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April 13, 2014

The unseen cricket of our modern times

Raf Nicholson
South Africa celebrate their first win over New Zealand  © ICC
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Once upon a time, the greatest events in cricket history went unseen, and unheard, except by the lucky few who were present at the ground when they took place. Then the cricket broadcasting revolution happened, and everything changed. The first televised cricket was screened by the BBC in 1938, from Lord's and The Oval - and suddenly, the best bits of Len Hutton's 364 against Australia were on record forever. Since 1957, the BBC has had ball-by-ball commentary for every (men's) Test played in England; England's 1989-90 tour of the West Indies became the first overseas tour broadcast live in the UK.

Nowadays, we live in a world where the best moments in cricket are not just numbers on a page, but images imprinted on our memories: Graham Gooch raising his bat on making 300 at Lord's in 1990; the blood draining from Herschelle Gibbs' face as he dropped the World Cup; the excruciating end to the 2005 Edgbaston Test, where whole nations were glued to their screens until the final ball. It's become a world where, as Lawrence Booth put it in Wisden in 2011, "armchair viewers expect their cricket on a plate, with side helpings of Hawk-Eye, Hot-Spot and High Definition". We watch cricket, and we live it, as it unfolds before our eyes.

The days where the most significant moments in world cricket were things we read about after the event, with only our imaginations to supply the visuals, are over. All that was just once upon a time.

Wasn't it?

Records tumbled and upsets happened aplenty at the Women's World T20, which finished last week. Did you know that? In Australia's group match against Ireland, Meg Lanning, Australia's stand-in captain for the tournament, hit a spectacular 126 off 65 balls, including four sixes. In England's match against Bangladesh, Charlotte Edwards' 80 took her to 2000 runs in T20Is, making her the first cricketer, man or woman, to reach that milestone. India swept to a surprising nine-wicket victory in their final group match against semi-finalists West Indies, thanks to half-centuries from Mithali Raj and Poonam Raut. And South Africa pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of women's cricket, as they raced to a five-wicket victory over New Zealand - their first international win against the Kiwis.

I can tell you these things happened, and I can point you to the scorecards. But can I tell you how "Megastar" looked when she reached her century? Or if Edwards showed any sign of realising that she had reached that 2000-run milestone? Or how exactly the Saffas celebrated when Chloe Tryon hit those winning runs, when the semi-final spot was theirs?

No, I can't. I can't because I wasn't there - and because a precise total of none of the above events were broadcast on TV.

"Once upon a time" is still the here and now for women's cricket.

Of course, I suppose I should be grateful. Because the TV executives did, after all, deem the semi-finals and the final of the women's tournament worthy of coverage: meaning I got to see 1) the most ridiculous comedy run-out ever in the England-South Africa semi-final (Sune Luus and Tryon from South Africa collided mid-pitch and toppled to the floor like dominoes), and 2) Australia mullering England in the final. (Not to mention every ball of England men's loss to Netherlands, in glorious technicolour.)

Lucky, lucky me.

ESPNcricinfo's recent poll suggests that the main argument in favour of the Women's World T20 being staged alongside the men's tournament is: "Women's cricket gets more visibility and publicity from such tournaments being hosted alongside the men's game."

It does?

During last year's 50-over Women's World Cup in India, six out of the 12 group matches were broadcast. Last year, I actually got to watch Eshani Lokusuriyage's incredibly exciting strokeplay as she took her team to their first victory against England in an international match. This time around, those of us following the group stage women's matches had to do so by staring at the ICC's live scorecards on our computer screens, with an often interminable gap between vital deliveries. We did get three minutes of highlights from each match after the event - but with one camera angle only, which at times offered as much insight into the action as a telescope turned the wrong way round.

The coverage of last year's World Cup may have been far from perfect - but if I have to choose between being able to watch 50% of the group stages of a World Cup on TV, and none of it, I know which one I'd pick.

Why the difference? I'd hazard a guess that it had a lot to do with the fact that this time around, women cricketers were competing directly with their male counterparts for airtime. Here in the UK, for instance, the BBC seemed to think that it had more of a public duty to broadcast matches featuring men's teams from New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and the West Indies than it did to broadcast England Women's matches taking place simultaneously. And you're really trying to tell me that a women's cricket tournament coupled to its male counterpart is better for the game than a standalone one?

If the ICC is serious about promoting women's cricket, the way forward is surely a completely separate women's tournament. Either that, or they need to make sure that when they enter into agreements with broadcasters, those broadcasters are willing to give equal coverage to the women's tournament as to the men's one. If this Women's World T20 has demonstrated anything, it is surely that the group stages of the women's tournament would have made equally compelling viewing to the men's group stages.

I have spent many a day reading reports and scorecards of women's cricket matches from bygone eras, which I would dearly love to be able to see television footage of: the day that Betty Wilson took four wickets in five balls, including a hat-trick, in the 1958 Melbourne Test match; the tied ODI between Australia and England during the 1982 World Cup; Belinda Clark's 229 in an ODI against Denmark, during the 1997 World Cup in India. So many of those moments are gone forever because the matches simply weren't broadcast.

Isn't it about time we stopped missing them?

