Team Talk by Chris Stafford

A Girl Can Dream

World Cup Champions England Cricket Team
England Cricket Team (AP)

The Women’s World Cup Cricket Final at Lords means so much for women’s sport and especially for girls who will some day realize their own dreams

by Chris Stafford

So I’m sitting there watching and listening, hanging on every word of the commentators as the final overs were played in the World Cup at Lords this past weekend. Tears were unavoidable. England had won when those final wickets seemed the hardest to get and India were oh so close to getting over the line, for those match winning runs were within their reach and everyone knew it. The pressure out in the middle would have been enormous with the capacity crowd of over 27,000 making the players calls to one another hard to hear and only adding to the nerves. Dropping a catch a moment earlier that could have clinched the title was heart stopping for everyone — the concentration was gripping. This was sport at its best and boy did it ever capture the sporting public’s imagination.

I spent many happy summer evenings in the nets at the bottom of the garden learning how to bowl line and length and keep a straight bat

The media coverage of this tournament and the long fought for recognition by women for the women’s game was coming to a nail-biting crescendo. How deserving was this, not just for every player out there or women cricketers in the pavilions around the world but for every girl in the school playing fields to sportswomen everywhere. This was for you. And there is more to come as barriers are breaking down and those fiercely defended bastions of male chauvinism are capitulating to the roar of the crowd. Yes, women are beating you into submission so you better get used to it. And the best thing about the women’s sport’s movement is that they are doing it on the field of play with outstanding performances like this that make their country proud. Fathers like Ian Shrubsole watched his daughter Anya take six wickets in the final to seal England’s victory are sending a message to all fathers and sons. History was made, and with this victory and Shrubsole’s record breaking performance even the traditionally male bastion of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lords is finally conceding to women and honoring them in its hallways.

Their efforts, their determination and passion for the game paved the way to what was unquestionably one of the most wonderful, historic and symbolic sporting occasions for women.

As a cricketer I appreciate the significance of this for I was once that little girl who wanted to play cricket but nowhere could I find another girl to play with or a club to join. Not a cricket ball was bowled for girls in school. I watched my mother as she baked cakes and made the sandwiches, which we paraded down to the pavilion to then dutifully make urns of tea and cater to the men. Imagine that!

It was all about the boys when I was growing up and so I had to settle for watching my father and brother play for the village team. I made the most of it though by learning about the game’s nuances and listening to ball by ball commentary on Test Match Special — that treasured program on the BBC that cricket fans and lovers of good radio would tune into with its utterly charming and poetic live commentary that has beguiled sporting audiences since 1927.

But this was never going to be enough for me — I had an itch and it needed to be scratched! I spent many happy summer evenings in the nets at the bottom of the garden learning how to bowl line and length and keep a straight bat. The action of bowling has always come naturally to me and I could turn my arm for hours on end. Alas, I would have to wait a while longer to find a team that would allow me to try out. I had moved to London in the late 80’s and I remember one of the first things I set out to do was to find a women’s team. Imagine my joy when I found not only a team but a coach and their was weekly practice so I could at last fulfill my dreams of playing the women’s game.

Fortunately I was still fit enough to run and athletic enough to still dive for a ball but it meant much more than that. It was the whole camaraderie that the women created through their enthusiasm for the game. That’s what sport affords and I was in my element, having had to give up my riding career due to injuries, I had arrived on the cricket field that had long awaited me.

Chris Stafford, batting

Needs practice!

I was in my element, as dedicated and determined as ever, despite my embarrassing technique in these early games.

 

I was in my late 30’s and this was a long time coming so I needed to make the most of it. I played for three teams for a few years, rotating between Tottenham, Middlesex Ladies and Birbeck College.

 

Chris Stafford, broken noseAnd I carried the scars of battle with a dramatic broken nose caused by an unsighted ball while backing up the wicket-keeper, and a torn ACL from running between the wickets. But I carry those scars proudly as I remember the moments fondly when I threw myself into the game with everything I had.

I can proudly say I played at Lords and The Oval, but those who were there know this was in the indoor nets during winter training…but I impressed my friends when I told them I was going to play cricket at Lords! I would walk around those grounds and tiptoe on the hallowed turf imagining the roar of the crowd and daydreaming about women being allowed in the pavilion one day. The notion of a women’s World Cup Final playing out right there in front of me was not even in my wildest dreams. Women had a very long way to go to prove themselves in the game from the village playing fields and emerging clubs but more so on the international stage in front of capacity crowds.

So when those cricketing pioneers in the women’s game like 105 year old Eileen Ash (Whelan), the oldest living international cricketer who played seven test matches between 1937 and 1949, had the honor of ringing the bell at Lords, we were all celebrating sportswomen far and wide.  Their efforts, their determination and passion for the game paved the way to what was unquestionably one of the most wonderful, historic and symbolic sporting occasions for women. Yes, we have come a long way, and by golly the England team’s success is deserved, as is the efforts of every team during the World Cup. You were all brilliant so thank you for all that you have done for women in sport and every young girl who dreams the dream.

 

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