Is Women's Cricket Too Testing?
England Women may have handed over the Ashes to the Southern Stars after last week's penultimate match in their points-based series, but there are more causes for celebration than woe. The main positive has been crowd sizes: sold out at Chelmsford and Hove for T20s and decent numbers braving the unseasonably cold weather in Canterbury for the test match.
The test match that many observers have used as evidence that the women's international game should be limited to the short forms of the game.
It's true, it was a turgid affair but supporters of men's cricket have seen plenty of turgid test match draws over the years and we embrace it as a sort of purist pleasure. At least this one ended with a result.
The second major positive has been how loudly journalists and commentators have criticised the game. Bear with me here: Mike Selvey, for example here http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2015/aug/17/womens-cricket-ashes-test-england-australia wrote a thoughtful piece (with much of which I disagree) openly criticising the execution of skills by England Women. Live television and radio broadcasts have allowed commentators to be heard tutting in frustration as England's batters throw away wickets - Lydia Greenway's being bowled ducking a bouncer was a particularly low moment - after their bowlers had done so well to restrict Australia. But only a few years ago the only coverage out there was patronising and condescending. One hopes Charles Dagnall has lost his habit of commentating more on the players' appearances than performances under the tutelage of Ebony Rainford-Brent and Isa Guha, who are learning their trade as broadcasters and should pop up more on TMS, at least, in coming years.
I wish girls' and women's cricket had been available to me as a youngster, but when it was finally an option at university, it was seen as a laughing stock. I steered clear. Now, the media has moved away from its paternalistic 'aw, look, they're trying really hard and some of them are quite pretty' into 'come on, women, the bowling was there but the batting just wasn't good enough'. Being taken seriously enough to be criticised is a wonderful result for these players.
In the pub a few weeks ago I asked my husband (avid cricket fan, not traditionally a women's sport kind of man) if he could give the first names of the England Women if I gave him the surnames. Try it for yourself now: Knight. Greenway. Brunt. Wyatt. Taylor. Edwards. Shrubsole. I'd bet you got at least a few. It may only be in cricketing households, but these are becoming household names. At a time when ticket prices for the men's international game are becoming prohibitive for young families and grass roots fans, and as the changecricket movement gathers momentum, women's cricket is a beacon of hope.
In introducing and growing the women's game, naturally T20s and ODIs will be the most entertaining, but if the international players want to play test cricket (and they do), the administrators should not return to their patronising ways by stopping them.