(This blog post is in response to the latest Ladies Who Legspin podcast, which you can find here. If you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, get it in your ear holes. It has some great analysis of the women’s game and some wonderful interviews with players and other passionate cricket-lovers).
I grew up on cricket thanks to both sets of my grandparents instilling their love for it in me. I lived it, breathed it, and played it as much as I could when I was a kid over the long hot summers of the 80s and early 90s.
So I knew from an early age that the biggest enemy an Australian cricket fan could have was an English player. Even as I watched our men’s team get pummeled by the West Indies, that was nothing compared to losing to the Poms.
Which is why it’s hard to admit that the WBBL has made me appreciate, and yes, even become a fan of, some of the England women’s players over the last few summers.
Katherine Brunt, although she has terrorised the batters in my beloved Brisbane Heat team over the last few seasons, has become one of my favourite England players.
Her steely glare as she sets herself to bowl, her exuberant wicket celebrations, her powerful hitting and her ability to step up under pressure and take a game by the throat and beat it into submission with a white cricket ball has made me discover an affection for the women’s game I realised I never had for the men’s game.
Usually, I’d be over the moon for the Aussies to be so in control of an Ashes series (the old rules still apply to the men’s Ashes, and although I do have a soft spot for Jos Buttler thanks to the BBL, I want our Aussie men to obliterate England).
And that affection for the women’s game overall is why I have such mixed feelings about the Aussies dominating the Ashes series in the way that they have.
England hasn’t played badly, except in patches, but those patches have mattered. Especially against a team so full of confidence as Australia is.
But it goes deeper than that.
The widening gap between Australia’s best cricketers and everyone else is just going to get wider unless there’s a concerted effort by the ICC, the ECB and other cricket boards to invest in their women’s teams.
England’s coach, Mark Robinson, was reported as making a comment that Australian players have ‘more God-given physical attributes’, which is such a defeatist attitude for a coach to say, it’s hard to know what to say in reply to that.
If that’s what a coach is thinking, then my honest opinion is that he feels like he doesn’t have any answers. And that’s a huge problem.
I don’t know the set-up of women’s cricket in England, and I don’t really understand it here in Australia, to be honest.
But I’ll tell you what investment in the women’s game looks like.
It’s letting the best players in the country have the time and resources to hone their craft.
It’s paying them enough money to make cricket their full-time job (part-time at the very least) and providing the facilities, the coaches, and the opportunities to play and train as much as they need to in order to be the best they can be.
It’s giving them the opportunity to take control of their own careers and futures to be able to make cricket their full-time job if that’s what they choose.
It’s respecting them enough to stop pulling the rug from under them (see: the building up of the KSL only to tear it down and replace it with The Hundred).
It’s looking ten, fifteen, twenty years ahead to the superstars of the game who haven’t even been born yet and setting the platform for them.
It’s putting players and the long-term health of the game ahead of short-term revenue and gimmicks.
It’s treating them as equals with the men.
Male players have had the luxury of structures in place for over a hundred years. And while the structure of women’s cricket doesn’t need to look like the men’s game, it does need to provide a clear pathway for a girl picking up her first bat or ball to have the ability to progress to the captain of her national team.
And here’s the thing.
The fans are already there. There’s so much goodwill around women’s cricket at the moment, it’d be a shame to let it peter out to nothing and have to rebuild it all again.
As a big women’s cricket fan, I just want to watch two great teams full of passionate female cricketers go hard at it and may the best team win.
Right now, when I see the England women’s team take to the field, I see a team beaten before the game even starts.
And that’s a real shame because I’ve seen those same cricketers play amazingly well over four seasons in the WBBL, but whatever is going on behind the scenes in England cricket, it’s not bringing the best out in the players.
Perhaps the women’s game in England needs to separate from the ECB, at least in the interim, because from an outsider looking in, it doesn’t look like the ECB are prioritising the women at all.
And unfortunately for the women, while the ECB is apparently concentrating on the men’s game, they’re letting the women fall behind.
I’d hate to even think about the future women’s’ players who could be lost to the game because of a failure to build a sustainable system for women’s development.