Emma Doherty (CricketEurope)
Ladies cricket seems to run along a parallel timeline, one that ostensibly limps behind the rest of the sporting world. Unfortunately, each milestone is delayed. For instance, it was a dreary 211 years before women were granted membership of Marylebone Cricket Club in 1998 and allowed to set foot within the hallowed grounds of Lordʼs pavilion, despite this club being in operation since 1787.
The first ladies test match did not occur until 1934, while their male counterparts had been playing test cricket comfortably since 1877. And now, to absolutely no oneʼs surprise, ICC want to put an end to womenʼs test cricket on the poor excuse that it “lacks talent and appeal”.
While ladies cricket is still dismissed by many as being ‘unattractiveʼ and ‘futileʼ, it thereupon leaves the community oblivious to the current state of the female side of the sport.
In particular, the future of womenʼs cricket in the North West is arguably something of a concern. Donemana and Bonds Glen have now gone from the yearly fixtures due to a lack of players, and it leaves only a measly seven teams in the league which is a shocking comparison to the twenty ladies teams present within Leinster.
Additionally, Strabane Academy, Foyle College and Limavady Grammar are the only three secondary schools in the NW that have a girls cricket team, therefore meaning that a minimal amount will trickle through to club cricket.
Speaking to Alana Dalzell on the subject, the talented and budding all-rounder feels that ladies cricket in the North West “lacks structure, which makes it harder to improve and consequently prevents the game from being taken seriously by both the players and supporters.”
Dalzell went on to say that “there needs to be higher levels of commitment, which I feel will, in turn, allow us to receive more funding and opportunities for coaching”.
Here is the million dollar question... are women losing interest in playing club cricket? Simply put, it would not be difficult to comprehend why cricket has become lacklustre for so many women. The sad reality is that ladies matches receive very little support in terms of spectators.
This is certainly not due to a lack of skills at the crease and on the outfield, but it can be down to the poor promotion of each game and the lack of structure in the league.
Former Ireland International and Burndennett skipper, Julie Logue elaborated on this further, she feels that “if there was more put into promoting the game it would benefit the clubs as well”.
Furthermore, the lack of support means feelings of discouragement come with ease when you knock the bails off a playerʼs stumps and look excitedly out to the pavilion to see only a handful of people have appeared to watch the game. Similar sensibilities emerge when you take a catch or hit a four, get a run-out or win the match. The destitute social atmosphere can disturb the overall energy of a team, which in turn can affect their performance. Poor support will lead to disillusioned players, who will ideally leave the pitch thinking “what value does winning the match hold if no one is here to celebrate it with us?”.
Undoubtedly, cricket has always been a male-dominated sport and it would be a rarity if women were not familiar with the feeling of ineptitude. Feeling inadequate while playing this sport can be due to a lack of female role models within the sporting community.
While there is nothing wrong with idolising our talented male players such as William Porterfield and Boyd Rankin, young girls need to see confidence, success and determination showcased through another strong woman, in order for them to anticipate themselves doing the same thing in the future.
Dalzell feels that it is “important to have female role models in the NW, as apart from Julie Logue, there is no one locally to show a potential pathway... it is more difficult for them [female cricketers] to be inspired to develop”.
In short, constantly being starved of female players in the media can erode a personʼs determination for playing the game and suddenly, their dreams of representing their country at international level will seem more unrealistic than realistic.
Did you know Clare Shillington and Ciara Metcalfe are set to leave the international scene? Did you know Gaby Lewis was the youngest Ireland player to make her senior debut at age 13? No? Yet everyone seems to be mindful of John Anderson and Niall OʼBrienʼs retirement. Evidently, there are not a lack of female role models in cricket, we just are not made aware of them.
Media, in every form, overlooks female athletes and only 5% of broadcasters in the UK are dedicated enough to air ladies cricket. While others claim it is a lost cause because “itʼs like watching children play”. The Sun itself actually claimed it was an “undignified sight” watching females compete. If these talented sportswomen continue to be bypassed and undiscovered, public health will only continue to suffer because females will be hesitant to participate in sport without having someone to idolise.
Supposedly, the new 20x20 initiative will work to combat this issue, regardless of the fact that it should have been introduced years ago. Moreover, the visibility of ladies cricket needs to increase through the employment of women broadcasters, journalists, team officials and coaches.
As a result, identities will no longer be insecure and as Logue says “it will give young girls confidence and belief in themselves to continue”.
The reluctance to play cricket also stems from the uphill battle of sexism. In tennis, rugby, basketball, cycling, athletics - basically, in any sport where a woman strives to be an accomplished contender, you will find talk of her body shape, the lack of femininity and her ‘not so goodʼ performance bluntly permeating the conversation.
Not only does this taint the integrity of every sport but it damages a playerʼs passion and love for the game. While biological differences can prevent male and female teams from competing against each other, it does not mean that this should justify the irrelevant scrutiny and view of women as a cultural anomaly.
Logue and Dalzell defy all gender stereotypes with grace in cricket. Dalzell feels that “playing with the boys from a young age has motivated and pushed me to better myself, and has undoubtedly improved my game year on year”.
While Logue commented that “Iʼve always played menʼs cricket from boys teams right up to senior. I would have faced the odd sexist remark but to be fair, once they saw my ability - they soon stopped”. This should be proof enough that you do not need masculinity to bowl a ball, it is down to people underestimating the skills that are often showcased in womenʼs sport. It is down to people not wanting the ‘weaker sexʼ to spoil the purity of a male-dominated sport, in case they might actually be good at it. This poor sportsmanship is the driving force that is discouraging women to play.
So what exactly can be done to achieve a level playing field and motivate females to play? Start off by supporting us. Come to our matches, help promote our fixtures and successes on social media to encourage others to play. Be unashamed of challenging these outdated discriminatory views. Stop yourself before remarking on someoneʼs performance and say “will whatever Iʼm about to say hurt someoneʼs feelings?” or “can I say this in a more constructive way?” (hint: the answer is always yes).
There is a small minority of people and clubs who already do these things, and they certainly never go unnoticed. Considering everything is backwards and female athletes face chauvinism daily, these people are setting examples and creating the right mould for society to stick to.
Womenʼs cricket acts as a lens for which we can see that traditional views are still embodied in a modern society. While I begrudgingly understand that women playing sport is still not universally accepted, in this contemporary age no one can afford to endorse such bigoted views.
No one is subscribed to a model of domesticity anymore, even though many expect females to still abide to it. On behalf of every woman, we just want an audience, we just want our performances to be seen and to be remembered. We want to enjoy the game and be appreciated equally as much as every other competitor. Children arenʼt born with the knowledge of the male paradigm within sport, something happens along the way and adults must set an example.
To conclude, I will leave you with some imprinting words of wisdom from Karen Brady which I feel perfectly sum up my article - “in a sport, women have to be twice as good as the men to be thought of as even half as good."
In the second part, Emma Doherty will speak with the North West Cricket Union to see what is being done to grow the game, what their plans are to arrest the demise of the club game, and get more females playing.