Sunday, 31 March 2013

Mithali & BBL Tokenism

There have been a couple of big stories in women's cricket this week.

Firstly, India's Worlds Cup captain Mithali Raj has been unexpectedly fired left out of their squad to face Bangladesh.

Of course, India did not emerge from the World Cup with too much credit. But nevertheless, one can't help feeling that Mithali is being punished as much for her outspoken attitude as her performance on the field, either as a captain or a batsman; and England captain Lottie Edwards, who has also had her "candid" moments, for example at the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka last year, must for one be thinking 'There but for the grace of God...'

This week's second big news was Steve Waugh's suggestion that each BBL team include one woman.

I think Waugh's heart is probably in the right place here, but this is nevertheless tokenism of the worst kind; and I really hope it doesn't happen. Women's cricket is just getting toward the stage where it can stand on its own two feet - the last thing it needs now is its best players getting nabbed by the men's game.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Tickets Please - Links For Women's Ashes Tix

Tickets are now available for most of this summer's internationals against Australia.

Apart from the double-headers which are being played prior to the men's fixtures at The Rose Ageas Bowl and Durham, tickets are generally around the £10 mark for adults and from as little as £1 for kids.

For the non-double-header games, sell-outs are unlikely, except possibly on the first day at Wormsley.

Now all that's left to do is cross our fingers for the weather! (I'm just down the road from Wormsley, and it is currently snowing!)

(1) Tickets for Hove not yet released.
(2) Tickets for Chelmsford currently available by telephone only.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Women's Ashes - One Series or Three?

Traditionally, cricket series do not span formats; and to fans, The Ashes has always meant test matches.

But with only one test being played in this summer's Women's Ashes, this is arguably a bit of a nonsense; so the possibility has been raised of defining the series across all three formats.

The obvious question then is whether the test should be 'weighted'. Common sense would suggest that a four-day test shouldn't count the same as a three-hour T20; but on the other hand, weighting the longer matches too heavily could mean that the series is all over well before the T20s begin.

Sources close to the ECB are telling me that there are still working out the details on this one, and nothing is yet set in stone.

I think my preference would be to weight the ODIs and T20s equally, but allocate two "points" for the test.

Thoughts? Share them in the comments!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Why Sarah Taylor Playing Men's Cricket MIGHT Not Be QUITE Such A Good Thing After All

In his recent interview with Sarah Taylor, Jonathan Agnew again brought up the "hype" (Sarah's word) about her playing men's cricket; with Agnew concluding that it could 'only be a good thing'.

I'm not so sure!

It is not necessarily a bad thing... but I think there are two potential problems with it: one philosophical and one practical.

The philosophical problem is that it reenforces the 'second class' status of women's cricket, with the implication that only by playing "proper" (i.e. men's) cricket is Sarah really testing herself.

Obviously this is something we could argue about all day - that's the definition of a "philosophical problem"... right?

So let's move on to the practical dilemma!

Sarah obviously believes that by playing men's cricket she is improving her game... which, to be fair, she probably is.

But if this comes at the expense of time spent playing women's cricket, then she is potentially damaging both the England team and the game as a whole, by depriving other top female players of the opportunity to test themselves by competing against the best player in the world.

It is worth acknowledging that such a scenario is currently not on the cards, and probably never was. (For all the headlines on the front pages, all that was actually said was that she might be in talks to play occasional county seconds cricket - not even "First Class" cricket.)

And to repeat myself all-over-again, I am not arguing that it is a bad thing either!

But nevertheless it is important to recognize that there would be downsides too.

[And with that... I will now shut-up about SJT and men's cricket for the moment!!]

Friday, 15 March 2013

Sarah Taylor: Another 10 Years But "Not Keeping"?

I don't want to revisit the whole 'Sarah Taylor playing men's cricket' hype again right now (though I do have more to say on it... coming soon!) but one other interesting titbit emerged from her interview with Aggers on TMS today.

Asked about her ambitions for the future, she said she hoped to play for another 10 years, but she clearly and unambiguously qualified this by adding "not keeping", suggesting that her body wouldn't take it.

Sarah has always said that she loved keeping, because it kept her at the heart of the game; so for her to be already talking (at 23) about retiring from that role seems strange; but it is clearly something that is very-much on her mind.

Perhaps it is related to the issue of the England captaincy, and the old cricketing adage that keepers can't be captain?

(I'm on record as saying that SJT should not be the next England captain; but I'm guessing that isn't a sentiment she would agree with!)

The one person this might be good news for though is Amy Jones - Taylor's current understudy with the mittens; who could be forgiven for having the teeniest, tiniest spring in her step this morning!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

On Elegance & Sarah Taylor

Commentator and (sadly, former) England star Isu Guha posts the following on Twitter:
Don't think many would agree with me but I think Trott is the most pleasing on the eye with the bat in this current England team #thoughts?
Laura Marsh and Charlotte Edwards both joined the conversation - nominating Ian Bell and (tongue in cheek) Steve Finn respectively.

