cricket dull, and maybe even to pose some of the questions above. But it's not okay to use your own ignorance of and lack of appreciation for women's cricket to conclude that a game which millions play, follow, and are passionate about, should be consigned to second-class status. That is what Alan Swann has done in his article and that is what others have tried and will keep trying to do as long as they are allowed to. That is misogynistic. That is what we are up against.

And that, ultimately, is why I'm writing this blog.

Monday, February 18, 2013

15 Things We've Learned From This Women's World Cup

1. Trying to predict the result of a women's cricket match is now as impossible as predicting anything the Pakistan men's team will do, ever.

2. Australia's Southern Stars are indisputably the best team in the world (I write this through gritted teeth). On the back of their victory in the women's Ashes in early 2011 and the World T20 a few months back, they are now number one in all formats of the game. And after the way they've played in this tournament (more gritted teeth), they deserve it.

3. The BCCI doesn't give a damn about women's cricket.

4. The West Indies have arrived. Sure, they'd caused a few upsets before this tournament. But they've now beaten two of the top three teams in the world in the 50-over format for the first time, and fought their way to a World Cup final. We'll see them in another one before long.

5. Eshani Kaushalya's name. Enough said.

6. Charlotte Edwards is a legend. She's now made more ODI runs than anyone else ever in the women's game and has equalled the highest number of centuries ever scored by a woman in ODIs. When she does go, England will miss her. A lot.

7. It's possible to play in the team that finishes fourth in the tournament and still outclass everyone in the 3 teams above you. But only if your name is Suzie Bates.

8. It's also possible to be 17 years old, bowl like a superstar and look like a supermodel. (And make a ton of women the world over hopelessly jealous.)

9. If you support your team financially they do well. If you don't, they get knocked out even when the tournament is being played in home conditions.

10. Choking happens in women's cricket too.

11. If you give it enough exposure, people will realise that women's cricket is just as entertaining and just as much of a joy to watch as men's cricket. End of story.

12. Unfortunately, according to the ICC, it is still an either/or decision between securing TV coverage of women's cricket and securing local publicity. Or, in other words, it's not their fault (almost) no one showed up to watch.

13. The Super Sixes format is only of use to people who enjoy conspiracy theories. (No, Australia didn't lose on purpose. Get over it.)

14. True equality means simultaneous rubbish umpiring in both the women's and the men's game.

15. Ellyse Perry doesn't really need two legs.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why England have lost their title, and what they can learn from history: World Cup Super Sixes review

I made two main predictions regarding the Super Sixes in my earlier blog post. The first is rather predictable, because it's what most people have been saying since the tournament began.

I'd like to hope we're on target for another Australia-England final.

The second is now rather more apt.

if there's one lesson we can take from this's that cricket defies expectation and predictability. Anything could happen! I love it!

I feel like berating my past self for writing that, because “anything” has happened. The West Indies have beaten both New Zealand and Australia, and will play the latter in the final on Sunday. Fine, but in the process they have also knocked out England, the defending champions, and left Charlotte Edwards and a squad of England players, not to mention yours truly, pretty heart-broken.

It'll be the West Indies' first ever World Cup final, and it was their first ever victory against Australia in an ODI, just as that victory against New Zealand two days ago was their first ever ODI win against the Kiwis. I've already written about the fact that this tournament has contained some of the biggest upsets women's cricket has ever seen – it's worth checking out that post because it puts this tournament into some kind of historical context. Suffice it to say here that the women's World Cup final has previously always featured two teams out of Australia, England, New Zealand and India.

This isn't just a first for the West Indies, therefore. It's a first for the women's game full-stop.

England are out, and despite the comforting 15-run win against New Zealand today there will inevitably be numerous post-mortems. How do they recover from this? There is an obvious historical parallel here. The last time the World Cup was held in India was back in 1997. England were defending champions, having won in 1993, and went into the tournament as strong favourites to retain their title.

Instead, they lost their group match to Australia by eight wickets, and were knocked out in the semi-finals by New Zealand, losing by 20 runs.

Why? They could have blamed their crazy schedule (which involved a stupid amount of flights and train rides around India). They could have blamed the poor umpiring: in their semi-final match against New Zealand, they were fined one over of their innings for taking five minutes too long to bowl their 50 overs. The unfortunate thing was that the umpires neglected to tell them this until they had already batted out half their overs. Given the small margin of victory, that one over could have been crucial.

That wasn't the whole story, though. The truth was they were taken by surprise by two teams who had come on in leaps and bounds since the 1993 World Cup. In 1992 the New Zealand WCA had merged with the men's New Zealand Cricket Board and the benefits of such a move in terms of access to resources were rapidly becoming obvious (they went on to win the 2000 tournament). Australia meanwhile, under coach John Harmer, had been embarrassed by their performance in the 1993 tournament into becoming a thoroughly athletic and competitive side. They were still amateurs; they just happened to have developed the most professional attitude women's cricket had ever seen. Faced with the terrors of Fitzpatrick's bowling, with Belinda Clark, a captain who batted like a god and set the most ridiculously attacking fields, and with a whole bunch of sledging – let's face it, this was an Australian team in the 1990s – England crumbled.

They went home badly chastened by defeat, just as they'll be doing in a few days time. How did they respond? A few weeks later, at a meeting of the Women's Cricket Association, it was decided to accept the proposed merger with the ECB. That led to a whole load more money, time and staffing resources being poured into the England women's set-up, and to the basic acceptance that in order to become world-beaters again, a far more professional approch was required.

It took England a while to recover – they were knocked out of the next tournament without reaching the semi-finals. But they got there. In 2009 they raised the trophy again.

I think there are lessons there for this England side (aside from a caution against blaming poor umpiring for the loss). In 1997 they were surprised by Australia and New Zealand; here, they've been equally surprised by two different teams. Firstly Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan women have been a relevation at this tournament and when they did not fold instantly chasing England's total, England looked unsure how to react. They bowled poorly and did not take some important catches.

Secondly the West Indies. England beat them fairly easily in their group match and almost knocked them out of the tournament before the Super Six stage. But that's now irrelevant. Over the past few days the Windies have played exceptionally well, placing enough pressure on two of the world's top teams for defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory in both cases.

England have been outshone by two teams who, seemingly while England's back has been turned, have raised their standards so much that they are now able to defeat the world's top-tier teams. Clearly this is thanks to the increased funding and support they have received in their home countries. And just as in 1997 the overwhelmingly professional attitude of Australia took England by surprise, so the quality of the cricket which Sri Lanka and the West Indies have played at this tournament has surprised them here.

England still have a team of world-class players. They were knocked out of the tournament, essentially, by a 1 wicket defeat to Sri Lanka and a 2-run defeat to Australia. But the key difference between their performances, and the performances of Sri Lanka and the West Indies, is that these latter two teams were able to perform under pressure, to up their game when it really mattered. England have performed at their best often when it didn't really matter – like today against New Zealand. That suggests to me a slight complacency on England's part – even if this was subconscious – when faced with the so-called minnow teams. In the new era we are entering, there will be far fewer games which can be won easily. The times when it doesn't really matter will be fewer and further between.

Complacency was a key problem back in 1997 and England learnt from that mistake. They need to do so again.

Predictably, I'll be cheering for the West Indies on Sunday. For the first time this tournament, it seems, what's “good for the game” and what my English instincts want actually coincide. I want Australia to lose because I'm English. I want the Windies to win because it will prove that there are no longer easily identifiable top and bottom tiers in women's cricket, and that the women's game can throw up just as many exciting and unpredictable results as the men's game.

Though ultimately, even if the West Indies lose, I guess we might have already won that particular battle.