Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to attract more women to cricket: a response

In Matt Cleary's latest post for Cricinfo's The Cordon, 'How to attract more women to cricket', he writes this:

As for attracting women to the games, it's not as hard as one might think. In spring and autumn, Australian race-tracks are filled with young women who go along to dress up and drink champagne, and have a bet on a horse and a laugh with their friends. They go to flirt and look at boys in suits. And it's all good. They spend a bunch of money and everyone's happy.
Surely cricket can have champagne bars. And boys in suits. And girls can learn to love the game and understand that you don't actually "watch" every ball or every movement on the field, because there's often not much going on and you would go blind.

I appreciate that Cleary is referring to the Australian context and, sadly, I have never set foot on Australian soil (one day, Aussies, one day). But the issue of attracting women to international cricket matches is a global one and as precisely the same gender imbalance applies at every men's cricket match in England I have ever attended, the methods we should use to tackle this imbalance are presumably also very similar.

I agree with Matt Cleary on one thing: we need to think seriously about how to encourage women to rock up at cricket games. But as a woman who attends matches every summer, and considers herself a big fan of the game, I'm not sure that I agree on the methods.

Here's the problem: women don't feel like we belong at cricket grounds. So how do we attract more women to cricket? I've compiled a bit of a list. It isn't exhaustive by any means, and it won't solve the problem overnight - but I reckon it might make a difference.

1. Don't assume cricket fans are men.
When you repeatedly receive emails from Lord's which begin "Dear Sir", it's a little awkward. Not to mention horribly outdated.

Newsflash: women like cricket too. There are far more female fans than there are women going to games. Maybe part of the problem is the cricket authorities assuming we don't want to watch the cricket, when actually, there might just be other reasons preventing us coming to matches.

2. Make cricket grounds child-friendly.
Not that this should be the case, but women are still often the ones left holding the babies. Newsflash #2: It's hard to travel to cricket matches with a baby. Couldn't those in charge make it a bit easier? Make the changing facilities a bit better. Provide space to put the buggies. Free baby food with every pint of Guinness (bleurgh). Anything to make it seem that babies at cricket matches are welcome, rather than a nuisance.

3. Have a few female club members show up.
You know those shots on TV when they zoom in on the members, and they're all men? I know you do; it happens every Test. It's not the greatest advert for county cricket clubs in the world, to be honest. It's also a little off-putting.

If there were more female club members, more women would attend matches. And then they'd be on the TV. And then more women would want to join the club. Win-win for the club, right?

Admittedly, I may be exaggerating this problem, because I spend most of my time at Lord's. Every single MCC member that you see is a bloke. And when you remember that the MCC only let in female members with great reluctance 14 years ago, it doesn't exactly make you feel at home.

All of which brings me on to my next point:

4. Make cricket grounds feel more "gender-neutral".
Women exist. Hello. We also play cricket, and have done since the 18th century. You wouldn't think that if you rocked up at any cricket ground round the world, and had a stroll round. Read the names on the gates. Look at the statues. Go inside and look at some of the photos on display.

Here's an idea: build a Rachael Heyhoe-Flint statue at Lord's, to honour her successful campaign for female membership of the MCC. Or put in an Enid Bakewell gate at Trent Bridge.

Anything to show that cricket grounds aren't exclusively male spaces. Because it sometimes feels that way at the moment.

5. Don't have female cheerleaders at the IPL.
When women watch (men's) cricket, do we see other women? Not very often. And when we do, who do we see? Stunningly beautiful, skinny, skimpily-dressed IPL cheerleaders. And you wonder why we don't want to rock up at the Oval in an "I love cricket" hoodie and jeans (the weather doesn't usually allow for less).

How about more female cricket presenters? How about more female commentators on TMS, and not just during women's tournaments? (The Sofa are better than most at this, which is encouraging, but nobody's perfect.) How about a female umpire or groundsman? How about having a woman ring the bell to signal the start of play at Lord's? Or - now this would be fun - have a woman announcer.

If we see women involved in cricket matches, and not just as objects of fawning male admiration, we might end up being more likely to come along.

