I will start this piece with a question: Who was the first cricketer to score a double hundred in an ODI match?
I am sure (hoping) most of you know the answer (no, it’s not the Little Guy). But, if you are one of those people who are convinced it’s Sachin Tendulkar then I will request you to use your favourite search engine and find it out for yourself. That way, you, not me, will be the person who makes you realize how limited our knowledge is about the game we so gladly claim to love. Go ahead, do it and come back.
*Hint: No, it’s not a man.
Belinda Clark, the celebrated Australian opener, did it in 1997—well over a decade before the Master did it. Yet, the sad truth is that she will be remembered as the first cricketer to do so only in record books. In the common cricket lovers’ mind, though, it will always be Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. One reason for that is the sheer fact that 9 out of 10 of us haven’t seen her score the double, while all of us have watched Sachin perform the feat. The second reason compelled me to write this article. We are sexist people, maybe some more than others, but sexist nonetheless. Sadly, sexism has no gender and that is why Belinda Clark and the likes of her don’t ever get due credit. What is more painful is the fact that Belinda Clark’s case is just one of several instances. Over the years, women cricketers have created several historical moments, most of which are either unknown or have been long forgotten.
Among all these achievements, the one that contributed most significantly to the game was the invention of round-arm bowling in the early 1800s. In those days, both men and women used to bowl under-arm. While it was not difficult for men to bowl under-arm, the women faced an immense challenge: their long, fluffy skirts. It is because of that very reason round-arm bowling came to be. A woman named Christina Willes first came up with the idea while practicing with her brother, the Kent cricketer John Willes*. He went on to become the first ever cricketer to bowl round-armed in a competitive cricket match. Although, there is no definite proof supporting the story, this incident has been regarded as one of cricket’s greatest stories, and has been accepted as truth by many cricket historians.
The men adopted it sometimes later when they discovered the benefits of the cricket ball spending some time in the air, and the game of cricket was never the same again. This was just the beginning of women’s contribution to cricket. In fact, the farther I delved into the past, more astonishing cricketing feats by women came to the fore.
And not more than six decades ago, an astonishing thing happened in a test match: one Australian cricketer scored a century and took ten wickets in the same test. Her name was Betty Wilson, the first ever test player to achieve this feat. Not surprisingly, she was added to the ICC’s Hall of Fame recently.
Between the times of Christina Willes, Betty Wilson, and Belinda Clark, the world witnessed some of the most significant cricketing events that gave birth to the modern era of cricket. The fact that the very first Cricket World Cup of 1973 was played between international women’s teams and happened two years prior to the men’s event is proof enough to make a case for the relevance and grandness of women’s cricket. That being said, the current state of women’s cricket does not, by any means, do justice to what they have contributed to the rich history of the game. Sure, in the last couple of years, there has been a huge positive shift in the way international women’s cricket is conducted; every major cricketing event is now organized for both male and female cricketers, often at the same time. The remunerations—though still disparate—have been raised significantly for women cricketers. Female commentators and analysts are storming into the world of pre- and post-match events. However, if you notice, all these are happening because the ICC has taken it upon themselves to bring women’s cricket into the mainstream of sports entertainment, a place that has mostly been ruled by the men—except for tennis, of course, and we all know why it is so wildly popular worldwide. If you are in denial, then let me spell it out for you: S-M-A-L-L S-K-I-R-T-S.
The sad reality of it is that the women’s cricket matches don’t bring too many spectators to the field. Moreover, when it comes to television broadcasting, the ratings aren’t promising either. There isn’t any lack of skill, any lack of beauty of the game, or any missing drama on display in the matches. The problem does not lie with the cricketers. The problem is more prehistoric, grave, and global: it is the deep-rooted sexism in each of us. That’s why even the men who play cricket, who are fully aware of all that is challenging and backbreaking about this game, have failed terribly and irreparably to stand beside their counterparts of the opposite sex in times when they were most needed. In fact, while researching the male cricketer’s role in the development and spread of women’s cricket, I stumbled upon something that made my soul die a little. I am talking about the infamous video of Michael Vaughan and Michael Slater interviewing Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning in 2013. During the lunchtime of that year’s Boxing Day Ashes Test, Channel Nine broadcasted something that should easily go down in history as one of the most thwarting moments in the battle for equality. And I am not only talking about cricket, or sports, for that matter. The five-minute-long video, which felt like a painful eternity, stands against every battle for equality our world has ever known.
To give you an idea of how bad the interview was, let me point out just three moments of many that will make you cringe:
- Michael Vaughan tells the story of him dancing in a TV show
- Michael Slater says at one point that Ellyse Perry should thank him for kick-starting her career by “letting her get him out” in a charity match
- After footage of modelling shots of those two female crickets is shown, Michael Slater asks- and I quote, “Do you enjoy doing that?”
Believe me, when I say this: the abovementioned moments weren’t the most painful moments of the interview. The most heartbreaking thing to see was how those two young ladies were trying to get a handle on the situation with poise and laughs. For those of you who don’t know, the 22-year-old Ellyse Perry represents Australia in both cricket and football, and Meg Lanning, the vice-captain of Australia at that time and the captain now, is one of the most successful ODI openers of this generation with an average of 50.57 in 45 matches. If that’s not enough then you should know that both of them have been a part of Australia’s World Cup winning team of 2013, something that the two less than ordinary LOI batsMen present there have never achieved and never will. If you want to experience the excruciating pain of watching the video then check out “Perry and Lanning join the Cricket Show” on Cricket Australia’s website.
