15 year old Katie Jordan took four wickets for her village, Mersham, in the Kent Regional League last weekend. A week earlier, England international Kate Cross took eight wickets in the Central Lancashire League for Heywood. Cross, on her debut in April, had been the first woman to play in the history of the league.
Both stories are very pleasing, reflecting particularly well, not just on the two players, but also their clubs who made the bold step to select them. But are Jordan and Cross’s experiences to remain anomalous or are they trailblazers?
Amongst the ECB’s current woes is their calculation that participation in recreational cricket declined by 7% in 2014. An expansion in the number of women playing cricket must play a part in their response. The base – the numbers currently playing – is low. Looking locally, my club has about six years commitment to junior girls cricket. Yet, this season, boys outnumber girls on our membership roll by 8:1. Our ‘boys’ teams will play twenty times more matches in the season than our girls team.
I placed apostrophes around ‘boys’ teams because that’s not really what they are. Over the last two or three years, a handful of girls have regularly appeared in various age level teams. At the junior league meeting last winter, the clubs voted unanimously to repeal a regulation that limited the number of girls in a team to three. Nobody could or would justify the rule. It had just sat in the rulebook as a piece of casual day-before-yesterday sexism and we all felt a little more virtuous for voting it out.
There are practical challenges to achieving the potential for expansion in cricket for girls and women. Access to playing and changing facilities is something each club will need to look at. Female coaches for female players, as required by the ECB, may be more difficult. My club is very fortunate, for the time being, to have links with our local university women’s cricket club. But above all, it’s opportunity and example, that will determine the growth in the women’s game.
A fellow blogger, the Third Man, argued this week that England’s future prospects are a numbers game: the pertinent metric being the quantity of seven and eight year-olds introduced to the game. With cricket coaching in primary schools, where it exists, gender neutral, it should be drawing more girls to the game at an early age. I wonder whether secondary school offers even greater advantages. Female sports teachers, sports halls and equipment (soft, if not hard-ball) are already in place.
Cricket for girls, whether in girls-only competitions or mixed matches, can preserve or even enhance the sport’s, ‘national summer game’ status. The strategies needed to achieve it go well beyond the scope of a single Short Pitch post, but those with the authority and resources ought to be working away at it.
At the start of this piece, I described the stories of women excelling in ‘men’s’ league cricket as pleasing. It would be immensely satisfying if those incidents became so routine that ‘girl bowls out boy’ has none of the media appeal of ‘man bites dog’.