6. Promote women's cricket.
I'm boringly predictable, aren't I? Good.

It's part of the same thing, really. The point is that those involved in the game need to show that women and cricket do mix, to disprove the feeling many women experience that we need to keep quiet about the fact that we love a game which "only men can really understand". If we can read every day about other women who play the game a damn sight better than most men we know, it'd be pretty encouraging.

Why do you think that the only matches with more female spectators than male are women's matches? It's because it's a place where women feel we are allowed to like cricket. If we felt the same at men's matches...well, you do the maths.

Finally, don't patronise us. I've understood the laws of cricket since I was 10. I may be female, but I don't need champagne or boys in suits to make me head to Lord's or The Oval on a summer weekend.

And, unlike my dad, who normally fits in a snooze somewhere between lunch and tea, I quite like watching every ball.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What Margaret Thatcher did for women's cricket

Margaret Thatcher died yesterday (as if you didn't know).

She was, in the words of the BBC's Nick Robinson, "a woman who inspired passion - both love and loathing." The twitter reaction proves as much.

I have my own political views, of course. But that isn't what this blog post is about and I will keep those to myself for the moment.

This post is about what Maggie did for women's cricket.

The Lords Taverners, in case you hadn't heard of them, are the UK's leading youth cricket and disability sports charity. Their mission is "to enhance the prospects of disadvantaged and disabled young people using cricket and other forms of sport and recreation to engage with them." In the last decade (according to wikipedia) they have raised and distributed over £30 million to schools, clubs and special needs organisations.

The Taverners was formed in 1950 by a group of actors, including Martin Boddey, the founding Chairman; they were drinking buddies at the Tavern pub next to Lord's Cricket Ground. From the very beginning, the members raised funds for grassroots cricket "through an eclectic mixture of showbusiness and cricket" - including, notably, cricket matches starring big names from both worlds. They also quickly established the tradition of granting the sitting Prime Minister honorary membership of their organisation.

But there was a rule. Only men could become members.

The Taverners had been around for 29 years when Thatcher became the UK's first female Prime Minister. No one expected it - least of all the Lords Taverners. It is unlikely that they had even thought about what to do if she won the 1979 general election.

Dilemma: How do you grant honorary membership of an all-male organisation to the standing PM, when the standing PM happens to be a woman?

Discussions took place behind the scenes well into the 1980s. It took a while to answer the question above, but in 1987, eight years into Thatcher's premiership, a solution was reached: the Lady Taverners, an all-female branch of the organisation, was formed, with Thatcher becoming Honorary Lady Taverner No. 1.

23 other women were also invited to join - those who had already had some involvement with the Lord's Taverners, some who were wives of male members, including Joan Morecambe (the first President), and possibly the best known female cricketer to ever play for England, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint.

Intriguingly, the Lady Taverners website states that "there was some opposition in the early days" to their formation. It's that old chestnut, isn't it, that women and cricket just don't mix. But Thatcher was Prime Minister, and suddenly they had to.

There are now over 1,000 members of the Lady Taverners and, much like their male counterparts, they have proved an incredibly effective fundraising body, donating over £12 million to various causes since their formation in 1987. There are other legacies too. It is perhaps natural that an all-female organisation, with Rachael Heyhoe-Flint as one of its earliest members, would choose to devote resources to the encouragement of girl's cricket. One recent example is their support of the ECB's national girls-only cricket competitions for U11, U13 and U15 girls, which have brought many girls into the game who might well otherwise have never picked up a bat.

And one more. Throughout the 1990s, Heyhoe-Flint led a campaign for female membership of the MCC, in the face of continued "no" votes from the members, who appeared to think that if women were allowed into the Long Room the world might end. It took until 1998 for the necessary two-thirds majority to be secured and a change in the MCC's constitution to be effected, paving the way for the first female members in 1999 (Heyhoe-Flint among them). From what I've read, Rachael's membership of the Lady Taverners greatly increased her credibility in the eyes of some MCC members - and it also provided her with several contacts who managed to drum up high-profile support for the campaign, such as Tim Rice, David Gower and Rory Bremner.

