Thursday, 30 June 2011

Scale and the women's game

I thought quite hard before posting this [yes, a rarity I know], because it is not intended as criticism, and it's about women's cricket. But having watched quite a lot of the recent quadrangular series here in England, I believe it's a point worth making, because no part of the game, men's or women's, can afford to stand still.

A couple of years ago I fluked my way into the chance of facing England's opening bowlers, Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, in the nets at Loughborough. Reading it back now, it's a pretty fair reflection of what it was like, and it was a nice experience to have. But it's not an experience that can be easily translated into the middle, under match conditions on an outdoor pitch, and those are the ones that count.

The staging of international games before men's matches is an excellent idea in terms of exposing the women's game to the market, both live and on TV. But it also exposes the differences between them, and more importantly, the differences in scale that are affecting the chances that the women's game has to develop into something that can stand up in the way that women's tennis or women's golf can.

And it is a question of scale, not skill. There is lots of subtle skill in the women's game, but in the modern era the appeal of a well-placed, hard run three, for example, is limited. The women play in arenas designed for men, and it's the arenas that need to change in order to let the game evolve. Elite women golfers are given courses set up for the dynamics of their game, and the cricketers should be too.

I think they should experiment with a 20-yard pitch, as well as a smaller playing area. A shorter pitch would address the balance between bat and ball. A delivery of 75mph travelling 20 yards asks more serious questions of the batter than one travelling 22. Once the quicker bowlers have come and gone, the change bowling - which is horribly exposed at the moment, especially on television - would be sharper too. Batting and bowling would be toughened up, and it's no real problem to re-mark wickets to make the change.

Limited overs cricket gets people through the gate because there are lots of big hits. Just as Tiger Woods can strike a golf ball a hundred yards further than the top women players, so men can clear longer boundaries in cricket. Again, it's a question of scale. The women's game deserves to have its own version of big hitting. It should be able to accommodate the female Gayle or Sehwag, as well as the more classical players that it currently does. The ropes just need to come in a few yards.

At Bristol last week, both women and men's sides used the same boundaries, and by happy chance, England's men and women both made 136. The women's total included eight fours and no sixes, the men's - in a sub-par performance where Bopara and his chums managed to dry up almost completely - also hit eight fours, but five sixes too. Sri Lanka knocked those off in 17 overs, with 14 fours and a six. In reply to England's women, Australia made 114, with seven fours.

The women's game deserves its chance - perhaps the playing field should now be made level.

NB: Scale can go the other way too: I blogged on the problems of Will Jefferson here.


Tony said...

Larwood & Voce.

Trueman & Statham.

Brunt & Shrubsole.

Russ said...

OB, if you shorten the pitch you'll end up with holes Trott could only dream of on the crease line and a patch of paint the ball will skid off on a good length for the men's pitch.

The women's game suffers most from scale of a different kind. The difference between the best and worst player at each level is really big. That makes it hard to recruit beginners, and for players to push themselves.

But that is not unique to cricket. My partner started competitive cycling and within a half dozen races found herself against the Australian champion. That's a tough initiation, but she hung onto the back of the bunch for longer than most.

As women's cricket expands the gap in skills between players, and compared to men will diminish. But it will be a slow process.