In the space of a weekend, both the England men’s and women’s cricket teams have resurrected their respective bids to win back the Ashes from Australia.
Last Saturday, at Lords, the women’s team won the third of three T20 matches to add to its victory in the second match. The hybrid series consists of one Test, three T20s and three One Day Internationals. It will be decided on a points basis. England now has four points to the six gained by Australia. A further six points are available via the three ODIs played between July 12 and 18.
Before the T20 match at Lords, a commemoration took place in the Harris Garden behind the pavilion. It marked the 25th anniversary of a ceremony that took place in 1998 to create the first women’s Ashes trophy. The day before a One Day International, the England and Australian teams gathered in the garden, along with other guests. There, a miniature bat signed by the players of each team, along with a copy of the Women’s Cricket Association’s constitution, was burned in a wok acquired from the kitchen. Later, the ashes were placed into a hollow wooden cricket ball, commissioned by the president of the WCA. The ball forms part of a larger trophy, which dwarfs that of the urn competed for by the men.
The significance of including the WCA constitution, drawn up in 1930, is that it contained a clause dictating that “no member of any affiliated club shall take part in any cricket challenge cup or prize competition.”
England’s captain in the first women’s Test series between the two countries in 1934 in Australia reinforced this, declaring: “We are not here for any Ashes but merely to play cricket.” Given that England won a three-match series 2-0, she may have had regrets over her stance.
First World War
At least women were allowed to play cricket during that era. In the 20 years before the First World War, almost 150 women’s clubs existed in Britain. During the war, a number of clubs disbanded and soccer became the sport of attraction. Matches between women’s teams in the stadiums of football league teams frequently attracted crowds of 50,000, all played for charity. Incredibly, in December 1921, the Football Association banned women’s football, fearing that its success would damage the popularity of the postwar men’s game. No clubs were allowed to let women’s teams play at their grounds. Worse still, the FA deemed the sport “quite unsuitable for females.” The ban was not lifted until 1969. Conversely, the growth of women’s cricket during the inter-war years was remarkable. Affiliation of schools, colleges, universities and clubs to the WCA grew from 46 in 1927 to 210 in 1938.
The association continued to exist until 1998, when it merged with the England and Wales Cricket Board. Thus, the restrictive clause that prevented women from taking part in a cricket challenge cup or prize competition was eliminated. One of those present at the recent ceremony was Clare Connor, a former captain of the England women’s team and, in 2021, the first female president of the MCC. As part of the 1998 women’s team, she was at the original ceremony. Connor commented: “It’s incredible to think how the women’s game has evolved and developed since our historic Ashes gathering ... nearly 25 years ago. Looking back, it was a really significant moment.”
While the women’s match was taking place at Lords, the men’s teams were doing battle in the third Test at Headingly, Leeds. Australia won the first two Tests, both of which could have gone either way. England’s approach since the appointment of a new captain and coach in May 2021 has been bold and expansive. It has been termed “Bazball,” much to the irritation of the coach, Brendon McCullum. The recent losses, after a run of 10 wins in 12 matches, has generated criticism of the approach as being too bold, too fearless and wasteful. Defeat at Leeds would have led critics to cry for it to be abandoned. As it was, England’s approach was more circumspect than before in chasing down 251 to win in nerve-wracking fashion. To regain the Ashes, it has to win the remaining two Tests.
Another example of “Bazball” was witnessed in Zimbabwe, where the final stage of qualification for the International Cricket Council’s men’s ODI World Cup was hosted.
Going into the 10-team tournament, Sri Lanka and the West Indies were favorites. Although Sri Lanka finished in first place, the latter disappointed hugely, finishing in fifth place. This opened the way for Scotland, the Netherlands or Zimbabwe to finish in second place. Scotland defeated Zimbabwe to set up a winner-takes-all match against the Netherlands. The Scots set a daunting target of 278, which looked a tall order at 163 for 5 after 31 overs. However, all-rounder Bas de Leede, who had claimed five Scottish wickets, hammered 123 in 22 overs. This propelled his team to victory with seven overs to spare by virtue of a slightly superior net-run rate over Scotland, the teams finishing on equal points.
Achieving a place in the finals in India, starting in October, is a remarkable triumph for the Netherlands, an ICC associate member, even more so as seven frontline players were unavailable for the tournament. They are contracted to play county cricket in England. It will be a challenge to find a balance in the Dutch World Cup squad between those who got it there and those who were absent.
In any case, its preparation for the tournament is hampered by a lack of scheduled cricket for the team prior to October, unfamiliarity with Indian conditions and limited resources. However, qualification will attract much-needed extra revenue to boost player’s wages and coaching resources. The financial gap between full and associate members is widening. Thus, expansion of the 2027 finals to 14 teams — ten full members will qualify on rankings — should provide welcome additional opportunities for associate members.