I haven't found any evidence to suggest that Thatcher was personally interested in women's cricket. But without her, the Lady Taverners would quite likely not exist, and it's possible that the MCC would still be the last bastion of misogyny in England. Maybe, just maybe, having a female Prime Minister did change a few things after all.

If you would like to find out more about the Lords or Lady Taverners, please visit their website:

Friday, April 5, 2013

On Raj, "Resting", and Player Rotation

India Women have just concluded a T20I series whitewash against Bangladesh, minus two of their leading players, Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. Prior to the series, it was announced by the BCCI that they had not been selected. The word "dropped" was very carefully not used when the announcement was made. Instead, Gargi Banerjee, chair of the women's selection committee, stated that the two players were being "rested" for the course of the series.

This is an interesting use of the term and in my view, it calls into question broader issues about the "resting" of players in both women's and men's cricket.

The resting of players, or "rotation policy" as it has been termed, is a fairly recent phenomenon in the cricketing world. A trawl through recent history suggests that it has come into vogue largely since the introduction of T20Is into the cricketing calendar nine years ago, a fact that has not only increased the workload of players at international level, but has lured many into further loading their personal schedules by heading abroad to play in T20 leagues, notably the IPL.

Notable examples from the past 12 months include Anderson's exclusion from the squad for the third Test against the Windies in June 2012, the non-selection of Anderson, Swann and Trott for England's ODI series in India in January 2013, KP missing the New Zealand ODIs in February, and of course a number of high-profile decisions by Australia to rest players - including, possibly most controversially, Mitchell Starc, who missed the second Test against Sri Lanka in December 2012 after taking 5-63 in the first Test. I could go on...

But you might be wondering why it is that I haven't used a single example from women's cricket. Well, player rotation in women's cricket is practically non-existent. Why? Let's think for a minute about the chief reasons which have been put forward to explain why player rotation is now regularly practised in the men's game:

1. There is a hell of a lot of international cricket being played these days.

2. It prolongs the careers of players, in particular fast bowlers, if you don't select them for every single match.

3. Resting players will mean they perform optimally when they return to the side, and will possibly return hungrier for success.

4. It's a good idea to have a large pool of players to choose from, in case of injury (which is inevitably going to happen to your top players at some point). To improve the performances of your secondary players, they need to have as much international match experience as you can possibly give them.

5. It gives the fans and journos something to moan about.

None of these (bar reason 5, ahem) are applicable in the women's game. While it would be amazing to have a large player pool, in a sport where resources are stretched to the maximum and there is minimal funding, most squads for international tours contain only 15 players. Players cannot be rushed over from abroad mid-series, and, with only limited contracts available (this varies between countries), there is far less opportunity for new players to break into the squad at short notice.

Too much international cricket? The concept in women's cricket is, frankly, laughable. In 2012 Raj played 28 days of international cricket. Yes, 28. (By comparison, the top male players are playing for probably 10 months of every year, not including stints in the IPL.) The next series India are scheduled to play has not yet been fixed (such arrangements are often made at the last minute), but will most likely not be for several months. The women's game is crying out for MORE cricket, not less. This also invalidates reasons 2 and 3, because players by most measures simply do not play enough cricket to worry about being too tired to perform at their best, or having their careers cut short (for most women retirement still comes at a time when other commitments, such as the careers they are forced to have outside cricket, take over, and not when their bodies wear out).

In short, "resting" players in women's cricket is - right now, anyway - totally unnecessary.

Which leads me to think that ultimately, this whole thing isn't really about player rotation at all. What is it about? Banerjee said the following when questioned about the decision:
the seniors such as Mithali and Jhulan have played more than 100 ODIs. Also, they are 30 years [Raj is 30, Goswami is 29] and I don’t see them playing in the next World Cup, which is four years away. We have to look at the future.
Aside from the fact that 30 is hardly past it, especially for Raj, a batsman; that neither player looks past their prime; and that both performed admirably at the recent World Cup, in spite of the team's overall poor showing there, this throws into question the use of the word "rested". The term is totally inappropriate to describe what has happened to Raj and Goswami. They don't need rest (unless there's something going on behind the scenes with either player, which I doubt). They've been sidelined to make room for newer players.