Raf Nicholson is a PhD student, an England supporter, a feminist, and fanatical about women's cricket. She tweets here

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Keywords: Women's cricket

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by SLSup on (April 16, 2014, 4:49 GMT)

At some point women must be allowed to play alongside men in international cricket. It's the natural evolution of games to mimic the work place. Rugby, maybe not. Guys should be free to tackle however they want!

Posted by billbassoz on (April 16, 2014, 0:33 GMT)

I think the biggest challenge faced by women's cricket and many womens sports is attracting enough juniors to create depth in the junior and sub elite grades that feed the elite level. How else would we have the situation where Ellyse Perry has been able to play in World Cups both in cricket and football. I mean no disrespect to Perry as I think that has been a phenomenal achievement by a supremely talented athlete but there is no way that would happen in men's elite sport where competition for places is so intense that similarly versitile athletes are forced to chose one sport at the expense of all others from an early age. It's aviscious circle because one of the reasons why women's cricket struggles to attract juniors to the game is the lack of profile and coverage given to the sport in the first place.

Posted by iffy187 on (April 14, 2014, 16:24 GMT)

simple case of supply and demand? is it worth the while of the broadcasters to carry the women's game? in an ideal world we would have equality, but unfortunately we are living in a far from ideal world im afraid.

Posted by D.V.C. on (April 14, 2014, 13:30 GMT)

The problem isn't that the tournaments are hosted concurrently, it is the respect the women's tournament is given in that arrangement.

The women's games shouldn't be on at the same time as the men's. When the games are played in the same stadium the arrangements for the spectators need to be got right - I was recently at a game with no passouts despite more than an hour between matches! The field should be the full size so we can appreciate the precise placement which makes women's T20 matches more skilful than the men's.

These are not hard things to get right! Pay the women's tournament proper respect and running it concurrently WILL work for the women's game. People will be in the mood for cricket, and if they can't find a men's match on a Wednesday they'll tune in to a women's game and appreciate the placement and timing in their game in a T20 format they only usually see in Tests, they'll get to know the players and they'll become fans.

Posted by py0alb on (April 14, 2014, 12:51 GMT)

Like the majority of English cricket fans, I have not watched a televised cricket match for almost a decade now, my only knowledge of cricket is from radio or online articles. We've gone back into the dark ages again. Incredible feats might be being performed, but no-one will be watching - not in the UK, at any rate.

Posted by jasonsmith440 on (April 14, 2014, 12:04 GMT)

I was under the impression that there was no local broadcaster covering the group stage matches, if there was I believe that both England and Australia would have been able to buy the rights and provide much better coverage to move the focus from the underperforming men's teams.

In regards to Jon most of the coverage has been on Foxtel ranging from every game in the 09 WC to just semis and finals in the t20's. The 3 Eng Vs Aus t20's and the domestic 50 over final we're on free to air recently though.

Posted by   on (April 14, 2014, 7:49 GMT)

I agree with Raf but not sure why Copernicus thinks the Australian coverage was good. All four of the Australian men's matches (three of which they lost) were shown live on free to air TV, as were the semi-finals and final. Despite our women's success in their tournament (for the third time in a row) not a single minute of any of their matches was shown free to air(don't know what happens on pay TV), except in the context of brief news reports. Is this because viewers won't watch women's cricket? Is it because women's cricket is less entertaining? How could we know when we have never tried? The best we have ever done here in Australia is extremely low-budget coverage on ABC TV with two cameras, nameless commentators and not a hawk-eye in sight.

Posted by   on (April 13, 2014, 22:52 GMT)

I agree with Copernicus, the tournaments should be run in parallel, otherwise broadcasters simply won't turn up to the women's games. Play the women first, then the men's game. It may sound patronising to have the women be a curtain raiser to the men, but they need to be able to show the skills they have to increase their exposure. With that exposure will come fans as more and more people will come to appreciate the women's style of play. Fans = attendance at matches = airtime = money for development of young girls into international cricketers = better women's cricket = more fans.

The only thing i will say about running the tournaments in parallel is that the coverage must be in parallel too. Not like we saw in Bangladesh recently. And that means playing on the same days and grounds as the men, for now at least.

Posted by sifter132 on (April 13, 2014, 22:22 GMT)

Hmm, yes, I'm not sure the coverage was as good as it could have been, but that's the price that is paid for sharing a tournament with the men. Overall publicity was probably higher, but coverage was worse. Swings and roundabouts...It's always going to be an uphill battle for the women's game. After all, why would Joe/Jane Average watch women's cricket when they could watch men's? If viewers had been given a choice between the two, men will get the eyeballs 95% of the time. Women's cricket needs more fans, from 3 sources I would imagine: 1) either more Indians interested, 2) more women interested, or 3) more men interested. India getting stronger in women's cricket would help Indian fans watch. Demonstrating that women's cricket is of high standard will help all 3 categories. There are a few ways that more male fans could be titillated, but going full beach volleyball probably isn't the right call in a sport like cricket. It's an interesting conundrum!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raf Nicholson
Raf Nicholson is a PhD student who spends her days (and nights) researching the history of women's cricket. Her thesis may or may not end up being titled "Cricket without the balls". She is an England supporter, a feminist, and fanatical about women's cricket, but will admit that Michael Clarke is hot stuff. She has been known to bowl entire overs of wides and to bat like Phil Tufnell, but isn't always quite this good. @RafNicholson

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