Womens Cricket; on the rise
Contemporary society likes to think of itself as an inclusive one; one in which all people of all backgrounds are welcome; all viewpoints are considered and all people are offered support and are accepted. No matter what we want to believe; cricket isn’t the same. Cricket is still archaic, it’s still old, it still desperately clings onto the old values of elitism and the self centred pompous belief that it is a gentleman's game. Cricket is only now leaving the dark ages. Whether it be the harrowing stories of Azeem Rafiq’s time at Yorkshire, the fact that 9 of Englands playing Xi in the last test against Pakistan went to a private school or that India women haven’t played a test since 2014 Cricket has some serious issues that over the last 18 months they have been forced to confront. For a moment let me put the final stat into perspective; India men play 9 against England this year alone both home and away whilst the women side will play 1 and this their first for 7 years. The gap is hardly closed. Now the BCCI will be at the heart of this post, as they so often are in the grumblings and discourse of modern cricket, but before I delve into the intricacies of Ganguly and his merry men we must discuss the state of the women's game right now.
The women's game is growing and so is the voice of global feminism and the call for change. Of course the correlation between women's rights activists and the growth of women in sport is a common trend throughout history. When the suffragette movement was at its peak In the early 20th century women's sport was on the rise and whilst this was primarily football the progress was there. Dick Kerr's ladies began to play in front of sell out crowds and it was only after women won the right to vote that the shattered egos of men in power decided to oppress women in sport again. In the late 1930s the first ever women's cricket association was established and the long fight began. Breaking into any sport was tough for women in the era but cricket was a whole other beast with it being drenched in fundamentally classist and elitis ideologies.
Then As a 2nd wave of feminism began to emerge in the late 70s and then prosper in the early 80s the rise of women's cricket came along with it. During this period we experienced some of the greatest players of the sport yet. In 1973 the first women's world cup was held with Rachael Heyhoe-Flint (regarded by many to be the greatest women to ever play the game) convincing Jack Hayway to spend £40,000 on the tournament. The tournament was a huge success and the MCC agreed to host the 1976 final at Lords after refusing it first time round. England won the world cup.
Once again we are witnessing a rise in global feminism and a push for true equality. The messages of equal rights are abundantly clear both on social media and in the real world and womens cricket is once again pushing for the equality it deserves. The perfect encapsulation of this was the 2020 T20 world cup final at the MCG which was attended by 80,000. This was a truly powerful event and it showed one of the fundamental solutions to the women's game. When it is advertised and marketed properly and given it’s own time and space to breathe and flourish it will do. The final also produced a small moment of progress that went under the radar but in my opinion was huge. When Mitchell Starc missed international games in order to attend the final and see his wife Allysa Healy win the world cup, the vast majority of people on social media agreed that this was the right thing to do. There was no demeaning of the women's game whilst simultaneously putting the mens game onto a pedestal. No, instead people realised that the series vs New Zealand was nothing compared to this once in a lifetime occasion and they all agreed that had Starc missed the match it would’ve been a tragedy. This slow movement away from elitism and valuing the women's game as lesser and not as important was something that was small at the time but the ramifications of which could yet be huge. Women's cricket is on the verge of breaking onto something big but without the help of the BCCI it can never truly do so.
As of the 16th of March 2021 the BCCI held a market value at around £2 billion with a yearly income of £410 million and they are also the highest paying cricket board in the world coming in at £251 million. They are the most dominant cricket board in the world and there is no sign of the money drying up. The IPL is only getting bigger and more popular and the Indian team will consistently sell out crowds wherever they travel. Their most recent deal with Vivo is worth £61.7 million. In essence finances aren’t an issue for them Ganguly (president of the BCCI) has no sleepless nights over the income of the BCCI. But then this begs the question why on earth is there no womens IPL? The 2017 was seemingly the breakthrough for this concept with India not only reaching the final but doing so with style. The swagger which had previously been missing from the Indian side had arrived and the final piece of the jigsaw was there. When we discuss some of the great One Day International innings Harampreet Kaur’s 171* in the semi final vs Australia is up there with Richards 189* and Sachins 143. The innings was filled with the kind of self assured nature that someone like Virat Kohli carries himself with and this was what drew people to the tournament.