If pushed, I'd probably agree with Laura... but only if we restrict the criteria to the current men's team.

Taking both teams into account, by far the most elegant player currently wearing an England shirt is Laura and Charlotte's team-mate Sarah Taylor.

In fact, I'd go a little further, and nominate SJT as the most elegant English batsman since David Gower.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Cricinfo Take The Long View On Women's Cricket

Guardian Sport's Editor Ian Prior fesses-up that when it comes to coverage of women's sport on his virtual back-pages, it's all about the page-views:
"We get flak for not covering women's rugby, cricket and football enough, but it's expensive to cover and the level of interest makes it hard to justify."
It's a pity; but it really puts into perspective the fantastic efforts that Cricinfo has made over the past couple of years to transform their coverage of the women's game, with more front-page headlines, equal billing for women's internationals (no longer listed under "Other") ball-by-balls, and proper match reports from the big games.

I'm sure the folks who run Cricinfo aren't doing this out of the goodness of their hearts though: they realize that by investing in the women's game, they are nurturing a level of interest which will grow the sport as a whole, and their page-views with it.

It is just ironic that The Guardian might have been around for a hundred years; but right now it is Cricinfo who are taking the long view; against the short-term, (men's) football-obsessed stance of their old-media competitor.

But of course, they are cricket people; so what else would you expect?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Pro Sport & Gender Discrimination

(Obligatory I am not a lawyer, but... Disclaimer Goes Here!)

In a previous post, I linked to a BBC Sport article which discussed (among other things) pay differentials in women's sport.

I think it is worth stopping to ask why these differentials exist?

The "obvious" answer is that the money follows the fans: to take our game in particular, women's cricket draws much smaller crowds, and sells far fewer replica shirts, so there is consequently less money to pay the players.

Except that... the players aren't paid a percentage of the gate or a cut of the replica shirts. The men are paid a fixed fee/salary, as are the women; and in any normal industry this kind of (and let's call a spade a spade here) "discrimination" wouldn't be permitted.

However, professional sport is not a normal industry. It was granted an explicit exclusion from the original 1975 Sex Discrimination Act which was reiterated in the 2010 Equality Act.

What's that all about?

Well again, there is an "obvious" answer: the economics of pro sport are so heavily weighted towards men that any attempt to enforce equality would literally bring the system crashing down. And if you asked the ECB, I'm sure they would tell you that there is no way they could afford to pay Lottie Edwards the same salary as Ali Cook.

If you ask me, this sounds a lot like the kind of arguments that were made against equal pay generally in the 70s - arguments that sound laughable in our more enlightened times.

But regardless, it is The Law so nothing can be done about it... right?

Er... no, actually!

As we have seen a few times recently it is possible to challenge The Law under the Human Rights Act.

Sooner or later someone is going to do this... and I suspect they will win.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Our Girls Deserve Better Than Cattle

Tom Fordyce has a blog up on the BBC Sport web site, headlined GB sportswomen tell BBC Sport survey they 'lack support'.

The article is about pro sport in general, but cricket gets a specific call-out:
At last autumn's Twenty20 cricket World Cup, women's teams were given a daily living allowance a third less than their male counterparts; while the winning men's time took home £616,000, the champion women's team won just £40,000.
I think that the prize money is a bit of a separate issue, especially as it doesn't go directly to the players; but I know that two issues rankled with the girls who went to the T20 World Cup, and actually I have it from a reliable (but off the record... sorry!) source that the biggest one for the England team wasn't the daily living allowance, but the fact that they had to fly "cattle" to the sub-continent.

And I have to say - I agree with them! Partly because I've done it myself (London to Bangalore) and it was not much fun! But also because it seems so petty: how much would it have really cost for the ECB to upgrade the girls to business? Even at list price, only a few thousand, which in the greater scheme of things isn't much, and as top athletes, no more than they deserve.

(And that's before you factor in the possibility that someone like British Airways might have done it for free, in exchange for a few promotional photos of Danni Wyatt and Sarah Taylor enjoying a glass of orange juice in the business class cabin!)

To make matters worse, the ICC\ECB then not only repeated the slight at the recent World Cup in India, but also appear to have explicitly directed the players not to complain about it in public. (Again... off the record sources!)

So... wake up ECB - our girls aren't cattle, and they don't deserve to fly like them either!

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Future of (Women's) Domestic Cricket - The Super Premier League?

In my previous post, I suggested that the traditional county system is not the right foundation upon which to build a future for women's cricket in England.

So... what is?

My dream is to see an elite, franchise-based competition, based on the model of the Indian Premier League.

The good news is that we already have a prototype of just such a competition in England - it is called the Super 4s - a (semi) annual tournament, contested by four teams drawn from the best players in England, with the occasional non-English player thrown into the mix too.

The S4s currently acts as more of a boot-camp for the national team than anything else; but evolving it into something more like the IPL would be an obvious next step, starting down the road of building the connections and loyalties between the teams and the fans which the game in England needs to drive itself forwards both commercially and on the field.


