Thursday, February 28, 2013

10 ways to identify a Cricket Misogynist

A week on from "PoshTelGate", here are 10 ways to spot that (hopefully) dying breed, the Cricket Misogynist.

1. They use the term "batswoman".

2. They rave about how hot Ellyse Perry is. Then, when you ask them how many international wickets she's taken, they have absolutely no idea, and don't really give a damn either.

3. They persistently refer to women's cricket as "ladies' cricket", then when you reciprocate by talking about "gentleman's cricket" they look at you like you're insane. (I mean, really. When was the last time you heard Charlotte Edwards or Suzie Bates refer to themselves as a "lady cricketer"?)

4. They find it hilarious to make puns about "fine legs", "slips", and "maidens" (not realising these jokes were already old 50 years ago). They also find it hilarious that you DON'T find it hilarious.

5. They refuse to criticise any female players, because "gosh, I didn't realise women could actually DO that. We need to celebrate this fabulous achievement."

6. They ask if women's cricket is played with a tennis ball. (The correct answer is, "no, and if it wasn't for female cricketers, Jimmy Anderson would currently be attempting to bowl reverse swing underarm." Another correct answer is to punch them, but the former is possibly more effective in the long-run.)

7. They offer to move the boundary rope in for the players before a women's match.

8. They agree to umpire in a women's game, then spend most of the match offering the players coaching tips and "encouragement" in between deliveries (such as patting them on the head when they score 4 runs).

9. When a female clean bowls them, they smile and saunter back to the pavilion like they intended it to happen. They are, after all, a "gentleman".

10. "I could play for England Women", they tell you, as they struggle to stand up from the sofa, pie in hand.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Combatting the Critics

I've spent a lot of today on twitter, joining in the general chorus of indignation which has (happily) erupted as a response to an article by some bloke called Alan Swann published in the Peterborough Telegraph (yes, clearly an extremely famous and well-respected publication, ahem). I'm not going to put the link on this blog, because I've already increased traffic to the poxy publication far too much (and you can google it if you really want to), but here are the key sections relating to women's cricket:

Never before can so much screen time have been awarded to a sport that provokes as little interest as women’s cricket. I followed the World Cup on Sky Sports because local girl Charlotte Edwards is the England captain, but I hope she will forgive me when I say her sport is as dull as..... well pretty much every other sport that involves solely females. It’s a biological statement rather than a sexist one, but women just don’t push my buttons in a sporting sense. They aren’t quick enough, and they aren’t strong enough which should be enough to ensure that they aren’t as richly rewarded in terms of prize money or funding. England’s lady cricketers, have benefitted from some clever marketing in the past notably by staging Twenty/20 matches as warm-up encounters ahead of a men’s international. But such an innovation can backfire. Comparisons between the male and female versions of the game are inevitable, and unflattering to the fairer sex. True, the ladies have started to hit more sixes, but as the batters generally face a set of trundlers, it may not mean that much.The standard of ladies cricket looks pretty low to me. I wouldn’t expect any England player to be able to hold a place down in Peterborough Town’s starting XI for a Northants Premier League match. I know Arran Brindle once cracked a ton against Market Deeping in the Lincs Premier Division, but that’s a sub-standard competition and Deeping haven’t had a decent bowler since their groundsman’s heyday in the early 1960s. ...
Of course I’m certain to be accused of blatant sexism by the hard-of-thinking and the easily-outraged, but the viewing figures and live attendance totals will back my opinion up. Those numbers should also be taken into account when sports funds are allocated. Financial help should be determined by the level of public interest and not by the desire to chase a few cheap medals. Otherwise it’s just a waste.
(If you would like to contact the publication expressing outrage, please do so. You can tweet them at @peterboroughtel or email

Naturally, I hesitate to give this sort of drivel the publicity it does NOT deserve. However, some of the responses on twitter, as well as the very fact that the folks at the Peterborough Telegraph saw fit to publish the article in the first place, indicate that these kinds of attitudes remain both acceptable and common parlance in the world of sport in the 21st century.

Few people would describe the situation in as extreme a way as Alan "Sexist Pig" Swann, but I have heard many statements similar to the above expressed in everyday conversation regarding the women's game, and I'm sure others have as well. Additionally, even if such sentiments are not expressed outright, it is clearly still the case that women's cricket is severely under-reported and receives less exposure than it deserves. Cricket is still considered Blokey (I wrote a post on this a few weeks back, but I'm not sure anyone read it). Many journalists and bloggers who I deeply respect, and who are far more talented than me when it comes to analysis of the game of cricket generally, ignore women's cricket completely when a major tournament is not ongoing.

