In the final part of this series Penny Hopkins reviews the current state of women’s cricket, the growth of professionalism and some of the legends of the sport
We are in an era of unprecedented professionalism in women’s cricket. Most of the big cricketing nations have now introduced central contracts or retainers; for the West Indies it was in 2010, Pakistan in 2011, Australia and South Africa in 2013, England in 2014—although they did have ambassadorial-type contracts from 2008— New Zealand in 2014 and India in 2015. Sri Lanka also issues contracts although the details are not made public.
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While relatively few women make it to contract level, youngsters coming through can now aspire to a professional cricketing career; they have a clear pathway from youth to county, state, domestic leagues, and to national academies. As little as ten years ago top England batswoman Claire Taylor was playing and touring for England, while maintaining a full-time job in Information Technology. Nowadays, if you have the talent and the tenacity there is the opportunity to play professional cricket.
Charlotte Edwards became the first woman to score 2,000 runs in T20 internationals. She captained England 220 times, winning three Ashes series and the World Cup/World Twenty20 double in 2009.
We have already seen how international women’s cricket has pioneered in the limited overs format; the Women’s World Cup starting two years before the men’s competition. It is also at the forefront of the apparent Twenty20 revolution. Today, we have the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) in Australia and the Kia Super League (KSL) in England. Hopefully, it will only be a matter of time before a women’s Indian Premier League (IPL) is added to the calendar.
But concentration on limited overs cricket comes at a cost. Women’s Test cricket is at a low. In some countries, particularly on the Indian Sub-Continent, men’s Test cricket suffers from a lack of public interest. However, with the women’s game it is different and what they suffer from is a lack of opportunity. Most professional women cricketers would love the chance to play more Test cricket, but are being denied by the sport’s governing bodies.
It’s true that sometimes women’s Tests have been unremarkably slow events. But does the answer lie in denying women the chance to improve by removing these opportunities? At the moment it seems that cricket’s governing bodies do not want to pursue women’s Tests and some cricketing purists may consider this a mistake and a retrograde step in the sport’s development.
There can be no other woman in the history of the game who has done more for women’s cricket than Rachel Heyhoe Flint.
The ultimate game of cricket is the “Test” match and there are those who believe that women’s cricket will be significantly poorer if this long format disappears from the schedule completely.
We may get to the point, as we are with the men’s game, that some players play the short format—Twenty 20—game only and travel the world playing in different national leagues, while making a living. We’re not there yet as most domestic T20 leagues are relatively new, but it may happen in the future.
Another area in which women’s cricket has been leading the way is with the prestigious Women’s Ashes. The Ashes trophy has been fought for since 1934 and is seen by many as the pinnacle of the sport. In 2013, it was decided that the series would be played in a points format. The teams contest one Test match, three 50-over ODIs and three T20s with points awarded for each game. It started with six points for Test win (two each for a draw), and two for an ODI or T20 win. However, it was decided that six points for a Test win skewed the result too much so in 2015 this was reduced to four.
There have been suggestions that although there would be no chance of the Men’s Ashes being played over multiple formats, there may be scope for it to be introduced in series played in countries where ODI cricket is more popular than Test cricket.
On August 3, 2017 a gender equity pay model with the biggest pay rise in the history of women’s sport in Australia was made by Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association. An historic agreement means that payments to women’s players will rise from the previous total of AUS$7.5 million to $55.2 million for a five year term. There will be one agreement for all male and female players, for the first time in Australian cricket. A revenue sharing model will ensure that all players — male and female — are partners in the game of cricket. Once again Australia is showing the way for professional female athletes and this agreement will go down in history not only for cricketers but for women in sport everywhere who strive for gender equality.