In a post on Twitter, Martin Davies suggests keeping the county system, but reducing the number of teams to as few as 6.

This is, in effect, the same solution I am proposing; but with different team names.

However, I do think this is an important difference - the county team names carry baggage which inhibits emotional connections as much as it promotes them: I am never going to support a team called 'Kent'... but I might support one called 'The Southern Death Stars'. (Or... er... something.... I'm not good with names!)

Crossing The County Line

When it comes to cricket, I am first and foremost an England fan; and though I do occasionally watch the domestic game, I do so with no particular team-affiliation.

This provides me with a somewhat different perspective to most of my fellow cricket enthusiasts; who have grown up with team loyalties rooted in the county system.

So when they start to think about how to drive women's cricket forward, they look at once to the county system to achieve this.

But the fact remains that county cricket is a historical anachronism; and if we were beginning again with the men's game, we certainly wouldn't choose a series of (largely) arbitrary, 1000-year-old kingdoms as the building-blocks for our modern competitive structures.

The problem is that too many counties leads to too much uncompetitive cricket; leaving the girls under-prepared for the greater rigors of the international game.

The manifestation of this phenomena is slightly different in the men's and women's games: in the men's game, talent is spread too thinly, which at least has the merit of the matches themselves being competitive. Conversely, in the women's game, talent is too concentrated among a couple of counties, meaning most matches are actually hopeless mismatches - case in point being last year's T20 final, which Sussex could have won in their sleep... with their bootlaces tied together!

The answer, instead, is to accept that the county structure doesn't really work for our game, and to build a new competition, based on an IPL/ Big Bash style franchise system.

Now, if only we had one of those already kicking around, in prototype form!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

TV Times: Back To The 80s?

Who do you think of when someone mentions the 80s? Madonna? Morrissey? Morten Harket? Not me! Gower, Gooch and Gatting were more my thing! So you won't be surprised to hear that I spent many a summer's day sitting in front of the TV watching test cricket... interrupted by regular jaunts to Glorious (ha!) Goodwood. (Where I learned enough about horse racing to later write an entire novel set in that world!)

I still occasionally catch a glimpse of those days on ESPN Classic or Test Match Years, and I'm amazed by how primitive it all seems compared to today - the stuttering action replays and the monochrome-friendly over-contrasted colours, all filmed from a single end of the ground. It's a far cry from pitch maps, stump mics and Hawkeye.

However basic it might have been though, it was still better than nothing. And I appreciate this more than ever now; because 'nothing' is pretty-much exactly what fans of women's cricket will get to see on their TVs, when our girls are playing Australia this summer.

If last year is anything to go by, SKY will broadcast the double-header T20 games, but that will be it.
So while our national team are playing test cricket for The Ashes in August, what will SKY be showing? The action from Wormsley? Or WWF repeats and golf advertorials? (Go on... have a guess!)

I'm sure SKY have sound business reasons for this. Cameras and commentators cost money; blar, blar, blar! But do they really cost that much? What if SKY took their inspiration from those 80s tests of my childhood? Three (fixed?) cameras, and a small (studio-based?) commentary team is all it would take; and it would be so much better than nothing... wouldn't it?

(The ECB, who already film all the matches with a (single) (fixed) camera, might even help-out!)

Friday, 1 March 2013

Defending The BCCI

Raf Nicholson, writing on the history of the WWC, says that the recent tournament in India suffered from the "same old problems":
The BCCI forcing changes to the schedule at the last minute? Tick. A lack of publicity and no TV coverage of key matches? Tick. Poor umpiring? Tick.
I'm a bit more philosophical than Raf about poor umpiring. With the benefit of TV replays, it was easy to see that there were some shocking decisions; but I also understand that umpiring is a ridiculously difficult and thankless task; and you don't have to go very far down the pyramid of the men's game to find similar levels of ineptitude either. The answer, frankly, is DRS, but that's a rabbit-hole I don't want to disappear down right now, because... shock(!)... horror(!)... I'm about to come to the defense of the BCCI!

Regarding the last-minute schedule changes, there were actually two changes:
  1. Due to security concerns surrounding the Pakistan team, some games were moved from Mumbai to Cuttack, on the other side of the country.
  2. The  remaining games were moved to a different stadium in Mumbai.
Regarding the move to Cuttack, I honestly don't see that the BCCI had much choice. If they had ignored the security concerns and something had happened, they would have been culpable for the disaster; and let's not forget that security concerns in India tend to mean guns and bombs, not placards and slogans.

The stadium move was obviously more selfish and arbitrary - to accommodate a domestic men's game - but did it really make any difference? After all, even the smaller stadium was barely one-tenth full for most (all?) of the tournament.

So although the situation was not ideal, and there are definitely issues with the BCCI's support for women's cricket, this is one case where I feel we can cut them a little slack.

(As for the TV coverage... I'll have more to say on that in a later post!)