England women perfect sales pitch
The majority of the population may baulk at the suggestion of extra work, but England women are relishing the chance to double up as marketing gurus over the next few days.
They meet Australia at Bristol on Saturday morning in the NatWest Quadrangular Twenty20 series, the first half of a double-header that sees the men’s side - led by Stuart Broad - face Sri Lanka in the afternoon.
Far from simply whetting the appetite for their more illustrious male counterparts, England women are eager to showcase their considerable skills in front of a sell-out crowd - not to mention a global TV audience.
“It’s what the players crave,” Clare Connor, head of women’s cricket at the ECB, told ecb.co.uk.
“Anyone who plays international sport wants to play in front of lots of people, so it’s great to have matches like this. The players are really excited. It’s a thrill for them and it’s brilliant for the profile of women's cricket.
“All the players are very proud of being ambassadors and trying to sell their sport; they realise it’s up to them.
“They’re very conscious of that and are very eager to put on a good show. It’s a powerful opportunity to give the sport exposure.”
England achieved unprecedented coverage from a hitherto largely uninterested media during their all-conquering march to the top of the game.
It peaked with their World Twenty20 triumph at Lord’s in 2009, which came on the back of a winter in which they won the Ashes as well as the World Cup.
They may have failed to match those lofty standards since, but Connor insists the desire to be the best in the world remains as strong as ever.
She pointed out: “We said after that brilliant year in 2009, with all the euphoria, that we’re not going to scale the mountain and topple off the other side. We need to stay at the summit.
“It’s nice that we’re able to make some big strides. The challenge for us is to stay at the head of the game - to be the first to do things.
“You hear much about the great Australia teams of Waugh, Warne and McGrath and the great West Indies sides before that.
“There haven’t been many English sides that have dominated their sport for 10-12 years. That’s something we’re passionate about achieving.”
England got their T20 series under way at Chelmsford today with an eight-wicket victory over New Zealand today in front of the Sky Sports cameras - before Hampshire’s Friends Life t20 clash with Essex under the floodlights - the first of four games that will be broadcast live over the next five days.
England, New Zealand, Australia and India will compete for a place in the final, to be held at the Rose Bowl on Monday as a precursor to Hampshire’s game against Somerset.
“It’s great to have double headers like this,” said Connor. “It works for the players, it works for the broadcasters and it works for the fans, who get to see two games of cricket.”
The quadrangular tournament, only the third of its type in the women’s game and the first to be held in England, will precede an identical 50-over competition starting next Thursday.
Both formats, according to Connor, will provide not only England but all four sides to demonstrate just how far women’s cricket has come in recent years.
“It’s unrecognisable from a few years ago. We probably saw the start of the change when I stopped playing,” said Connor, who retired in 2006 after captaining England to Ashes glory the previous summer.
In addition to her ECB duties, it is a measure of her standing in the game that she now sits on the International Cricket Council cricket committee.
“Scoring rates, innovations, speed, strength, tactical awareness - it has all improved beyond recognition. That comes from all the investment and time boards like the ECB are putting in.
“That shows the progress we’re making. Everything is heading in the right direction.”