If the quantity of coverage on your television is any reliable guide, then you could be forgiven for assuming that women’s cricket simply doesn’t exist. While tennis has been a fairly equal-opportunity sport for decades, and football is taking visible strides in the same direction, the same can’t quite yet be said of cricket.
Or can it? There’s reason for optimism for proponents of women’s cricket, from the very top of the game down to the grassroots.
The 2017 World Cup was viewed by many as a turning point for the sport. The early matches managed to sell out smaller venues, before the final sold out Lords. 26,500 people watched the match, obliterating a previous record. Around 180 million tuned in to watch some stage of the tournament, which represented a threefold increase over the record set by the previous Women’s World Cup, held in India.
In late 2019, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) pledged £20 million toward the development of the game at grassroots level over the following two years, following similar strides made in Australia.
In part, this sum will go toward domestic contracts for elite players at the top of the game. It is hoped that the visibility of women at the top of the profession will persuade the next generation that cricket is, in fact, something that they can be interested in, and that success is truly possible. Moreover, the plan pledges that half-a-million girls in primary schools will be able to have ‘a great cricket experience’. This means making coaching expertise available, and providing high-quality cricket equipment, including bats.
The ECB’s ten-point plan covers five different areas, namely: participation, pathway, performance, profile, and people. At the very top of the list is the aspiration that cricket should inspire girls to say ‘cricket is a game for me’. Obviously, this is a requirement: for the sport to flourish in the long-term, it’ll need to attract girls to participate from a young age. Until girls aspire to pick up a bat, the growth of the women’s game will be stunted.
The ‘people’ measures look to ‘increase the representation of women in the cricket workforce’, and to ‘support more women to take on leadership roles in cricket’. Not only might this encourage younger people to enter the game, it might also help to bring volunteers. A survey of female volunteers conducted by the ECB discovered that 73% thought that a lack of volunteers was holding back the game, and that 77% of volunteers had more than one role. Relieving this pressure will improve the availability and quality of coaching at grassroots, and help the women’s game to achieve its potential.