The changing face of women’s cricket

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This article was originally published in the second issue of the Women’s CricZone magazine.
It was an off the cuff, mischievous remark by Baroness Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, the pioneer of women’s cricket, during the ICC Annual Awards in 2010 in Bangalore when, sitting on a VIP table between two of the West Indies’ greatest fast bowlers – Joel Garner and Courtney Walsh – the late England captain said: “There are a few girls in cricket who would love to swap places with me right now…aren’t I the lucky one!” The two giants on either side of her broke into a fit of somewhat embarrassed laughter, not quite knowing how to respond to the diminutive English lady sitting between them. The moment wasn’t lost on me (I was working with microphone in hand) in that in just a sentence, the wonderfully affable Baroness stopped two of the most fearsome fast bowlers in their tracks. The table was hers and she was the only female at it.
A year earlier, the television company with whom I was contracted out of Singapore, had broadcast the 2009 ICC Women’s World Cup in Australia, the first time that the women’s showpiece event had been televised live. In many ways, this tournament was a landmark event for the women’s game in that for the first time it was shown on television to a global audience. It also saw the transformation of careers for so many involved: England’s Claire Taylor, for instance, who was voted the Player of the Tournament, is now involved with the development of the game with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Her teammate, Holly Colvin, is women’s cricket manager with the ICC in Dubai; Isa Guha and Ebony Rainford-Brent have both gone on to become leading figures in the broadcasting of cricket, men’s and women’s; Australia’s Lisa Sthalekar has followed the same path into broadcasting, as has India’s Anjum Chopra.
In the commentary box for that 2009 event was Melanie Jones, the former Australian cricketer, and now a pioneer for women’s sport through the auspices of broadcasting; Belinda Clark, the former great Australian cricketer and now Cricket Australia (CA) administrator; Debbie Hockley, the former New Zealand player and now President of New Zealand Cricket, and three novices in the broadcasting of women’s cricket – Wasim Akram, Danny Morrison and myself – an eclectic group of commentators but the significance of that tournament for all of us involved was tangible.
Fast track from 2009 to the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup in England which was televised to the biggest ever global audience, the development of the women’s game has seen exponential growth making it arguably the fastest growing sport in the world. The 2009 tournament broadcast eight matches; the 2017 Women’s World Cup broadcast all 31 matches in the tournament— via television and streaming services. On the field, the game has improved markedly, the pace of the game has increased and the quality of cricket in the women’s game has been enhanced because female players now have more opportunities to be coached by the best coaches, play on better cricket grounds and have better facilities to develop skills-sets.
From 2015, Australia and England professionalised their women’s teams, putting players on central contracts. All CA players are contracted on a full-time basis. England, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and India have all followed suit, albeit with differing levels of remuneration, and in more recent times the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has awarded contracts to its women cricketers. The cricket boards of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are now following that model.
As the administration of the game gathers pace, the pace of play has stepped up, too. With the introduction of the ICC Women’s Championship in which the top eight nations get to play against each other, the game is developing at a healthy rate.
“I believe that the ICC has a great opportunity to get the women’s cricket calendar structured perfectly compared with the men’s schedule,” Sthalekar told Women’s CricZone. “The ICC Women’s Championship has filled up the calendar, compared to when I was playing. Then, we’d have one tour where you’d maybe play five ODIs, or maybe two tours, but it was mainly against England, India and New Zealand, and then it was the World Cup every four years, and that was it. There are now far more opportunities for the girls to play and I am sure that more windows will be created for women’s domestic competitions to ensure that the best players play in them.”

Both Sthalekar and Jones concur that the pace of the women’s game has increased significantly from the days when they plied their craft for Australia. Players are training a lot more, in a more structured way, and the entire approach to fitness has changed. It is a full-time business for Australia’s cricketers which means that the women can concentrate on all aspects of the game from a skill base to a fitness base, whereas in their day, players got training in and around their regular work, maybe twice a week if they were lucky. The enhanced skills of the modern player are clearly evident with a batter like Australia’s Alyssa Healy whose array of skills has increased with the amount of Twenty20 cricket now played. Players are displaying more of an all-round 360 game, more aggressive batting and the ability to hit bowlers over the top.
“In 2009 there would have been a World Cup and maybe two tours, whereas in 2019, the modern players are getting paid to play in the Women’s Cricket Super League (WCSL) in England, the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) in Australia, and the Women’s India Premier League (not formally established yet, but more showpiece games), then there are international tours and the World Cup and the T20 World Cup,” said Jones. “It is a huge increase in the amount of cricket played now.”
One of the observations about women’s cricket is the paucity of fast bowlers, but Jones believes this to be an evolving process: “Cricket is faster and fast bowling resources especially in Australia are developing. Cathryn Fitzpatrick was probably the fastest bowler on the scene in years gone by, but countries do have fast bowlers who can clock 125 kph— Shabnim Ismail from South Africa, Lea Tahuhu from NZ, Tayla Vlaeminck and Ellyse Perry from Australia— but with more resources being given to develop fast bowlers’ techniques we will see more fast bowlers coming through.”
The establishment of the WBBL in Australia has seen exciting young talent coming through the ranks. It has meant the talent pool has been expanded and young players are now getting bigger opportunities in the sport playing with and against the best players in the world. The WBBL’s open invitation to overseas internationals to go and play in Australia has been a key factor in the rapid growth of the game.
With a more enhanced and competitive product developing on the field, women’s cricket appeals to a broader fanbase especially in Australia where fans feel they can get closer to the action in a spectator-friendly environment.
 
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