Monday, January 17, 2011

Is the standard of women's cricket appalling?

                                                           Karen Rolton

Today, on twitter I saw a few interesting comments by the sun cricket correspondent John Etheridge. He said that standard of women's cricket is a joke and most cricket pundits think the same, but aren't ready to say that on air. Finally, he tried to clarify by saying that what he meant was, compared to standards in other sports women play like tennis, golf, swimming and co. it is low. The most interesting comment though he made was, people who patronise women's cricket are the worst.It made me think about women's cricket and finally I even thought of writing an article on the subject.

Before writing the article, I would like to make it clear that I am not  trying to criticise anyone, who has a low opinion on women's cricket, but I would just like to share my views on women's cricket.

I don't think I have to research the history and talk about women in sports as everyone knows that there was a time, when women weren't allowed in sports. Gradually with time, they started taking part in most sports. Perhaps the most significant moment for women's sport came in 1973 when Bobby Riggs deliberately played the male chauvinism card by saying that female players are inferior and even at his age of 55, he can defeat them. BJ. King took up the gauntlet thrown at her and did beat Riggs.

In the last few decades, we have also seen women participate in events that were said to be not meant for them. We can think of 10000m. event being introduced in 88 summer Olympics with Bondarenko winning that event and with time, Ma Junren's  army took long distance running to another level. Marathon was also soon introduced into Olympics and if I am right, even women's boxing would be introduced in the London Olympics.

So, after looking at women in other sports, let us comeback to the topic on hand, women's cricket. The gut feeling is, it isn't just about women's cricket being of lower standard when compared to men's cricket, but even if someone compares it to other sports that women play like golf and tennis, one can see that women's cricket is of very low standard.

How much of it is true and if it is true, why women's cricket is of very low standard?

If I have to think of women's cricket, I would like to look at what the most talented fast bowler I have seen Akram say on women's cricket,

"They're not sharp, but they can become sharp if they play a longer version of the game - at least two-day cricket where they can bowl a lot more overs and, by doing that, their bowling muscles will get strengthened and their pace will increase.  If you've got to play one tournament in two years or five one-day internationals, you're not going to improve your pace."

I see an element of truth in it as the only country I know, who used to play at least two day domestic cricket Australia don't play it anymore. If I leave Australia, I can only think of three teams, who can be called as a major force in women's cricket which are the Kiwis, England and India. Among those three teams, the Kiwis haven't played test cricket for sometime now. So, how can anyone expect women cricketers to bowl at decent pace, or even bat for long periods? 

The best batswoman I have seen Belinda Clark agreed with Akram and said,

"I agree with him that [longer cricket] plays a very important role in developing not only bowling skills but the ability to bat for long periods and actually learn the game is done in the longer form of the game. The harsh commercial realities are that that's going to be difficult to do going forward."

The counter argument put forward by those who see women's cricket as a joke is, top teams like England have a coach, analyst, physio, strength and conditioning coach and maybe more.  I don't care even if a team has the best physio, or a strength conditioning expert around, as a cricketer can only improve by bowling lots of overs, or by batting for long periods on a cricket field, but the sad part is, as Clark said because of the commercial realities, it is difficult to organise even two day cricket matches.

The next question that can arise is, whether women's cricket has ever produced cricketers at least of decent standard? I am not a cricket pundit, but from whatever little bit of women's cricket I have seen, I would stand by what I have said before that there have been more than a few cricketers, who were good. Let us look at few of the cricketers that I have been able to watch.
                                                            Janette Brittin
Janette Brittin- I can confidently say that she was a great batswoman as just like any other great player, she could play for long periods and get big scores. She was also a fine stroke-maker as she had a good range of shots. The Surrey and England great still holds the record for the highest aggregate of runs scored in test cricket. If not anything else, watching her bat didn't make me feel that standard of women's cricket is a joke. 

