It’s a smashing time to be a woman in team sports in the UK. Standard Issue sports correspondent Jen Offord chats to Kate Cross and Emma Lamb, two cricketers knocking it out of the park.
When I write about women’s sport, I have a tendency to focus on the injustice of it all, and not just because I’m a reet old whinger – but because it’s important to acknowledge and challenge it. It’s also important to recognise that all this collective whinging has seen great progress recently, not least to justify more of the same.
It’s a good time for women’s team sports in the UK. Looking at recent national successes, in the last 12 months we’ve seen a Rugby World Cup win, and the announcement of professional contracts for the 20 top players. More women’s football teams have gone fully professional, and our national football team reached the Women’s World Cup semi-final. On Saturday the Women’s FA Cup final will take place at Wembley Stadium for the first time – ever – because the crowd numbers will justify its use. At last.
The other team sport I should mention, however, the sport I am surprised to be mentioning, is cricket. I’ve got to confess, it’s not a sport I particularly understand. I mean, I understand how it’s played, I’m just not sure I’m that interested in the playing of it. But then I don’t like Bob Dylan’s voice. WE CAN’T ALL LIKE EVERYTHING STOP JUDGING ME.
If I imagine cricket as a person, it has a beard and drinks ale – but not like an attractive chap in East London. Like, y’know, your dad. And it’s not like I think your dad doesn’t want women to succeed in the sporting arena; I just imagine he’s probably got other, more pressing, stuff on his mind, like did you shut the door properly when you left the house? Or, has anyone bled the radiators recently?
It was, therefore, with some surprise I learnt about the historic nature of the current women’s Ashes series. Okay, so we are currently two points down to Australia, but there are 10 more points to be played for over the next month of one test match and three T20 games, so the show is far from over. And let’s at least be happy that for the first time, England’s women’s cricket team are playing this Ashes series as contracted, professional cricketers and it’s even being broadcast live by Sky Sports. This, says England team member Kate Cross, has made a huge impact on the players, because they can devote all their time to the game and they don’t have to worry about income.
“Now all I’m doing is playing the sport that I love, and it is a massive bonus that I’m getting paid to do it, because I’d be doing it anyway,” says Cross. It’s also a massive bonus for the quality of the game: “We’re able to meet every week as a squad, which gives us the best opportunities for training, because we’ve got the facilities at Loughborough and we’re training with each other,” she says. “I’m bowling at Charlotte Edwards and Sarah Taylor every week, which is only going to make me a better player, because they’re two of the best batters in the world.”
It doesn’t end there. The England and Wales Cricket Board last month announced a new women’s cricket super league to start in the 2016 season. Unlike the men’s game, it won’t be professional, but there will be prize money and of course, following in the footsteps of English football and rugby, professional teams within the league must be the ambition. Right now, the focus is on growth and development. The England and Wales Cricket Board have committed £3m investment over the next four years, which Cross says is “absolutely incredible”, to ensure that at the top end, there is a place for elite women’s cricket in the UK, and at grass roots, there is an aspiration for young players.
Cross recalls her current career not seeming a choice when she was growing up. “Through school and throughout uni, if anyone asked me what I wanted to be, it wasn’t ‘professional cricketer’ – because that was never a choice.” Brilliantly, for the younger girls, it’s now a viable career option.
“The England and Wales Cricket Board last month announced a new women’s cricket super league to start in the 2016 season. Unlike the men’s game, it won’t be professional, but there will be prize money and professional teams within the league must be the ambition.”
Is she proud to be a professional cricket player? “I can’t quite believe this is my job and sometimes I wake up in the morning and I have to pinch myself, but I think I’d be proud anyway – any time you get to wear the three lions on your shirt is a really proud moment.”
Back in those grass roots, I learn of another victory in women’s sports. Emma Lamb, though not the first woman to play men’s cricket in the UK, is the first woman to play in the Cheshire County Premier League (the county Premier League being, FYI, the highest club level at which you can play cricket in England). Seventeen-year-old Lamb, who also plays at county level for Lancashire Women’s first team and England Women’s Academy, plays alongside her older brother, Danny, for Bramhall cricket club. It’s significant for two reasons: firstly because there are far fewer opportunities for girls to play cricket against other girls at grass-roots level; secondly, because this is a sporting world in which Lamb is being recognised as being as good as a man – and she’s 17.
Emma has been playing cricket since she was 10, and men’s cricket at that, though she has only just this season made it onto Bramhall’s first team. It’s “a good level to play at,” she reckons. “It’s a good challenge and it helps me to improve.” Being on the first team means that she’s playing with guys of all ages, not just teenagers like herself.
What would be a pretty intimidating scenario for some doesn’t seem to bother Lamb, who says, “Sometimes I get a few comments, like, ‘Oh, she probably can’t play that well, ‘cos she’s a girl’ – you get that wherever you go in men’s cricket. But it’s good… It doesn’t bother me at all and it can be a bit of a drive,” she grins, “to prove them wrong.”
Lamb has ambitions to play in the England women’s first team, like her Lancashire team mate, Cross. Her favourite cricket player is, of course, Freddie Flintoff, though. Outside of her cricket buddies, not many of them are sporty, like her, but she thinks the recent publicity is definitely helping increase participation. “It’s got bigger because there’s more publicity,” she says, “but it can be seen as more of a gentleman’s sport.”
It’s great to finally see this gradual increase in reporting of women’s sport and the corresponding ‘historic’ gestures made alongside it. Let’s face it, it’s not a coincidence that increased media representation translates into more money and more money translates into more opportunities.
I’d like to see more representation even if just for the proportionate rise in sports-montages, but even better, it’s making sport look like a normal, socially acceptable thing for young women like Lamb to get involved in. Hopefully next time I talk to a rising cricket player there’ll be a female household name like Flintoff she can cite as her role model.1332 Views
Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen