In Part Two of A History of Cricket, Penny Hopkins explains how the sport emerged in the leading countries and increased in popularity and status as records were made and history established.
Which countries play cricket and how did its popularity spread?
The spread of women’s cricket generally followed the same course as the men’s game. There are some similarities in many of the country’s stories; for example, the two World Wars causing the cessation of pretty much all cricket. While New Zealand were lucky enough to have the backing of government and governing bodies, some suffered the ignominy of not only disinterest from the men’s game, but even more proactive attempts to impede its progress. As with many things in the history of women’s sport, it was invariably down to a few individuals to create the momentum.
In case you missed Part 1 of A History of Cricket… here it is
Australian women’s cricket is a tale of great heights and near extinction. By 1900, it was becoming widely known, particularly in New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria, but it pretty much vanished during the years of World War I. After the war it revived, but World War II put paid to its development once again. The Australian national team were back in action by 1948 and after that it looked good until things tailed off again in the early 1960s due to lack of funds and interest from the general public.
It took the dedication and persistence of a few hardy souls to keep it going and since the 1970s Australian women’s cricket hasn’t looked back. From the 1980s until the early 2000s Australian women led the way, winning 80 per cent of international games and three World Cups during that period.
Cricket was being played by women as early as 1867 when a game was recorded at Greytown, and some in private schools but there was no structured league cricket before World War I. In the 1920s and 1930s more schools became involved and the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council was formed in 1934.
The Second World War put paid to the development of the game for a while, but it was back up and running in the late 1940s. We have already heard that the men’s cricket governing bodies were often less than helpful, but this was not the New Zealand stance—indeed the government gave the women’s team a grant of £1,000 towards their 1954 tour of England. The tour was a great success for the visitors. They won ten out of 19 matches and lost only one of three Test matches.
The 1960s and 1970s was a period of increased momentum for the women’s game in New Zealand. They completed their first Test win against Australia during the 1971-2 season, and although they have not played Tests for some while now, their ODI and T20 game continues to blossom.
The New Zealand Cricket Board took on women’s cricket in 1992, and in 2000 they claimed their first tournament victory in the World Cup, beating Australia in the final. It can only be a matter of time before they claim their next crown.
England started playing test cricket again after World War II in 1948-49, when they toured Australia. They lost the Ashes to their arch-rivals on this tour when they were beaten in the first Test and drew the other two. The Aussies held the Ashes until 1963, but by the 1960s English women’s cricket was entering a golden age. They regained the trophy with a 1-0 series win and in total played 14 Test matches, winning four and drawing ten to remain unbeaten throughout the decade.
Then came the 1970s and the advent of limited overs cricket taking the game to a whole new audience with the World Cup. England won the first World Cup in 1973 on home turf and played to a points system with England accumulating 20 points. In 1979 Lord’s hosted its first women’s Test match between England and Australia; ironic really, when women would not be allowed to become members of the Marleybone Cricket Club (MCC) for another 19 years.
Domestically it wasn’t until 1997 that the first Women’s County Championship took place. It was the start of great change for women’s cricket in England since it was the following year that the Women’s Cricket Association was brought under the auspices of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
Since then the women’s game has gone from strength to strength in England, gaining better marketing, better pay and conditions and access to similar training and coaching as the men.
Although cricket was played by men in the sub-continent from the late 1700s, the Women’s Cricket Association of India was not formed until 1973. At first women’s cricket was centred around Delhi, but in the 1960s it spread to Madras (Chennai), Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta (Kolkata). The first overseas tour to take place in India was by an Australian under-25 team in 1975. It was a brilliant success with crowds in excess of 35,000 at some venues. Three test matches were played and all drawn. The strides made by Indian women’s cricket prompted the International Cricket Council (ICC) to invite India to host the 1978 Women’s World Cup. The game has progressed steadily since and the Indian team is now a real force to contend with in limited overs cricket.
In a recent game against Ireland, India scored a stunning 358 for 2 off 50 overs. The game was not just notable for the total but also the first wicket stand of 320 runs between Deepti Sharma (188) and Punam Raut (109). This was the first partnership of more than 300 runs by any pair in women’s cricket.
To say the development of women’s cricket in Pakistan has been problematic is somewhat of an understatement. Although men’s cricket became popular soon after the partition of India and creation of Pakistan in 1947, women did not get their chance until 1996. It was largely down to the persistence of the Khan sisters, Shaiza and Sharmeen, that it took off at all. The sisters had taken up the sport at boarding school in England. They carried on at university at Leeds and also played for Middlesex women but their objective was to play in their own country.
In 1996 they founded the Pakistan Women’s Cricket Control Association. But neither the Pakistan government nor the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) were impressed and banned women from playing in public.
Somehow the sisters and their teammates defied the ruling and formed a side that went one to play New Zealand and Australia. Although they lost all three ODIs they had done enough to earn an invitation to play in the World Cup in India later that year. This they did and made their presence known, although they were defeated on this occasion.
Pakistan’s women’s cricket has been under the auspices of the PCB since 2005, but this has really only been due to pressure from the ICC. The PCB’s support of the women was initially patchy, but it is slowly realising that women’s cricket is here to stay. Another milestone was reached when central contracts were introduced for their top international players in the summer of 2012.
The Lady Tigers made their international debut in 1997 when they played Thailand in a two-match ODI series, clinching both games. They played in the 2014 and 2016 World T20 tournaments, exiting in the first round, and are yet to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
Women’s cricket began in the black and coloured communities of Cape Province in the 1890s, although reports of games are limited. After World War II it seems that it became a white woman’s game with an inter-province tournament in place by 1950. The South African and Rhodesian Women’s Cricket Association was formed in 1952 for white players only.
The first international side to visit South Africa was England in 1960-61. South Africa became the only the fourth Test-playing country after England, Australia and New Zealand. Four Tests were played of which three were drawn and one game went in England’s favor.
But it wasn’t long before the apartheid regime forced the world into making a sporting stand. A proposed tour by England’s women in 1968 was cancelled by the British government.
A New Zealand team toured there in 1971-2, playing six tour matches and three Tests with the tourists winning the series.
Although the ICC cut links with South Africa in 1970, some rebel tours from England, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Australia went ahead in the 1970s and 1980s, but they were controversial.
In 1991 Cricket South Africa incorporated both the men’s and women’s game and the country’s teams were back in the ICC fold. Women’s cricket became one of the “target groups” for development and since then it has made great strides.
In 2001 South Africa reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, which took its profile to a whole new level both at home and overseas.
The African nation did not make an appearance on the world stage until 2006. The sport’s funding crisis is well documented with both the men’s and women’s team suffering through lack of investment. Zimbabwe Cricket is the governing body for both games in the country.
The team has not yet qualified for a World Cup. The closest they came was in 2008 where they finished fifth out of eight teams in the qualifying tournament.
In 2015 they finished third in qualifying, narrowly missing out on the T20 World Cup Finals. They may yet progress further in the short form of the game.
West Indian women were relatively late to the international cricketing community. They did not have any organisation until the separate islands gained political autonomy. The first island to commit to women’s cricket was Jamaica which established its own cricket association in 1966.
By 1967 Jamaica had mustered a touring side to visit Trinidad. They played three Tests, which were all drawn, but it also stung the Trinidadians into action and they formed their own Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Cricket Association later in the year.
By the 1970s women’s cricket was buzzing throughout the islands, but receiving little or no support from the governing body, the West Indies Cricket Board. In fact it wasn’t until the 1990s that it offered structured support. Consequently the women are probably still behind where they could and should be at this point, although improving fast.
In recent years the West Indies has shown a real aptitude for the short game which has extended into the 50-over game too. In 2013 the West Indies made it to the final of the World Cup, losing to Australia. But in 2016 they claimed their first tournament victory by beating the Aussies this time to take the World T20 crown.
They are now, at last, a force to be reckoned with, both as a touring side and a tournament side.
Cricket came to Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was then) with its colonisation by the British. But the women did not start playing until the 1990s.
Their first One Day International (ODI) series was against the Netherlands in 1997, which they lost 2-1. Just a month later they were taking part in the World Cup in India, making it all the way to the quarter finals, where they lost to England.
They have been consistently present in tournaments since then, but have had relatively little success. Their biggest achievements to date were in the 2013 World Cup where they beat both the host country India and the defending champions England.
There were sporadic attempts to get women’s cricket going in Ireland from the late nineteenth century onwards. But it was not until the 1930s that the Leinster Women’s Cricket Union was formed. There was also a six-team-strong league in Dublin. However, as we have seen with so many countries, the onset of war meant the sport was placed on hiatus.
The game really didn’t make a comeback until the 1970s, and when the Irish Women’s Cricket Union (ICWU) was established in 1982 the Irish national team began to tour and gain recognition. The women’s team played its first ODI 19 years before the men’s.
In 2003 the IWCU merged with the Irish Cricket Union (ICU), as has been the policy in all major cricket-playing nations in recent years. While they are yet to take a major scalp in competition, they are making notable progress in the game.
Dutch women’s cricket started to emerge in the 1930s and the first women’s cricket league appeared four years later. Haarlem was traditionally the stronghold of hockey, but by the 1930s they had started to play cricket in the summer months. The England women and Holland women had a close friendship with the Women’s Cricket Association sending a team to play in the Netherlands in 1959.
By the 1960s interest in women’s cricket in The Netherlands faltered. It revived in the late seventies and now there are two leagues and a relatively thriving international scene, although they are yet to impress at international level. After a series of disappointing World Cups and competitions they lost their Test and ODI status in 2011.
With the development of the women’s game around over the world, it eventually became clear that in order for the sport to mature it needed improved organisation and promotion. In 1958 the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) was formed with that mission and it continued to look after the interests of women’s international cricket until 2005 when it merged with the International Cricket Council which now manages both the men’s and women’s game.
It’s fair to say that women’s cricket developed quickly once the will was there. But if you go behind the stats and figures there also emerges a story of inequality, prejudice and seemingly insurmountable barriers that are only relatively recently being overcome.
In part three we look at the modern era – an era of incredible change; from when the phrase “pay to play” was on everyone’s lips to the advent of the sponsorship deal that brought England players professional contracts and sponsorship.