England's Women Show The Men How to Win
England's bizarre win over the West Indies on Friday was their first taste of success in any of cricket’s three formats this winter.
That victory arrived courtesy of a cynical attempt by the West Indies coach to exploit the Duckworth-Lewis method to contrive a positive result. The decision to deprive a full-house of a proper ending speaks volumes of the low-ebb the sport has reached.
However, I refer to the male form of cricket. In Australia, the ninth women’s World Cup has just ended with England victorious.
The history of women’s cricket is as rich, diverse, and as full of mystery as its male counterpart. Female have often been treated as novelty acts rather than as serious athletes.
Even when organised into national associations, discussions focused on dress code and mannerisms on the pitch. Cricket’s authorities have always been preoccupied with attracting the right kind of participant, and the class struggle did not bypass the female sport any more than it did the men’s version.
Prejudices of class accompanied prejudices of gender. Rosalie Deane, the first Australian woman to appear in Wisden, spoke in 1934 of how: “You had to love the game very dearly to stick to it because you were ostracised by society.”
For too many, their role in cricket became not in partaking, but in helping to run the clubs to which their men belonged, to make the teas and be spectators.
Despite these obstacles, England played Australia in the first international in 1934. In 1958, the International Women’s Cricket Council was formed with delegates from Australia, England, Holland, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Women’s cricket later became developed in the other Test-playing nations, and in 1973 the first ever cricket World Cup took place.
England’s current rise to supremacy follows a carefully mapped-out plan that has allowed for better preparation than their competitors.
Clare Connor had led England at the last World Cup in 2005. She had to combine her captaincy of the national side with being a PE teacher and a representative in the media. At 29 she retired.
The current England team, however, have a full-time strength and conditioning coach, and a full-time coach in Mark Lane, who is assisted on a part-time basis by ex-Leicestershire coach Jack Birkenshaw.
The players receive a coaching salary and in return they provide 25 hours of coaching in schools for eight months of the year. This is the female version of central contracts.
This investment has clearly paid off. In Claire Taylor and Sarah Taylor, England have the number one and three batters in the ICC rankings, while four of the top 10 bowlers are English.
Despite England’s success, the sport still faces the problem of identifying talent and then holding onto it. Many in the 13-19 age range give up cricket for their studies or to pursue something less time consuming. It doesn’t help that female cricket is still not taken seriously enough.
Yet this has proved to be an all-round successful competition with some notable contributions. That Pakistan is taking part is heartening considering recent events, whilst the Sri Lankans cobbled a side from just 300 players. Encouragingly, the South Africans sent a multi-ethnic side with a black captain. Centuries were scored and bowlers sent down deliveries at 120 KPH.
That such an exciting event took place within two weeks is an additional lesson from which the male form can learn considering that drawn out World Cup in 2007.
Let’s hope that the sport's profile is raised and it further benefits from the Twenty20 World Cup that is being played alongside the men’s version in England this summer. The women certainly have the better chance of winning.
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