Belinda Clark- In my humble opinion, Clark was slightly better than even Brittin, though purists would likely prefer Brittin. Clark's great moment came when she scored a double hundred against Denmark in the 97 WC. So, it isn't SRT who was the first one to score a double hundred in one-day cricket. Yes, it came against a weak opponent, but by scoring a double hundred, she showed that women cricketers too can get big scores. If Denmark was a weak opponent, what about her knock against the Kiwis in the 01 WC final? A WC final always means players from both teams taking part in the event feeling the heat as the winner will be crowned the champions. Belinda Clark though showed delightful  footwork against the spinners and got 90 odd runs. In-spite of wickets falling at the other end, she kept playing her shots and with just a bit more support she would have taken Aus. to a fine victory. It was one of the few times, I was lucky enough to watch her bat and I am not afraid in saying that she was a great ambassador for women's cricket. She deservedly was appointed as a member of  Order of Australia a few years ago. Anyway, if she was bad, why would Australia appoint her as one of the coaches in centre of excellence? She must have been of decent standard to be appointed as a coach.

Karen Rolton- If I have to describe Rolton, I have to think of the game between South Africa and Australia in the WC in 2001. The big hitting lefthander scored 107 of just 67 balls and made everyone sit up and take notice of the talented lass from Australia. It made even Rupert Murdoch think of getting television rights for the final of that WC. In the 05 WC final against India, Clark didn't do well, but her deputy Rolton smashed a hundred in quick time to help Australia to yet another WC victory. Rolton  wasn't just a great batswoman, but could bowl medium pace as well. If I am right, she even held the record for highest individual score in test cricket. Her class can be seen by the fact that as per just stats, she is even better than Clark.

Claire Taylor- In recent times, the wicket-keeper batswoman Claire Taylor has been the backbone of England's batting. I have always thought of her as a gutsy batswoman, who can bat for long periods. Her best knock was perhaps the 156 she scored against India at Lord's in 06. She was also declared as the player of the tournament in the t/20 WC in 09.

Mithali Raj- How can I leave out the Indian lass Mithali Raj? Her game is all about timing and grace. I have never seen her play a slog. Sometimes won't it be better to watch a graceful player than a slogger like say Pollard, or Yusuf Pathan?? Just like Rolton, she too held the record for the highest individual score in test cricket for a while. Edwards, Hockley, Keightley, Stahlekar, Chopra, Sarah Taylor and few others can also be thought of as fine players.

Cathryn Fitzpatrick- At the beginning of the article, I did mention Akram's point about lack of quicker bowlers in women's cricket, but Fitzpatrick was one cricketer, who could consistently bowl 80mph. Among the bowlers, I also like England's off-spinner Laura Marsh.

Of course, none of the above mentioned cricketers can be compared to men and I find that comparison ridiculous. Even the comparison with other women's sports doesn't seem right to me. For instance, in tennis Williams sisters, Henin, Clijsters, Wozniacki, Azarenka, the Ovas from Eastern and Central Europe, or even slightly lower ranked players like Kvitova, Peer and co. play tennis day in and day out. They also have the backing of sponsors. Leave alone those, who are in the top 100, but even those languishing well below the top 100 in rankings like Groenfeld, Rodionova, or O'Brien play challenger tournaments and qualify for the odd grand slam.

The same can't be said about women's cricketers as even the top countries like Aus, Eng, Ind, or NZ don't play fc cricket. They occasionally take part in bilateral series, but in women's cricket, it is mainly about playing in the WC. Think about the plight of teams like Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, Holland, Ireland, Pakistan and few other countries as for them, it is just about the WC. A few of those teams have to take part in the qualifying round and may not even participate in the WC.

Let us also think about the 93 WC held in England.  The tournament almost didn't happen because of the lack of funding, but at the last minute, £90,000 grant was got from the foundation of sports and arts and the organisers also got some high profile individual gifts which meant that tournament went ahead as scheduled.

Leaving the final, the matches were played at relatively unknown grounds like Collingham, Beckenham, Roehampton, Warrington, Finchampstead, Slough and Ealing.The players encountered problems like England's players were made to roll the pitch at Ealing for the game against Netherlands which was a disgrace!

Yes, the situation has got better now as the top-ranked teams have got a sponsor yet, it can never be compared to tennis, or golf.  In-spite of so many difficulties faced by cricketers, we have seen Hey Ho Flint, Brittin, Clark, C.Taylor, Hockley, Rolton, Raj, Fitzpatrick show that even women's cricket can produce fine players.

                                                               Belinda Clark

Final words

Just like in the past, it is going to be tough for women's cricket as there aren't many takers for the sport, but having watched a bit of women's cricket, I can safely say that the standard of cricket isn't as bad as what some make it out to be and they have every right to play cricket at the highest level.