I managed to watch quite a bit of the recent series between the England and Pakistan Women's cricket team. Whilst Pakistan are a team growing into women's cricket, there were some fabulous performances on the England side, particularly with the bat.
The England team has previously had considerable success and we are about to see the first women's superleague in the UK following on from the Big Bash in Australia and a World Cup. Sky television have also started women's cricket week. Things seem to be going well, but why?
It is worth reflecting on participation and sport and what influences it. For many men and women, sport is part of school and then possibly college and university. For the overwhelming majority, the realisation that they will not become professional in their chosen sport can mean they drift away from sport entirely or maintaining only sporadic contact. A real world of work and family commitments can also act to propel many into perpetual retirement. This is particularly true of cricket which, before the advent of 20/20, was capable of taking up an entire day.
I am not a girl. Therefore trying to speak for girls is perhaps not something I should be attempting but considerable conjecture has existed over girls participation in sport at school and why there appears to be a disconnect between girls and competitive sport. My recollection is that sport tended to be genderised with boys and girls playing different sports. Women have played cricket for centuries but it still perceived by some as a purely masculine activity. It is anything but. and attitudes seem to have changed dramatically over more recent times.
England actually won the Cricket World Cup in 1993 which seemed to have acted as the initial catalyst but it has been the performances of players like Charlotte Edwards and Sarah Taylor that seems to have captured public imagination and, significantly, given us role models for younger players to look up to. Role models plus television coverage plus changing attitudes plus equal opportunities equals more girls playing cricket. This is a great start but what I think should now be happening is a concentration on the "missed" generations.
We are constantly told that we all need to exercise more and there is an obesity epidemic, diabetes, cancer etc. I have previously mentioned how work and family commitments can naturally take both men and women away from sport. If you link all these factors together, plus cricket's reputation for taking so long it may not represent a good prospect for women trying to get into sport. Enter 20/20. This shorter, faster paced game that can be concluded in one morning or evening could represent a real opportunity to increase involvement. Cricket is not a sport that requires absolute peak fitness, it is helpful if you have it but not essential. Other team sports like football are likely to require a much higher demand. Whilst injuries do happen in cricket, I would argue there is less opportunity for significant injury in cricket than in more faster paced sports. All these factors, it could be argued, could make women's 20/20 cricket an ideal way to get people active.
As a footnote, cricket is highly regarded by our Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities which can hopefully be seized upon and developed.
The inaugural women's super league will bring world stars to these shores and give the sport even more exposure than before. If it successful, then traditional cricket clubs may look at developing their own women's teams. The hope will be that we can get younger players interested but also spark an interest in those who may think sport has passed them by.
I am biased of course as I am a cricket lover who wants to see more people involved but I genuinely feel that cricket could be a great sport for everyone. In terms of the women's game, we could be on the verge of something special. Hope so.