There are wider issues at stake here. In my view there is nothing wrong with "resting" players in theory. The real problem with player rotation is that no one is quite clear precisely what it means, or when it is being used.

Is it only about giving players who look tired a rest, or is it also about not using players in formats of the game in which they are weakest? (Then again, isn't that just being "omitted", or "dropped"?) Is it partly about making players keener to compete for their place in the side, even if they don't feel tired? Should players miss whole series', or just individual games? Should it be used when there is a dead rubber, to "blood" new players? Should it be used against "lesser" teams, when there is a bigger series like the Ashes coming up?

Is it only really applicable to fast bowlers with a large workload? Do the players get a say in it? Who decides when a player needs rest? The player themselves? The coach? The sports scientists behind the scenes?

As far as I can see, no one has answered any of these questions satisfactorily.

This isn't the first time the term has been used deceptively. At the end of last year, Peter Siddle missed the Boxing Day Test. The selectors claimed at the time it was because he was being rested - but we later found out he was in fact already carrying an injury. This was deliberate deception on the part of the Australian administration. The concept of "player rotation" has also been used to justify the poor treatment of Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith, who were brought in for the first match of the ODI series and then discarded for the remainder. All this quite possibly explains why Inverarity is so touchy about use of the term "player rotation".

Inverarity reckons the fans and the media have no right to know if a player is being "rested" or is injured. In his words, in the press conference following the Test matches against Sri Lanka: "I don't think it's in the interests of the player to reveal every little niggle. Players don't want to be seen as vulnerable or physically suspect and we respect that. We'd rather take the heat than the players. We won't always say that he's got a bit of a bad knee because more can be made of it and it's awkward for the player." I happen to disagree with Inverarity here. I can't quite see the point of trying to cover up an injury when presumably it will come out at a late date anyway. Does being dishonest really benefit anybody in the long run?

But in any case, the trouble with so-called "Informed Player Management" is that it's not informed at all. I'm willing to bet that both Raj and Goswami, given the choice, would have bitten your right arm off to play those three T20Is. So what if it's "only" Bangladesh? They play so little cricket as it is that for these women, each time they get to walk out onto a cricket field in an Indian cricket shirt and represent their country is doubly, no, triply precious. It's obvious they had no involvement in the decision.

I think it's similar for male cricketers - because the risk always, of course, is that someone else will come in and do well, and possibly knock you out of the running. Anderson made it quite clear that he wanted to play in that third Test against the Windies. He didn't get to. Back in 2007, Kallis was "rested" for the T20 World Championship without being consulted first - and promptly quit as vice-captain. Presumably the vast majority of these decisions are made without input from players?

Do players even understand whether they are being rested or omitted due to lack of form? As Stuart MacGill said recently, in reference to the Australia selection policy:
I don’t think the rotation system has been clearly defined to the players. If it is clearly defined you might have a difference of opinion. For example, in one day cricket I thought the best way to stem to flow of runs was to take wickets, whereas John Buchanan thought it was to keep the run rate down. I disagreed with him, but I was comfortable with the selection policy at the time. I don’t think that same clarity can be claimed now.

The latest example of confusion came only yesterday. Matt Prior has been omitted from England's provisional squad for the Champions Trophy this summer. Eh?? This is the best wicketkeeper-batsman in world cricket, who has just miraculously saved a Test for England. Several people on twitter described this as "resting" Prior. Is it resting? Or do England still not consider him good enough to bat in this format? It would be helpful to know.

So, here's my point: the selectors, in both men's and women's cricket, need to come right out and actually say what they mean. Trying to obfuscate the issue by using the terms "rested" and "rotated" when what they really mean is "we lack faith in this player in this particular format", or even just plain "we have dropped this player", is not helpful for the players, the media or the fans. There are occasions when resting is appropriate, of course, and maybe it's fair enough to not have selected Raj or Goswami for a series against a weaker team like Bangladesh, and to bring in some newer players - but to use the term "rested" as a synonym for other issues is a problem. It doesn't tell the whole story, and it undermines the whole concept of player rotation.

We'd have one less thing to moan about, but it would be nice, all the same, for the selectors to practice a little bit of Informed Fan Management when it comes to player rotation.