After the 2017 world cup final between India and England in one of the best tournaments in recent history there was much chatter and the concept of an all womens IPL was put forward. In late 2018 there was a one off exhibition match between the IPL Supernovas and the IPL trailblazers. Again finances were not an issue with the BCCI having a stellar year in 2018 the BCCI was once again rolling in cash. When we compare the start of the womens IPL to the start of the mens the starting point (success in a world cup) is similar but after that the similarities come to an abrupt halt. There was hardly a year between India men winning the 2007/08 T20 world cup and the first IPL game and tournament hasn’t stopped growing since. 4 years on from India women making the final and we’re nowhere near and the future looks no better. But when we look for a sense of perspective about the inaugural challenge cup in 2018 we must compare it to the 2018 edition of the IPL surely? Well I mean what’s the point the two contents are so far removed from each other that it makes no difference. There were 60 mens games played in the mens IPL in 2018 whilst the challenge cup had one game and not even on it’s own day (more on that later) and a repeat performance the next year but at least this time there were 3 whole teams in the challenge cup and more than one game. The competition wasn’t even allowed to have the same name as their male counterpart, not even for one game could the establishment bear it. Instead we received the ‘challenge cup’ which was masked as giving the womens game it’s own identity when I believe most would agree it stunk off the board wanting as little association between the two as possible. After the challenge cup proved to be a success of sorts the competition was expanded to being 3 teams in a pathetic excuse of a ‘round robin’. The 2020 tournament was something of a sad joke, just a 5 day show of nothing. Sophie Ecclestone bowled beautifully and 4-9 but in the video the celebrations were muted there was an overwhelming sense of is this it?
What’s most infuriating is that there’s not a lack of talent in the women's game right now in fact there’s an abundance of it. In Ellyse Perry we have a God among mere mortals who in the 2013 world cup final produced a purely canonic performance. Laura Wolvaardt is one of the most elegant batters in the world right now and yes my Damien Martyn cover drive bias is definitely kicking in right now. Sophie Eccleston will undoubtedly go down as England's greatest ever spinner if she keeps on her current rate and even in India the talent is there. Shafali Verma is only 17 and is already one of India's best batsman and she is only getting better with age. Womens cricket is jam packed with talent and the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) is testament to this. The WBBL is quite simply the IPL but without the money. Cricket Australia are actually one of lowest paying cricket boards in the world coming in at a measly £25 million (10 times smaller than the BCCI) but they still host the competition every year and even did it despite covid regulations in 2020. The WBBL is a superb watch and one that contains some of the finest players to ever play the game but the thing is it’s hindered by the lack of finances and the lack of appeal. A womens IPL would be the greatest thing to happen to the women's game but sadly we know it won’t or even the proposed plans for it would clash with the WBBL and this in itself illustrates the entire ignorance and incompetence of those behind the competition and most notably Ganguly himself.
Lack of planning and thought is something that is ever present in many of the decisions behind women's cricket. Most recently the ICC gave all womens nations test playing status including Afghanistan who don’t even have a women's team. Is this an attempt to help promote women's cricket in Afghanistan or is it the meeting ending in 10 minutes and the board making a call without thinking about it. Or even the inaugural the challenger cup in 2018 was shown just before the men's game when everyone was still at work whilst the IPL usually kicks off at 7:30 to give fans time to travel home to watch the competition. It is this sort of subtle oppression that stops the women's game from growing and hinders it. This lack of exposure means that the game isn’t watched by those it matters too and therefore the BCCI don’t have to let it grow as the viewing numbers are too low. More recently when the ECB scheduled a women's T20i against the West Indies at the same time as a mens ODI against Australia in the dying days of summer 2020. This was another example of a lack of thinking by the board. I truly believe that when made to choose between the two games the majority of fans will pick the mens purely because they have seen the men's team more on their screens and they have followed them all summer they want to know what happens. They want to see the players they have grown attached to succeed. I mean I know the tour was last minute but surely it would have been possible to play the game either one day before or after. Surely this was not beyond the realms of possibility.
When Ganguly made his comments about mental health the other day the sheer ignorance and hurtful nature of the quote was deeply saddening and quite frankly it hurt to know that these are the views held by a man in a position of such power. I mean the man who is running the board who holds the future of global cricket in it’s very palm believes that mental health is some form of nationalistic competition by which we can measure who is stronger. Alas in no way were his comments surprising. Ganguly is not a man who appears to think, he is not a man who seems as if he is fit to be- in essence- running world cricket and nor is he a man who seems to possess any sense of progression and or thinking beyond his own benefit. I mean would anyone thinking beyond their own pocket have allowed a stadium full of fans at the 3rd test between England and India to sit side by side without any form of mask on? No. But Ganguly doesn’t think like this. The honourable president of the BCCI saw a brand new stadium he saw India winning with a crushing defeat and every indication leads me to believe he saw money and he went ahead. Every word out of Ganguly’s mouth must be treated first with caution and almost certainly with disdain. There is nothing he could say that I would trust. He is a man whom I despise and have no drop of respect for. His consistent commentary of putting the India men's team on a pedestal is draining and his lack of discussion about the women's game is horrendous. One can only dream of asking Ganguly himself why Kohli would never don the magenta of the Sydney Sixers or Bumrah the red of the Melbourne Renegades but they allow their female counterparts to do so? Is it truly for the betterment of the women's game? Or is it the actions of a parent who is revelling in the glory of their eldest’s music recital whilst the youngest is lost in the car park.
The BCCI have previously stated that there will be a full 7-8 team tournament for the challenge cup in 2022 but whilst Ganguly is at the helm I have no faith in this being pulled off. Once again I must stress this is not an issue of finance. Yes the BCCI were hit by the global pandemic of course they were but they still have the money. The money flow hasn’t stopped entirely; they still possess the finances to host a tournament longer than 5 days with more than 3 teams but there has been no indication of this happening. But it is in no doubt in my mind that we will hear the cries of Covid and the financial issue that a women's IPL would bring and this will almost certainly happen as the mens IPL rages on in the background. The BCCI need not even host a full womens IPL but give the teams some respect allow the contest to be played not as a warm up for the men's game and across more than 5 days. The little things like this add up and they are what make the biggest difference.
Look there are positives for the women game too of course there are. India women will tour England later this year to play their first test match in 7 years. The womens IPL is becoming increasingly likely (tho increasing from 0% to 5% isn’t much difference) every year and the all round global standard of women's cricket is improving day by day. As the standard of the game rises so will the numbers of people watching it happen in sport the world over and the aforementioned MCG final is testament to this. The hundred is around the corner and one thing the ever polarising tournament will do is provide an opportunity for more women to earn good money and exposure whilst playing a high standard of cricket- I would heavily recommend keeping an eye out for England hopeful Izzy Wong at Birmingham Phoenix. If the tournament is a success it could lead to more funding going towards the challenge cup as the BCCI grow fearful of falling behind the 8 ball. When the ECB announced an equal prize pay packet for the mens and womens edition of the 100 it was a surefire step in the right direction by the ECB and their support for the women's game has been increasing year on year. The aforementioned WBBL is continuously growing in both standard and popularity with Australian cricket now reaping the rewards of the hard work they have put in by winning 22 One Day Internationals in a row. One of the large positives of such dominances is that failure breeds innovation and it also breeds change. The BCCI and ECB are slowly realising they can no longer compete with Australia like they used to and every year the Aussies progress that bit further both on and off the field. However the caveat with this is we must not let it fall into stalemate the women's game is growing and we must help it continue to do so. I digress. Women's cricket is growing and it needs our support. The hope is there for a bright future for the women's game and we need to make it come true. In a year in which will bring further unprecedented challenges for the game as a whole let us not let this side of it fall away.