Rachael Heyhoe Flint
There can be no other woman in the history of the game who has done more for women’s cricket than Rachel Heyhoe Flint. As well as being instrumental in the founding of the World Cup, she was the first woman to take on the archaic laws of the Marleybone Cricket Club (MCC) when in 1991 she applied for membership of that august, though all-male club. Although she didn’t succeed at the first, or indeed the second attempt, she persisted until the MCC, realising theirs was an anachronistic policy, voted in favour to admit women members in September 1998. Heyhoe Flint played for England between 1960 and 1982. and she was captain for 11 years, not losing a Test during that period. She was the first woman to hit a six in a Test match at the Oval in 1963 against Australia, and she was the first woman to captain an England team in a match at Lord’s. In 2010 Heyhoe Flint became the first woman to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame. In all she played in 22 Test matches, finishing with a batting average of 45.54, and 23 ODIs with an average of 58.45.
One of the first Australian superstars was Belinda Clark. She captained her national side from 1994 to her retirement in 2005. She was the first woman to score a double century in an ODI with her 229 not out against Denmark in Mumbai at the 1997 World Cup. Clark was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2011. On retiring she went into cricket administration and has been instrumental in the development of the Australian Women’s Cricket Team.
The rise of the likes of Belinda Clark was only made possible by such players as Betty Wilson who paved the way for them. Wilson played for Australia at a time when only Test matches were played between 1947-48 and 1957-58. On her Test debut against New Zealand she scored 90 and took 4/37 and 6/28 with her off-spin. In the Test at St. Kilda against England in 1957–58, she became the first cricketer, male or female, to score a century and take 10 wickets in a Test, including the first hat-trick taken by a woman in a Test. In her international career Wilson played 11 Tests scoring 862 runs at an average of 57.46 while taking 68 wickets at 11.80.
Enid Bakewell was a formidable all-rounder, one of the best England has ever produced. Between 1968 and 1979 she played 12 Tests and 23 ODIs. In Test matches she scored 1,078 runs at an average on 59.88. She also took 50 wickets at an average of 16.62. In the first Women’s World Cup in 1973 Bakewell scored 118 and took 2/28 in 12 overs in the final match against Australia. In 2012, she became the third woman to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame following in the illustrious footsteps of Rachael Heyhoe Flint and Belinda Clark.
Throughout Charlotte Edwards’ 20-year international career she saw changes to women’s cricket beyond what she could only have dreamed was possible, and she was at the forefront throughout this evolution. Edwards made her England debut at 16, then the youngest player to play for England. Ten years later she was the England captain, after temporarily taking over from the injured Clare Connor, eventually taking over the reins full-time when Connor retired in 2006. Her achievements are legendary and well-documented, particularly during this period of great change and upheaval in women’s cricket. Edwards became the first woman to score 2,000 runs in T20 internationals. She captained England 220 times, winning three Ashes series and the World Cup/World Twenty20 double in 2009. Her Test batting average is 44.10 while in ODIs it is 38.16 and in T20s 32.97. She was also a useful bowler, taking 75 wickets in all formats of the game. But it is her example as a leader and ambassador for the sport that will be felt for years to come. She continues to be a force for women’s cricket and an inspiration for the next generation of players.
Chopra was one of the first greats of Indian women’s cricket. She made her international debut in 1995 and had a career spanning 17 years. Her smooth batting skills drew comparison with those of David Gower; elegant and seemingly effortless. She played 12 Tests at an average of 30.44 and 127 ODIs, averaging 31.38, including a century against England at Northampton in 1999. Chopra was there at the start of the T20 revolution, playing 18 matches before her retirement with an average of17.21. Since ending her playing career, she has become a constant companion in TV and radio commentary boxes all over the world and is an advocate for Indian women’s cricket. Chopra is an invaluable role model among today’s stars, such as Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, and future generations of Indian cricketers.
The future is bright for women’s cricket. As a sport, women’s cricket is continues to makes great strides as the women are given access to new and improved coaching methods and all of the technological advancements available. Increased television and radio coverage means people around the world can now watch the best cricket, and its popularity continues to grow. The future is bright for the sport and for the talented young girls that are emerging in all the playing countries with the aspiration of becoming a professional cricketer.