I therefore think that it is worth considering some of the issues which have been raised by today's debate, in a rational and considered manner (which is not generally possible in 140 characters), and establishing how, when faced with inaccurate statements regarding women's cricket, we as fans should respond.

Here goes:

Inaccurate statement #1: Women's cricket is dull, so no one should bother investing in it.

Though it's not often said outright, I actually think quite a few people would agree with this statement. In the era of "T20 is god" cricket, the fact that you don't see a ton of mis-hit sixes in every single women's game appears to devalue it as entertainment in many people's eyes.

How to respond? Well firstly, I'm sure almost everyone would admit that men's cricket is sometimes dull. The middle overs of an ODI? Watching a team amass 700+ runs on the first two days of a Test match on a batsman's paradise pitch? The last session on the fifth day of a high-scoring draw? I love all these things about cricket - but it doesn't mean that every moment is scintillating.

It is of course okay to find women's cricket dull. I don't watch football for precisely that reason. The key point is that it's a matter of opinion. Frankly, I'd rather watch a game where runs are scored through skill and tenacity, than one where the ball is blasted over the head of the bowler a few of times an over (that's why I will always prefer Test cricket). But that's up to me. One person's opinion of the sport should not dictate to others what they should and should not invest time and money in.

The reason why the Alan Swann piece is misogynistic, therefore, is not because he finds women's cricket dull, but because he concluded the piece by suggesting that his opinion of women's sport makes the whole shebang not worth investing in. This argument is based on several other inaccuracies, which I will now deal with:

Inaccurate statement #2: Women's cricket is not as good as men's cricket, so no one should bother investing in it. (This is often expressed in the form of "I could play for England Women", or some such similar claptrap.)

I hear this all the time - most recently regarding the whole Sarah Taylor hoohah. The point is, one isn't better or worse. They are DIFFERENT. The comparison is redundant - it's like showing up for a T20 match featuring KP, and having to sit through a day's Test cricket with Boycott at the crease. If you're expecting women's cricket to be exactly the same as men's cricket, you probably will be disappointed.

We need to stop with the endless comparisons. It devalues the women's game and gives people like Alan Swann a voice. The media should be covering the women's game on its own terms (and they also need to give it a damn sight more coverage, but that's a separate point).

NB: If you do end up in conversation with someone who implies they would fare well against a women's side, it's worth delving a little deeper. You may well end up finding out that the bloke in question's claim to fame is that he once scored 25 for Peterborough Town.

Inaccurate statement #3: No one turns up to watch women's cricket, so it clearly isn't as worthwhile as men's cricket and no one should bother investing in it.

Two key points here: firstly, it is completely absurd to suggest that the value of a sport is in direct proportion with how many people turn up to watch it. Seriously, what?! It's like saying all Test matches played in England are automatically better than those played in India, purely because tickets always sell out. Ridiculous.

Secondly, I will admit that yes, it is disappointing that so few people turn up to watch women's games, even World Cup games. But the answer isn't to say "oh well, it must be rubbish then" and bugger off to the pub for a pint. The answer is to treat the women's game with respect by giving it more publicity - both in advance, so that locals are aware a match is going on, and during, so that people can follow the sport properly. The lack of decent publicity has always been a problem for the women's game, and has meant that it has not been able to develop the same kind of fan base as men's cricket. As coverage increases, as we saw during the recent World Cup, the fan base will develop - and this in turn will encourage more people to turn up to matches in person.

Which takes me on to inaccuracy number 4:

Inaccurate statement #4: The media should not bother reporting on women's cricket because no one is interested.

This is one of those stupid circular arguments. As I've just argued, people will not be interested in a sport that they cannot read about, watch on TV, or follow in the media. On the other hand, if women's cricket is regularly reported, it will become part of the sporting map and people will accept it as such.

Look at what happened with English cricket during the 2005 Ashes series. A whole load of people became fans of the game who didn't give a rat's arse about Test matches before the series started. Do you think they would have suddenly become transfixed if the matches hadn't been televised, and the games hadn't made the front pages of all the newspapers? I don't think so.

