A former, successful captain of the England men’s cricket team is alleged to have expressed the view in 1963 that women playing cricket was “absurd,” saying it was “like men knitting.”
However, this rather negative view of women’s cricket has not always been the case. In 1747, the Reading Mercury newspaper reported a match between two teams of ladies, playing at Guildford, England. “There was of both sexes the greatest number that ever was seen on such an occasion,” it read, adding that the women played “as well as most men could do in that game.” Thereafter, there was little reporting of women’s cricket, although it is now known that it was played in England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries more widely than previously understood.
It has been a long, hard slog for women’s cricket and for women in cricket to establish a voice and place in the game. Their cause has been subject to dismissive treatment from men, as exemplified by the fact that it was not until 1998 that the Marylebone Cricket Club admitted a woman, the trail-blazing Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, as a member, 211 years since it was formed. Objections to women’s membership ranged from concerns that male behavior would have to be modified to the risk of having conversations spoiled and, simply, that it is a man’s game.
Previous columns have considered the various forms and formats of men’s cricket. Women’s cricket follows the same formats with some minor variations, such as a smaller ball, shorter boundaries and four days for Test matches, instead of five.
The recently concluded men’s World Test Championship, reported on last week, is estimated to be the 2,425th men’s Test played since 1877. When play began on June 18, the England women’s team entered the third day of a four-day Test match against India at Bristol, the first time they had met in this format since 2014.
It was the 141st women’s Test match ever to be played since 1934 — less than two per year on average. Since 2000, only 30 women’s Test matches have been played, 14 of them between England and Australia.
In direct contrast, there have been almost 2,400 women’s one-day internationals (ODI) played since 1973, when the first women’s World Cup was held in England, and over 1,800 women’s T20 internationals since the first one was played between England and New Zealand in 2004.
The reasons for Test match cricket sitting on the periphery of the women’s game appear to be explained by financial considerations and a belief by administrators that the shorter forms of the game, particularly T20, are better suited to make the game more appealing to target audiences.
The view from the players seems to be different. A number of them have expressed the view that Test match cricket is the format to which they aspire in order to push their physical and mental abilities to the limit. This requires a different training regime and preparation methods.
This is not to say that the International Cricket Council (ICC) is against women’s Test match cricket since, in April 2021, it awarded permanent Test and ODI status to the women’s teams of all 12 Full Members, thus equalizing the status of women’s and men’s cricket in this group.
In addition to the 12 Full Members, there are 92 Associate Members — countries where cricket is firmly established and organized, 66 of which have both men’s and women’s teams. In 2018, the ICC announced T20 International status for all its members for the women’s game and for the men’s game from Jan. 1, 2019.
Australia is the current and five-time holder of the T20 World Cup, having won it on March 8, 2020, at Melbourne against India in front of a record 86,000 spectators, with record television audiences and 1.1 billion video views. This impressive level of support has underpinned the ICC’s strategy to expand the number and size of women’s events, giving more member countries the opportunity to compete in global qualification pathways for the major tournaments.
It has also been a major factor in cricket being able to establish near gender equality in terms of financial rewards. While this is welcome, the social and welfare contribution of women’s cricket at the grassroots level needs to be consistently nurtured.
The move to provide half of the population with the opportunity to play organized, competitive cricket has gathered pace over the last 50 years. At the highest level, the ICC has announced recently that 50-over World Cups will be played in 2025 and 2029, with four T20 World Cups scheduled for 2024, 2026, 2028, and 2030, along with a new tournament — the Women’s T20 Champions Cup — to be played in 2027 and 2031.
In focusing on the shorter formats, the ICC’s aim is to build a product that spectators will want to watch, that children will want to take up and that sponsors and broadcasters will want to be involved with.