Sunday, 17 February 2013

Who Is Elite Women's Cricket For?

A serious question: who is elite women's cricket for?

To understand our terms of reference here, let's consider the question with regard to elite men's cricket.

Elite men's cricket is a commercial enterprise, which exists for the enrichment of the administrators, via the entertainment of the fans. It is for the fans and the administrators. It's as simple as that.

So what about elite women's cricket, which currently has a relatively small (if growing) fan-base and certainly isn't enriching any administrators right now?

Until fairly recently the answer to this question was actually pretty simple: women's cricket was "for" the players, who were expected to dig deep into their own pockets in order to play at the pinnacle of their sport, in the world cup.

Things began to change in 2005, when the ICC took over women's cricket; and now most of the top players are at least semi-professional. (The bulk of the England team, for example, have jobs which are effectively "sponsored" by the ECB, allowing them the flexibility to train seriously, if not full-time.)

The situation is still "evolving" though... and that's putting it mildly. At a domestic match last summer, I overheard Sarah Taylor (widely regarded as the best female player in the world) going around the pavilion begging for a lift to the railway station, so she could get home after the game! Another England regular, Dani Wyatt, drives (IIRC) a beat-up Ford Fiesta. In short, these girls* are hardly living the life of Second Division (4th-tier) footballers, let alone Premiership ones!

So clearly the players themselves are there because they love cricket - they might not be paying their own air-fares any more, but almost all of them could find financially more lucrative careers if they wanted, of that I'm certain.

But still, the game isn't quite for them any more. It is also for "us" - the fans who go to matches; and the administrators who (one would assume) would like to see women's cricket at least pay its way. (It is currently heavily subsidized by the men's game.)

So we have an odd 'half-way' situation; and women's cricket stands at a crossroads. It can go one of two ways - back into "for the players" obscurity; or forwards, into a new era of "for the fans" success.

I've never played women's cricket; and let's face it I probably never will... for obvious reasons!

But I am a fan... so no surprises for guessing which way I'd like it to go!

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* A word I feel slightly uncomfortable using, but one which the players tend to use themselves.

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