Of course, that requires a high enough standard in the women's game to produce the kind of exciting matches we've just witnessed in the World Cup. Which requires investment - which brings me neatly back to finances:

Inaccurate statement #5: Because the standard is lower. female cricketers should not be paid as much as male cricketers.

This seemed to be the main point of the aforementioned article. Which just goes to show that he hadn't done his research. Nowhere in the world are women's cricketers paid anywhere near what their male counterparts earn.

This is, of course, nothing to do with the standard. It's because we don't yet have fully-professional female cricketers. Maybe we will one day, but in the meantime the financial situation in which the women's game finds itself leads to the final inaccurate statement of the day:

Inaccurate statement #6: Men's cricket subsidises women's cricket, and this is a waste of valuable resources.

The first part of this statement is obviously true. For example, in England, some of the revenue which men's cricket generates is used to enable female England cricketers to play semi-professionally.

However, as people have pointed out on twitter, Test cricket is also used to subsidise English county cricket. The logical conclusion of this argument would therefore be that county cricket is also a waste of resources.

The point is that it's not all about instant profit-maximisation - or it shouldn't be. The English counties develop the players who are the England match-winners of the future. Similarly, increased investment in the women's game in England enabled us to produce a team of world-beaters (in 2009 England's women won every match they played). Can you put a value on that in pounds?

I'd also say this: given enough investment, and media coverage, I genuinely believe that eventually elite women's cricket will pay for itself. What's required is a little bit of patience. Unfortunately, misogyny doesn't seem to allow for that.

Here's what I'd say to those of Alan Swann's ilk: It's okay to find women's cricket dull, and maybe even to pose some of the questions above. But it's not okay to use your own ignorance of and lack of appreciation for women's cricket to conclude that a game which millions play, follow, and are passionate about, should be consigned to second-class status. That is what Alan Swann has done in his article and that is what others have tried and will keep trying to do as long as they are allowed to. That is misogynistic. That is what we are up against.

And that, ultimately, is why I'm writing this blog.

Monday, February 18, 2013

15 Things We've Learned From This Women's World Cup

1. Trying to predict the result of a women's cricket match is now as impossible as predicting anything the Pakistan men's team will do, ever.

2. Australia's Southern Stars are indisputably the best team in the world (I write this through gritted teeth). On the back of their victory in the women's Ashes in early 2011 and the World T20 a few months back, they are now number one in all formats of the game. And after the way they've played in this tournament (more gritted teeth), they deserve it.

3. The BCCI doesn't give a damn about women's cricket.

4. The West Indies have arrived. Sure, they'd caused a few upsets before this tournament. But they've now beaten two of the top three teams in the world in the 50-over format for the first time, and fought their way to a World Cup final. We'll see them in another one before long.

5. Eshani Kaushalya's name. Enough said.

6. Charlotte Edwards is a legend. She's now made more ODI runs than anyone else ever in the women's game and has equalled the highest number of centuries ever scored by a woman in ODIs. When she does go, England will miss her. A lot.

7. It's possible to play in the team that finishes fourth in the tournament and still outclass everyone in the 3 teams above you. But only if your name is Suzie Bates.

8. It's also possible to be 17 years old, bowl like a superstar and look like a supermodel. (And make a ton of women the world over hopelessly jealous.)

9. If you support your team financially they do well. If you don't, they get knocked out even when the tournament is being played in home conditions.

10. Choking happens in women's cricket too.

11. If you give it enough exposure, people will realise that women's cricket is just as entertaining and just as much of a joy to watch as men's cricket. End of story.

12. Unfortunately, according to the ICC, it is still an either/or decision between securing TV coverage of women's cricket and securing local publicity. Or, in other words, it's not their fault (almost) no one showed up to watch.

13. The Super Sixes format is only of use to people who enjoy conspiracy theories. (No, Australia didn't lose on purpose. Get over it.)

14. True equality means simultaneous rubbish umpiring in both the women's and the men's game.

15. Ellyse Perry doesn't really need two legs.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why England have lost their title, and what they can learn from history: World Cup Super Sixes review

I made two main predictions regarding the Super Sixes in my earlier blog post. The first is rather predictable, because it's what most people have been saying since the tournament began.

I'd like to hope we're on target for another Australia-England final.

The second is now rather more apt.

if there's one lesson we can take from this's that cricket defies expectation and predictability. Anything could happen! I love it!

I feel like berating my past self for writing that, because “anything” has happened. The West Indies have beaten both New Zealand and Australia, and will play the latter in the final on Sunday. Fine, but in the process they have also knocked out England, the defending champions, and left Charlotte Edwards and a squad of England players, not to mention yours truly, pretty heart-broken.

It'll be the West Indies' first ever World Cup final, and it was their first ever victory against Australia in an ODI, just as that victory against New Zealand two days ago was their first ever ODI win against the Kiwis. I've already written about the fact that this tournament has contained some of the biggest upsets women's cricket has ever seen – it's worth checking out that post because it puts this tournament into some kind of historical context. Suffice it to say here that the women's World Cup final has previously always featured two teams out of Australia, England, New Zealand and India.

This isn't just a first for the West Indies, therefore. It's a first for the women's game full-stop.

England are out, and despite the comforting 15-run win against New Zealand today there will inevitably be numerous post-mortems. How do they recover from this? There is an obvious historical parallel here. The last time the World Cup was held in India was back in 1997. England were defending champions, having won in 1993, and went into the tournament as strong favourites to retain their title.

Instead, they lost their group match to Australia by eight wickets, and were knocked out in the semi-finals by New Zealand, losing by 20 runs.

Why? They could have blamed their crazy schedule (which involved a stupid amount of flights and train rides around India). They could have blamed the poor umpiring: in their semi-final match against New Zealand, they were fined one over of their innings for taking five minutes too long to bowl their 50 overs. The unfortunate thing was that the umpires neglected to tell them this until they had already batted out half their overs. Given the small margin of victory, that one over could have been crucial.

That wasn't the whole story, though. The truth was they were taken by surprise by two teams who had come on in leaps and bounds since the 1993 World Cup. In 1992 the New Zealand WCA had merged with the men's New Zealand Cricket Board and the benefits of such a move in terms of access to resources were rapidly becoming obvious (they went on to win the 2000 tournament). Australia meanwhile, under coach John Harmer, had been embarrassed by their performance in the 1993 tournament into becoming a thoroughly athletic and competitive side. They were still amateurs; they just happened to have developed the most professional attitude women's cricket had ever seen. Faced with the terrors of Fitzpatrick's bowling, with Belinda Clark, a captain who batted like a god and set the most ridiculously attacking fields, and with a whole bunch of sledging – let's face it, this was an Australian team in the 1990s – England crumbled.

They went home badly chastened by defeat, just as they'll be doing in a few days time. How did they respond? A few weeks later, at a meeting of the Women's Cricket Association, it was decided to accept the proposed merger with the ECB. That led to a whole load more money, time and staffing resources being poured into the England women's set-up, and to the basic acceptance that in order to become world-beaters again, a far more professional approch was required.

It took England a while to recover – they were knocked out of the next tournament without reaching the semi-finals. But they got there. In 2009 they raised the trophy again.

I think there are lessons there for this England side (aside from a caution against blaming poor umpiring for the loss). In 1997 they were surprised by Australia and New Zealand; here, they've been equally surprised by two different teams. Firstly Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan women have been a relevation at this tournament and when they did not fold instantly chasing England's total, England looked unsure how to react. They bowled poorly and did not take some important catches.

Secondly the West Indies. England beat them fairly easily in their group match and almost knocked them out of the tournament before the Super Six stage. But that's now irrelevant. Over the past few days the Windies have played exceptionally well, placing enough pressure on two of the world's top teams for defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory in both cases.

England have been outshone by two teams who, seemingly while England's back has been turned, have raised their standards so much that they are now able to defeat the world's top-tier teams. Clearly this is thanks to the increased funding and support they have received in their home countries. And just as in 1997 the overwhelmingly professional attitude of Australia took England by surprise, so the quality of the cricket which Sri Lanka and the West Indies have played at this tournament has surprised them here.

England still have a team of world-class players. They were knocked out of the tournament, essentially, by a 1 wicket defeat to Sri Lanka and a 2-run defeat to Australia. But the key difference between their performances, and the performances of Sri Lanka and the West Indies, is that these latter two teams were able to perform under pressure, to up their game when it really mattered. England have performed at their best often when it didn't really matter – like today against New Zealand. That suggests to me a slight complacency on England's part – even if this was subconscious – when faced with the so-called minnow teams. In the new era we are entering, there will be far fewer games which can be won easily. The times when it doesn't really matter will be fewer and further between.