Sadly, though, this was only one of the times when the world of cricket had failed its female athletes, who have dedicated their lives to the evolution of the game. There have been many more such incidents that were as ugly as the above-mentioned video, if not uglier. And the reason why things are not changing is quite simple. It’s because of the same reason why most people didn’t get past the title of this article. It is about women’s cricket and we do not care about women’s cricket as much as we care about women, not even close. It’s because of the same reason why most of us, if not all, search for the images of female cricketers before checking up on their cricketing stats. No, I am wrong… We don’t get to that part at all. That is why there is a Sachin Tendulkar of Women’s Cricket but there is no Belinda Clark of Men’s Cricket. If you haven’t figured it out yet, this article isn’t about the female cricketers, because there’s no problem with them. This article is about us, the spectators, the self-proclaimed cricket lovers who have loved the game so much that they have religiously ignored a part of the game, having never considered it significant. And, while I am one of “them,” I have watched as many highlights of women’s cricket matches as I could for this article, and can vouch for one thing: there is no lack of grace, proficiency, or entertainment in there. Sure, the challenges of the game have been reduced with smaller boundaries, one-test Test Series’, and uncountable other settings, but that too is on us—the sexist bunch of spectators and administrators.
The women cricketers themselves have repeatedly raised their voices against this stepdaughter treatment, demanded equal opportunities as the male cricketers to improve their skills and to showcase their abilities. However, we have robbed them of their basic right to shine on the field by taking on the challenges the sport has to offer. As it happens in every field of life, a bunch of men—sitting on a self-constructed pedestal—pompously decided what women can and cannot do on the green grass. The rules have been changed for “allowing the weaker sex” to play cricket. The very regulations, which were invented to make cricket “playable” for women, have, in turn, made it impossible for women cricketers to show how equally capable they are on the pitch. They spend not a minute less in the gym or in the nets than their male counterparts, but their boundaries are shorter, their test matches are shorter by a day and aren’t a regular part of women’s cricket calendar—things they have not only never asked for but have always voiced against. But who would listen to the second-class citizens of the Cricket World? They are treated as if it’s more than enough that they get to play cricket. You know why the situation is worse for women in cricket than in any other sport? Ask yourself: what other popular women’s sports allow them to cover the entirety of their legs, or cover themselves in clothing, loose enough to hide their curves? A coincidence? Just name one popular sport where you don’t get to see their muscular thighs or can’t guess the size of their breasts, that’s all I am asking!
If that’s not enough for you to realize that the watered down rules of women’s cricket are sexist slaps on their faces, then I have more for you. ICC’s message is clear: “Oh, sweetheart, don’t push yourself too much… here, I give you your very own brand of cricket.” Add to that the broadcasters for whom the idea of Women in Cricket stretches from the well-proportioned cheerleaders to the dolled up presenters (even their skills are constantly made undetectable with low camera angles and on-camera flirting). The sweating girls on the field, with their unkempt hair and their covered bodies, don’t stand a chance. And, God forbid, if you are an attractive female cricketer then that will become your perpetual identity: “The beautiful Ellyse Perry scored her first test hundred today.” Oh, when you are Googling for her images again, don’t forget to check her statistics. I swear it’s impressive.
Between ICC’s inability to see beyond their narrow ideologies and the cricket broadcaster’s limited interest in fuelling women’s cricket, Women’s test cricket is practically dead. In the last decade, there have been less than ten test matches played all over the world. With less than one test match per year, and literally no coverage, the Women’s test simply cannot survive. What makes things even worse is that the women’s domestic circuit consists only of limited overs cricket. This doesn’t do justice to someone like Charlotte Edwards, the English captain who has managed to play only 23 test matches in a career that stretches over nearly two decades. The proposal to abandon women’s tests entirely has already been raised. Financially it makes sense to ICC, but there is one tiny problem: the cricketers want to play test matches. When asked, Charlotte made it clear that she prefers the long format to the shorter ones because it offers her a chance to test her batting skills. With an average of 44, and 13 innings of 50+ runs (including 4 hundreds), she sure makes a strong case. However, all things considered, women’s test cricket doesn’t bring home much revenue and that’s really a serious problem. The players want more tests and some more time before making a judgment, but ICC doesn’t see it that way. Right now, the whole thing is stuck in limbo. However, one good has come out of the whole mess: there are now way more T20s and 50-over games played between the women’s national teams compared to only three years ago.
Even with that, it’s not enough and the reason is the players themselves. They want more out of the best days of their lives that they dedicate to the game they love. When they are on the field, creating the best of sporting moments, they want an audience. They want their performances to be seen by people and remembered. When a perfect in-swinging yorker uproots the leg stump, what bowler wouldn’t want to hear the roaring cheer of the audience? What value does a century hold if not followed by a standing ovation? The women cricketers bowl their shoulders off, they bat for their country’s pride, they take flying catches, they bounce the courage out of the batters, and stretch their physical and mental strength to the extreme, only to leave their legacies behind. They just want to perform in front of an audience, be seen, and be appreciated for their efforts. What more should they do, accomplish all that in a bikini? Imagine your favourite male cricketer in a thong, will you? Keep that image in your mind for a while.
With that picture still lingering, ask yourself why you don’t give women’s cricket a proper watch? What preconceived notion stops you from enjoying a good cricket match that has everything a proper follower can hope for? The more you watch women’s cricket the better opportunities the female cricketers will get to prove themselves, to show that they can, by all means, play cricket as well as their male counterparts. Enough of bringing biology into it, enough of saying women athletes are weaker. How many male cricketers represent the country in two separate sports, again?
That’s all that I can say. I can’t claim to be any different from any of you who have given women’s cricket a skip all these years. I have no solution to offer but intent. Don’t deny the female cricketers their basic right of an audience, and they won’t deny you your right to be entertained.
*John Willes- the man who picked up round-arm bowling from his sister- was denied to perform so, and it led him to call it quits.
~ Arka Dutta
Photo source: wikipedia