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Chair's blog: Women's Big Cricket Month

ECB Chair Ian Watmore takes us through his experiences from a fantastic month of women's cricket

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Chair's blog: Women's Big Cricket Month

Ian Watmore

This month is Women’s Big Cricket Month. For my part I started at Leicestershire where I saw the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy match between Lightning and Central Sparks at the Fischer County Ground. It was an excellent game with two not out centuries and over 550 runs in the day. I was also hosted by Mehmooda Duke, our first ever female Chair of a first class county, and I learned so much from her as she charts an exciting future for her county. 

I then went to Derbyshire for the first Vitality IT20 between England and West Indies women at the Incora County Ground. It was another high standard game, with some impressive hitting from both sides. Ian Morgan and his Derbyshire team are hosting all five of these matches, following a successful period of hosting in the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup, and they see this as a key part of their future plans too.

Sandwiched between these games I went to my local club in Cheshire (Lindow CC) where I met the captain of their women’s section - and her three cricket playing daughters. With a senior and several age-group teams, interest has exploded in recent times, helped no doubt by the senior team having an unbeaten season. They also kicked off the month by hosting a soft ball tournament largely aimed at beginners, with pens at the ready to sign them up for life!

All of this shows how poised women’s cricket is in this country to take off providing we don’t let the virus knock us off course. It reminds me of how similarly poised women’s football was ten years ago when I was at the FA.

At that time, the leaders of women’s football had battled hard over many years for grassroots recognition, the international team was highly competitive, we had the Olympics in 2012 as a global showcase, yet it was the first casualty of the Setanta collapse, and there was no established league structure for the professional players. I joined the FA’s women’s committee and toured with the women’s team in Finland and learned so much from them, vowing to come back and combat Board opposition to launch the Women’s Super League, and crucially get the big Clubs to buy in and put it on TV. This in turn would get girls’ football on the agenda at even more schools and clubs and create a virtuous circle. This was not easy with much apathy, and even outright misogynist hostility at the time, but I am delighted that it all happened and the period from 2010-2012 became a launchpad for all the success that women’s football has had subsequently.

Women’s cricket today has many similarities with football then - grassroots taking hold, world champions on the pitch, Commonwealth Games to come in 2022, all put in jeopardy by an external crisis. Yet there are important differences too.

First the ECB has already recognised the need for a professional structure and The Hundred will commence as a joint men’s and women’s competition in 2021. Secondly, the game has moved heaven and earth to get women’s cricket on this summer, at international (big thanks to West Indies again) and regional level, with the inspirationally-named Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. Thirdly, the first class counties are already behind women’s cricket with many hosting games this year, e.g Derbyshire hosting the five IT20s. Fourthly, at Board and Executive level, there has been unwavering support for women’s and girls’ cricket despite the setbacks caused by Covid. And finally, the broadcasters are showcasing women’s cricket more and more, there is strong support in wider media, and our own Clare Connor is to be the next MCC President.

All this has helped put a dent in the wider narrative that women’s sport has been a casualty of Covid. As a sport, we could not promote advocacy for growing the game, without ensuring that women’s cricket was not subordinated to the men’s game during this crisis. I am proud that cricket has been seen as a positive example of this philosophy.

Another interesting difference has been in the shattering of the glass ceiling of broadcasting talent now filling our screens and airwaves. Back in 2010 there were no recognisable female football broadcasters, although I remember being interviewed by a young Jacqui Oatley, and doing a post-match press conference with the England right back, Alex Scott, thinking you’re a good footballer Alex, but you’re also a natural as a broadcaster. Little did I know….

Southern Vipers celebrate with the Rachael Heyhoe Flint trophy

Southern Vipers celebrate with the Rachael Heyhoe Flint trophy

Today, of course, we in cricket already have great women broadcasters and journalists like Ebony Rainford-Brent, Isa Guha and Lizzie Ammon, not just leading the coverage of women’s cricket, but cricket in general. Never underestimate how important this is to the overall strategy for growth.

The postponement of the 2021 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup has, of course, been a big disappointment and Heather, Clare, Tom and I must play our part at ICC level to ensure that the women’s game remains a global priority. Fortunately, we have infilled with a planned tri-series in New Zealand with Australia, and I hope to tour with the team in NZ if quarantine rules permit. We then hope to have a full summer of regional cricket, The Hundred and international matches before limbering up for a Women’s Mega Cricket Year in 2022 with the postponed World Cup (defending our trophy), an Ashes series, the inaugural Commonwealth Games tournament in Birmingham and a T20 World Cup to close the year in South Africa.

In the long-term, the drive to diversify the game must continue. The platform and reach that the elite game can provide is significant, but more must be done to see women in leadership positions across the game too. It does not sit comfortably that just one Chair of the 41 counties is female, and only one CEO of the first class counties. Cricket needs diversity of thought not just to grow but also to embrace all those who do not currently see themselves in enough parts of the game.

The Board this month re-committed to championing and turbo-charging the women’s and girls’ game over the next five years. We are clearly pushing at an open door, with last weekend’s IT20 taking the mantle as the most-watched women's cricket match ever in this country, exceeding the audience attracted for the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup Final. Final numbers across both BBC and Sky saw a peak audience of 1million and a total reach of 2million.

Momentum is clearly with us and I cannot express enough thanks to everyone who has been involved in getting us to this point. The collective passion and enthusiasm for women’s and girls’ cricket we are seeing will bring about rapid change and reward.

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