Complacency was a key problem back in 1997 and England learnt from that mistake. They need to do so again.

Predictably, I'll be cheering for the West Indies on Sunday. For the first time this tournament, it seems, what's “good for the game” and what my English instincts want actually coincide. I want Australia to lose because I'm English. I want the Windies to win because it will prove that there are no longer easily identifiable top and bottom tiers in women's cricket, and that the women's game can throw up just as many exciting and unpredictable results as the men's game.

Though ultimately, even if the West Indies lose, I guess we might have already won that particular battle.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Questions for the ICC's CEO, from a Concerned Women's Cricket Fan

On twitter earlier, @sportdaggers indicated that TMS are attempting to get the ICC's CEO Dave Richardson on air to answer questions about the Women's World Cup. That prompted me to think about what exactly I would ask him if I had the opportunity. If there are question you would like added to the list, please let me know. Maybe we can even get some answers somewhere along the line.

On the World Cup so far:

Why was the BCCI able to move Women's World Cup matches from the Wankhede Stadium at such short notice? What steps will you take to ensure that this does not happen again at future women's tournaments?

Why has the tournament received such terrible publicity in India? Why has it been possible to be in India over the last month and not even be aware that the tournament is taking place?

Does it concern you that not all games have been televised, and that in some countries there has been almost no TV coverage?

Why has it been so difficult for some networks (notably the BBC) to broadcast matches from Cuttack?

What is the selection process for the umpires who stand in the Women's World Cup? Why are the same umpires not used for elite women's cricket as for elite men's cricket? Does the standard of umpiring so far in this tournament concern you?

In light of the fact that it is now probably advantageous for Australia to deliberately lose its Super Six game against the West Indies, will the ICC consider revising the tournament rules / structure in future?

On the ICC takeover of women's cricket:

How have you utilised the experience of the IWCC officials who ran the women's game up until 2005?

Does it concern you that there are so few women at the top levels of cricketing administration (for example, the BCCI has no women in senior positions)? How can the ICC act to improve female representation at this level? Is the ICC even bothered about this, given that very few women serve on its own Board of Directors or on any of its committees outside of the Women's Committee?
(Edit: Clare Connor (Chair of the ICC Women's Committee) sits on the ICC Cricket Committee and the ICC Development Committee.)

We often hear that the ICC has invested a lot financially in the women's game. Can you give exact figures? Where is the money going?

What steps has the ICC taken to ensure better media coverage of the women's game since 2005?

Overall what, if any, have been the benefits to the women's game since the ICC took over in 2005?

On the future of women's cricket:

Does it concern you that some national cricket boards invest so little in women's cricket? What steps will the ICC take to ensure that this is no longer permissible?

What will the ICC do to ensure better publicity for the women's game in future?

When, if ever, will the DRS be introduced in women's matches?

Miscellaneous (and mainly facetious):

Can you name a single female cricketer?

Please explain the Net Run Rate system in no more than 10 words.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Women's World Cup: halfway review

In my last blog post, I wrote about the existence of a two-tier system within women's cricket, in which England, Australia, New Zealand and India sit comfortably within the top tier, with the other countries involved in this World Cup (West Indies, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka) located within the bottom tier.

This tournament has rendered the idea of a two-tier system almost entirely obsolete.

Yesterday, the hosts, India, were knocked out of the tournament by a supposedly second-tier team, Sri Lanka. This, of course, followed on from Sri Lanka's spectacular victory over England on Friday (see my last post).

Sri Lanka must have known that their victory against England might well be considered a crazy one-off, but they came out fighting, and determined to prove everyone wrong. A few stats to put their innings into perspective:

1. Mendis (55), Rasangika (84), Siriwardene (59) and Kaushalya (56*) all made scores of 50+. Before this tournament, only four Sri Lankan women had achieved this feat; the number has now doubled.
2. Rasangika's 84 in 109 balls is the highest score ever by a Sri Lankan in a World Cup.
3. Kaushalya's 56 in 31 balls (including 3 sixes) places her at the top of the list of Sri Lankan batters by strike rate, with 88.88. (The top six on the list are all members of the team which played yesterday.)
4. Sri Lanka eventually reached 282-5 – their highest EVER score in an ODI by a long way (the previous highest was 252-5 against Ireland in 2011).

