Sunday’s cricket World Cup final showcased so much that is great about the sport. There was plenty of skill on view, with both bat and ball, and in the field; fluctuating fortunes, tension, drama, a fantastic finish and some wonderful celebrations.
And (whisper it quietly) … the players were all women.
Women? Playing cricket?
Oh, you’d better believe it. And it’s now official—England’s women play cricket better than every other country on the planet!
England are also the reigning rugby union world champions, and the current Olympic hockey gold medallists (albeit in the guise of Great Britain—although the sixteen-strong squad was entirely English). Add to that a third-place finish in the last football World Cup and then compare the equivalent achievements of their male counterparts and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the respective gulf in coverage.
I get the arguments about popularity, fan base, television audiences, money etc., and if you happen to think the physical differences are relevant (which I don’t), then throw them into the mix as well; but now consider the following:
How quickly women’s team sports are developing and improving; the ability, dedication and determination of our elite female athletes; how many of these women are role models for aspiring youngsters; how well England’s women perform on an international stage; how well England’s women perform under pressure; how often England’s women win!
In whatever athletic endeavour, you can do no more than strive to be the best you can be, but when talent and hard work takes you (both individually and collectively) to the pinnacle of your particular sport, then you deserve to be making headlines—to be noticed, congratulated, appreciated, supported (and “support” can take any number of forms).
In the two years leading up to Rio, I had been highlighting the women’s hockey squad, and how they were potentially the “team to watch” in Brazil. What they achieved last year was simply outstanding. I’ve rarely seen such belief and togetherness in any group of athletes, and Hollie Webb’s conversion of the penalty which secured Olympic gold was a sporting moment I will always cherish.
In one little semi-detached house near Middlesbrough, there were shouts of delight and tears of joy; but they were nothing in comparison to the outpouring of emotion from Kate Richardson-Walsh and her squad. I doubt I will witness a greater sporting achievement from any English/British sporting team in my lifetime.
And (say it out loud) … the players were all women.
In fairness, England’s cricket captain Heather Knight and her squad certainly kept the huge crowd at Lord’s and those watching at home on the edge of their seats (or sofa in my case).
At 191-3 chasing England’s 228-7, India looked home and as dry as the threatening clouds would allow. Two crucial-looking chances had been missed, and the balance was very much in favour of a fine Indian side.
Enter Anya Shrubsole.
The Bath-born 25 year-old bowler suddenly produced the spell of her life to demolish the Indian middle and lower order. In truth the first couple of wickets probably shouldn’t have altered the result; but they created pressure … and pressure can affect the very best, especially when you’re playing in front of thousands of people in the biggest game of your life.
India collapsed. Likely victory became almost certain defeat…
With one wicket required, the mother of all easy catches was spilled by Jenny Gunn (a shame because she’d had a great game with both bat and ball), but thankfully it was not a defining moment as two balls later Anya Shrubsole ripped through Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s defence to claim her sixth wicket and, more importantly, secure the victory and the World Cup.
Absolutely brilliant! What a performance; what a game; what a day!
And (shout it from the rooftops) … the players were all women…
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest