Penny Hopkins addresses important milestones in the development of the women’s long and short format of the game in the modern era
The modern era has seen tremendous progress for women in cricket both domestically and internationally, not least of all the emergence of the increasingly popular World Cup, and the rapid growth of the Twenty20 format. Conversely there are still barriers to equality and an undertone of discrimination that presents a threat for some women.
The World Cup was conceived with the objective of taking women’s cricket to new audiences
Women’s World Cup
“You know what we ought to do? We ought to have a World Cup of women’s cricket. Have another drink.” According to The Baroness Rachel Heyhoe Flint, OBE, DL, this was how the idea of the World Cup was born. The man making the suggestion to her was businessman and sporting philanthropist Sir Jack Hayward. Heyhoe Flint was England captain at the time and she and Hayward had bonded over cricket and over their mutual love of Wolverhampton Wanderers FC. She was visiting Hayward’s family and discussing the state of women’s cricket over a bottle of brandy when the fateful words were spoken.
Hayward had been putting funds into the England women’s team for some years and as a man known to match his words with action action, the World Cup became a reality in 1973 with Hayward injecting £40,000 ($51,000). And so it was that the first Women’s World Cup took place in England, two years ahead of the men’s World Cup.
The first competition was a round robin format and consisted of 60-over innings. The teams taking part were England, Australia, New Zealand, Trinidad & Tobago & Jamaica, as well as an International XI and a Young England side. South Africa as a national team were not invited as they were subject to the apartheid boycott, however, six of their players were invited as part of the International XI, but the International Cricket Council (ICC) forced them to withdraw. England became the inaugural champions after beating Australia by 92 runs at Edgbaston.
Since then there have been nine further tournaments, six of which have been won by Australia (1978, 1982, 1988, 1997, 2005, 2013), two by England (1993, 2009) and one by New Zealand (2000).
The format has chopped and changed; from round robin to group and from 60-overs to 50, back to 60 and back again to 50, but since 1997 it had been settled into 50 overs and in two groups of four. This year’s World Cup is slightly differently again, comprising one group of all eight teams with teams playing each other once. The top four finishers will progress to the semi-finals.
The World Cup was conceived with the objective of taking women’s cricket to new audiences and its growth in popularity has made it the premier international tournament. The 2017 World Cup is the largest yet with a £2 million prize fund, every game broadcast live on Sky and more radio coverage than ever.
Twenty 20 Cricket
If the Cricket World Cup was a revelation, the advent of the ICC Women’s Twenty20 (T20) cricket seems like a whole new ball game. Cricket purists feared that the advent of the T20 format who undermine the long format of Test cricket, but there can be no doubt that it has engaged a whole new audience eager to both play and there is a place for both games.
The ICC Women’s World Twenty20 tournament began in 2009 and takes place bi-annually. England won the inaugural series, beating New Zealand by six wickets, after which Australia won the next three. Australia’s stranglehold on the trophy was finally broken in 2016 when West Indies defeated Australia in Kolkata by eight wickets to win their first ever world tournament. India, New Zealand and South Africa also have their own women’s domestic T20 tournaments.
Domestic T20 competitions are also becoming widespread. The Australian Women’s Big Bash first took place in the season 2015-16. It replaced the Twenty20 Cup which had been played since 2007-08. It is packaged in a similar way to the men’s tournament and some of the matches, including the final, are played as double-headers with the men’s. The merits (or not) of this system present a few questions such as whether or not the women play their tournament first, what the best ticketing system and whether or not the mixed gender event devalues the women’s game.
England’s Kia Super League will be held for the second year in 2017. The inaugural event was deemed a great success with six “franchises” bidding for title sponsorship. It has been suggested that the women’s game is being used as a guinea pig when it comes to seeing how the franchise system works. The England Cricket Board (ECB) is aiming to bring in a new city-based (franchise) men’s T20 tournament in 2020, and they are watching the women with interest to see how or if it works. So much for the game’s expansion, but what barriers have women had to deal with to establish their game both nationally and internationally?
Pay to Play
If you see or read an interview with any cricketer from the 1960s to the 1990s, the phrase that always comes up is “pay to play”. Early on it was travel and accommodation, then kit and blazers. Cricket internationals were expected to pay their way both home and on overseas tours. In 1934, the England touring team members to Australia had to raise £80 each in order to travel. And still, given the progress in women’s cricket, in 1995 the England squad to tour India still had to raise £500 each and buy their own England blazers.
The changing face of the cricket kit
Until the 1930s women’s cricket was played in cumbersome dresses. But in 1934 the Women’s Cricket Council announced that the England team touring Australia would be kitted out in “a white divided skirt, blouse with sleeves to the elbow, and stockings”. The Australians would wear “double-breasted frocks, with short sleeves, and worn just below the knees.”
There were attempts to introduce trousers, but the powers that be quickly rebuffed them. In 1938, it was announced that a female cricketer in trousers “would be asked to leave the field”.
Eventually the divided skirt became de rigueur until the 1990s. Surprisingly, the England women’s team did not have a kit specifically designed to fit them until 2008.
When we see women playing today in ordinary trousers and shirt, with approved protection for batters and wicket keeper, it’s hard to imagine anything different. Archive images from as little as twenty years ago seems to be from a different lifetime.
The equality journey – are we there yet?
The women’s game has made great strides and is in a better position now than it has ever been but it still has its struggles. Every now and then there inequalities are exposed. In 2016, for example, the ICC paid for all of the men’s teams to fly business class to the World T20 in India, while the women travelled economy. The prize fund for the men’s tournament was $5.6 million, while the women’s just a fraction— $400,000.
Also in 2016 the executive general manager of strategy at Cricket Australia confirmed that female cricketers new one-year contracts will have a clause that will require them to “warrant” that they are not pregnant when they sign-up. They insist that the clause is there “for the player’s safety and that of their unborn child” and that that any disclosure would be confidential and made to the medical officer.
Female players are also excluded from the parental leave policy, although women in non-playing roles can have 4 – 12 weeks paid leave.
Cricket Australia claims this is all on the table for further negotiations but the union says contract conditions are ‘contrary to acceptable employer behaviour’.
There is also the shocking case of Pakistani cricketer, Haleema Rafique. In 2013, Rafique alleged that she and other players were sexually harassed by members of the Multan Cricket Board, who demanded sexual favours in return for picking players for the regional and national teams.
She and four others appeared on a television show confirming these accusations. The two accused men also appeared on the show, denying all allegations and making counter-claims of “immoral activities” by the players.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) launched an inquiry and found there was nothing to support the women’s claims. It fined the five players and banned them from playing for nine months for breaching discipline and bringing the game into disrepute.
Rafique was obviously upset by the findings and when, days later, the Chairman of the Multan Cricket Club took out a 20m rupee defamation suit against the five players, Rafique committed suicide by swallowing bleach rather than face the courts. She was 18 years old.
Respect and backing for the women’s game within the game itself is at its highest point. But outside the game, although things are improving, women’s cricket is still plagued by the same measures of inequality as other women’s sport – lack of media coverage, public perception, sponsorship and corporate investment.
In the final part of this short history, we look at the future – an unparalleled era of professionalism for women’s cricket. We also tip our hat to some of the sport’s biggest pioneers and superstars.