In the Indian innings, Sri Lanka fielded no less than seven bowlers. How many took wickets? All of them. It was as if they were deliberately making a statement: “we are ALL awesome. Hear us roar.” And so they were, bowling India out for 144 in 42.2 overs. India were completely outperformed, by a team who were on no-one's radar before this tournament started. They are now.

I'm almost sure Sri Lanka won't go on and win this tournament, or even beat Australia or New Zealand. But that doesn't matter. Reaching the Super Sixes stage, and beating two of the world's top-tier teams in the process, is more than enough. For now.

There's been some incredible performances so far in the tournament, leading me to spend much of each match with a zillion statsguru tabs open as I try to put each result into its statistical-historical context.

For instance, there have already been eight centuries scored – this equals the record for most centuries scored in World Cups, a record which is on course to be beaten over the next few days. This includes Stafanie Taylor's 171 (the third highest total EVER by a woman in an ODI) against Sri Lanka; Devine's 145 against South Africa (the second highest total in an ODI by a Kiwi, following Bates' 168 against Pakistan in the 2009 tournament); Edwards' 109 v India (she is now the leading run-scorer in women's ODIs, on 4901); and Kapps' 102* v Pakistan (making her the highest scoring South African ever in World Cups).
(For a full list, see below.)

There have also been 12 partnerships of 100+ runs; in 2009 there were only 5 century partnerships in the whole tournament. This includes the highest ever partnership for South African women in a World Cup (128 runs between Kapp and van Niekerk) and Sri Lanka's highest partnership against India (117 runs, between Mendis and Rasangika) and England (103 runs, between Jayangani and Mendis).
(For a full list, see below.)

For me, two bowling performances stand out. Candy's 5-19 against Pakistan is the best performance by a New Zealander in a World Cup since 1993. In her first ever World Cup match, she was deadly accurate. And Brindle's 3 wickets for no runs in 2 overs against the West Indies was a spectacular performance, and a career-best.
(For a list of the best bowling figures, see below.)

Lastly, the list of highest totals in women's ODIs has also been dented. The West Indies made 368-8 v Sri Lanka, which is now number seven on that list; New Zealand's 321-5 against South Africa is the tenth. India scored their highest World Cup total ever, 284-6, against the West Indies. And of course Sri Lanka achieved their highest ever ODI total.

What we are seeing are the results of the increasing professionalisation of the women's game over the last few years. It should surely be clear to everyone from Sri Lanka's performances that, if you support your women cricketers financially, they will reward that support with victories. And that, if you don't, they are liable to be knocked out of a tournament in its earliest stages, even when they are playing in home conditions. If I was Mithali Raj, I'd be aiming a big “screw you” right now in the BCCI's direction.

Predictions for the Super Sixes? Given that Australia carry through the most points (4) and looked confident in their victory against New Zealand, I'd say they're favourites for the final. The likelihood is that it'll come down to the final match of the Super Sixes between New Zealand and England to decide who joins them there. Bates is in the runs (leading run-scorer of the tournament so far, on 240) so, as an England fan, I'll be nervous. Nonetheless, if Edwards and Brunt are back to being fighting fit (Edwards apparently felt under the weather during the match against the West Indies, and Brunt suffered an ankle injury after over-zealous wicket celebrations!), I'd like to hope we're on target for another Australia-England final.

But, to be honest, if there's one lesson we can take from this tournament (and indeed, from the world of cricket generally over the last couple of months), it's that cricket defies expectation and predictability. Anything could happen! I love it!

There'll be more 3.30am starts for me over the next few days, and more nocturnal living. But that's okay. Already, we've seen the two greatest upsets in the history of the women's game over the course of less than a week. For what feels like the first time, the world is watching, and women's cricket is not letting itself down. It's worth getting up for.

Stafanie Taylor 171 v Sri Lanka
Sophie Devine 145 v South Africa
Meg Lanning 112 v New Zealand
Charlotte Edwards 109 v India
Harmenpreet Kaur 107* v England
Marizanne Kapp 102* v Pakistan
Suzie Bates 102 v Australia
Thirush Kamini 100 v West Indies

Century partnerships:
175 (1st wicket), Raut and Kamini v West Indies
103 (1st wicket), Jayangani and Mendis v England
128 (3rd wicket), Bates and Devine v South Africa
102 (5th wicket), Devine and Browne v South Africa
122 (3rd wicket), Chetty and Kapp v Australia
100 (2nd wicket), Edwards and Taylor v India
106 (4th wicket), Kaur and Jain v England
110 (3rd wicket), Taylor and Kyshona Knight v Sri Lanka
103 (5th wicket), Bates and Perkins v Australia.
182 (2nd wicket), Lanning and Cameron v New Zealand
128* (6th wicket), Kapp and van Niekerk v Pakistan
117 (2nd wicket), Mendis and Rasangika v India

Best bowling figures:
Candy 5-19 v Pakistan (career-best)
Shrubsole 4-21 v West Indies (career-best)
Brunt 4-29 v India
Ruck 4-31 v South Africa (career-best)
Ismail 4-41 v Australia
Brindle 3-0 v West Indies (career-best)

Friday, February 1, 2013

England v Sri Lanka: the biggest upset in the history of women's cricket?

1st February 2013: Sri Lanka Women 244 for 9 (Atapattu 62, Kaushalya 56) beat England Women 238 for 8 (Gunn 52, Jones 41) by one wicket.

On Test Match Special this morning, Alison Mitchell described the above England-Sri Lanka result as “the biggest upset in the history of the women's World Cup”. Other commentators are apparently now describing it as the biggest upset ever in women's cricket.

This is quite some claim. Are they right?

To answer that question, you need to delve a little deeper into the history of the women's game. To my mind, there are three phases to that history.

The first phase began with the first international women's cricket tour, England in Australia and New Zealand in 1934/5. Until 1973, these three countries, aside from a few matches with South Africa, were the only teams playing official international cricket, mainly because very little women's cricket existed anywhere else. Their domination (in particular after the ban on sporting contact with South Africa) was such that a book on women's Test cricket was published in 1987 entitled The Golden Triangle.

The second phase was ushered in with the first women's World Cup in 1973 - the first ever ODIs played by women. By this stage other countries were beginning to form women's associations – in particular India and the West Indies in 1973. Women's cricket quickly became extremely popular amongst Indian women – it was on this basis that India was chosen to host the 1977 World Cup – and the standards rapidly improved. However, the sport remained underdeveloped in the West Indies, Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland, who nonetheless participated in international tournaments alongside the other teams.

Thirdly, in the period following the 1993 World Cup, South Africa were welcomed back into the international fold post-apartheid, and women's teams were formed in Pakistan (in 1996) and Sri Lanka (in 1997), and began to compete on the international stage. But, as women's cricket developed in the countries where it received most government support, becoming more and more professional, these newer teams continued to struggle to match up to the standard of the rest.

So, since 1934 there has been an unofficial two-tier system in place, summarised as follows:

Phase One, 1934-73
Top tier – England, Australia, New Zealand (generally in that order)
Bottom tier – South Africa

Phase Two, 1973-93
Top tier – England, Australia, New Zealand, India
Bottom tier – West Indies, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland

Phase Three, 1993-present
Top tier – England, Australia, New Zealand, India
Bottom tier – South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland (and more recently, Bangladesh, Japan, Scotland, USA, Zimbabwe, etc.)

This two-tier system is, of course, now recognised by the ICC: the top-tier countries participate in Quadrangular ODI Series' (and in 2002/03 a 'World Series' of women's cricket – trust me, it was awesome), and automatically qualify for the World Cup.

An “upset” would (fairly obviously) be defined as any team in the bottom tier defeating a team in the top tier. This is what happened today in the England-Sri Lanka match. The question is, has this ever happened before?

(Caveat: I'm not including T20Is here, but with very few exceptions, they follow the same pattern as described below.)

Well firstly, in Test matches, no. There has never been a female equivalent of, say, Pakistan men defeating England at the Oval in 1954. Why? Partly because there hasn't been that much women's Test cricket, and barely any at all since the newer teams were formed.

However, in ODIs, there have been three key examples of “upsets”.

The first and most recent upset has been more of an ongoing trend than a one-off. This is the West Indies' recent form in one-day cricket. Since 2009, they have won ODI series' against England (2-1, in the November 2009 series in the West Indies) and India (2-1, in the 2012 series in India), as well as winning 2 ODIs against India, in India, in January 2011, but losing the series. None of this is a surprise, however, because it has coincided with the career of Stafanie Taylor, one of the most talented female cricketers I have ever seen. In almost every one of these upsets, she played a pivotal role, with the ball, the bat, or both. She's been well supported by Dottin, Aguilleira, and Anisa Mohammed, all quality cricketers.

Actually, the West Indies are starting to undermine the whole concept of a two-tier system. But, anyway, the point is that while the above results were “upsets” in the strictest definition of the term, they weren't really shocking, as such.

Onto the second example. This one is very relevant: it is the only time in history before today that a second tier team have beaten a top tier team in a World Cup match. I'm referring to South Africa's 5-wicket victory over England in New Zealand during the 2000 tournament, in which England were bowled out in 47.3 overs for 143, one of their lowest ever totals in a World Cup. South Africa made the required runs with 19 balls to spare, and went on to reach the semi-final, where they lost to Australia. England, for the first time ever, failed to make the final stages of the tournament. An upset? Yes, certainly.

But was it a shock? Not if you'd been present at their win against England, at Taunton in 1997. Their first international cricket tour since 1972, and they win a match against the current world champions. That was the real shocker. How did they do it? A lot to do with Daleen Terblanche, their keeper, who stumped Edwards when she had got to 102, ran out Metcalfe on 44, then hit 27 runs. She was also instrumental in their success in the 2000 World Cup. Quite a player, and South Africa's second-highest ODI run-scorer ever, on 1256.

South Africa went on to create further international upsets, beating England on 4 further occasions, ending with the 2003/04 series in South Africa. But Terblanche retired in 2008, and South Africa went back to being nothing too special. (They lost to Australia today, by 150 runs.)

There's one more example of an “upset”, and I think this is the main contender to rival today's result. In 1979 the West Indies toured England for the first time. They did not win a Test, and lost the first ODI. Then out of nowhere, playing at an obscure ground in Shireoaks, they somehow restricted England to 167-6 in 50 overs, and struggled their way to 169-8, hitting the winning runs with 2 balls remaining. Patricia Whittaker was instrumental in the victory, taking 3-36, including the wicket of Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, the leading batsman in the world at the time, and scoring 40 not out.

How do I explain this one away? I can't. There isn't really any explanation, other than the sheer grit and determination of the incredibly inexperienced West Indians, who happened to be facing one of the best female cricketers ever, and still triumphed. If the match had gained any media exposure, and if twitter had been invented back in 1979, you might well have seen a similar reaction to the one that hit the airwaves at about 10.30 this morning. But it didn't, and it wasn't, and it remains largely forgotten as a match – the West Indies Women's first triumph against England.

On reflection, though, I do think this morning's result is the biggest ever upset in the history of women's cricket. Mainly because it was just so absolutely impossible to predict. In 1979, and in 2000, England weren't the reigning world champions, and they weren't the fittest, most professional and quite possibly the best international women's cricket team there has ever been. They are now. And they were facing a team of almost total unknowns, whose top batsman, before this morning, averaged less than 30.

No wonder it's hard to believe.

As an England fan, I'm disappointed, naturally. (And exhausted.) But this can only be a good thing for the women's game. For one, it has excited cricket-lovers the world over. And secondly, it's a testament to the massive improvements that can be made when women's cricket is professionalised. In the 2009 World Cup, Sri Lanka lost every single match they played, and didn't look like doing otherwise. Since that time, the set-up has changed completely. The players are now given jobs within the armed forces, and can dedicate far more of their lives to playing cricket. They no longer worry about money.

Take note, countries who refuse to fully support your female cricketers: financial investment, a proper coaching set-up, more time devoted to cricket – all these breed success. It's not rocket science.

As for future “upsets”? I like to think that eventually (assuming the fundamental tenet of gender equality continues to make progress in all societies where women's cricket is played, which won't happen if the BCCI has anything to do with it), the standard of women's cricket will improve so much that the two tier system will be effectively phased out. And, as in the men's game, teams will move up and down the rankings in accordance with the quality of the players available to them at the time. (If the players aren't being rotated, that is ;) ) There'll still be upsets; they just might not be as upsetting as this one.

England fans, like me, who woke up at 3.30am, might be permitted to wish this was all just a bad dream. It wasn't. What everyone is saying is true – this really was the biggest upset in women's cricket history. It also bodes extremely well for the future of women's cricket.

And now for some sleep.