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Clare Connor, ICC women's committee chairman, on the Women's World Cup and the growth of the game
Interview by Abhishek Purohit
February 18, 2013
Former England captain Clare Connor, now ICC women's committee chairman and ECB head of women's cricket, spoke during the final of the Women's World Cup at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai on the tournament, India's role and the growth of the women's game.
How much has this tournament raised the profile of women's cricket?
It has been a huge achievement, a huge success in raising profile, in terms of the number of people who have tuned in, in countries where it has been televised. It was disappointing that India got knocked out and that meant that some of the profile got lost a little bit. The standard has been so good, the level of competition across different teams, including West Indies and Sri Lanka. We have seen a real shift in terms of standards. We have got more and more women bowling at over 70 miles an hour. Deandra Dottin and Eshani Kaushalya have hit huge sixes. The number of hundreds scored at this tournament has been sensational.
Which is more suited to the women's game - 20 overs or 50 overs?
In terms of being able to do double headers with the men, Twenty20 is really powerful. It is T20 that has kicked on the skill levels. Since we have played more and more of it over the past four years, the athleticism, the strength, the boundary-hitting have become much more commonplace in the women's game. The (50-over) World Cup is the pinnacle tournament for the women in terms of what they as players want to win. But it is definitely T20 that is going to generate more and more profile. With the World Twenty20 being a joint event with the men, that is great exposure.
How do you look at the Asian teams such as India?
India will be disappointed to end up in the seventh place playoff. They have some brilliant players but they didn't even make the Super Six. Generally India have been strong but other teams are overtaking them. Sri Lanka and West Indies have accelerated so much in the past four years. The Indian players and the support staff will look to the BCCI for more support. There is such passion for cricket in this country. It probably asks the question whether the women have had the support they deserve, because their standards have slipped. While that is partly the responsibility of the players I don't think they had as much support going into this tournament as they would need. That is a shame because they were the hosts and we wanted to bring the World Cup to India because of the passion for the game. It is a shame they didn't make it further in the tournament. If there is more support from the BCCI, then standards will rise. The passion is there for the game, people just need to know more about women's cricket probably, and hopefully that support will grow.
Do you think the Women's World Cup also needs to piggyback on the men's version, like in the World Twenty20?
It should be strong enough to stand on its own feet. It would be a tough logistical operation to have two 50-over World Cups running at the same time in terms of venues and training facilities. If you have a women's World Cup at the same time as the men's, probably it will not get the attention it deserves. It is something that needs to be reviewed. There is more and more investment going into the women's game from the ICC. For me personally the disappointment is that the BCCI has not pulled its way as much as it could have done for the Indian women's team and to support the profile and exposure of this tournament.
Should the women's game be marketed as a different sport compared to the men's game
Well, India have got some of the best players in the world without a doubt. Jhulan Goswami is one of the best opening bowlers in the world. Harmanpreet Kaur, for me, has been one of the best players of the tournament. The hundred she scored against England was exceptional. I can only speak from experience in England where I oversee the women's game. We are trying to build stories around the players. We are trying to get more media interest to link between who they are and the cricket they play. And that has worked to a degree.
It has to stand on its own feet. It is a brilliant spectacle in its own right. The players are talented and they deserve support. The way the game is growing, and in countries where we would have never expected it to, like Afghanistan and Papua New Guinea. The fact that Pakistan came to this tournament despite the political circumstances, there is a real belief in it. Women's sport is on a journey and we cannot expect things to click overnight. We have got to win hearts and minds and I hope this tournament has done that.
West Indies must have pleased you the most …
Yes, West Indies and Sri Lanka. Four years ago, West Indies were not playing much cricket and there were questions about them retaining their ODI status. Following integration, the WICB have backed the women's game hugely. That is a great message that by backing it and giving it people such as the coach Sherwin Campbell, giving it specialist coaching, it turned the West Indies team around in a short period of time.
Do you think a male coach is more suited to the India Women team?
It has to be the best person available for the job. The New Zealand team are coached by a woman, Katrina Keenan. I don't think it matters if the coach is male or female. It has to be the person who has the best approach and ideas about taking the team forward.
India is the biggest market for the men's game. How important is it for the ICC as far as the women's game goes?
It is massive. It is why we wanted a successful tournament here. We wanted to engage this cricket-mad nation and we wanted people to support the Indian women's team more. We want to grow the game. We want there to be role models and the aspiration to play towards the highest level. Hopefully on television that message would have got across a little bit. India is really important for the women's cricket. It has so much passion for the game that has not necessarily flowed into the women's game. Over time I hope that will happen with more high-quality cricket being played. It has huge finance in terms of backing the game. I hope this tournament has gone towards opening up some minds that were closed towards women's cricket in the past.
You talk about closed minds. In India, there is the perception that women are not suited to play the game. How do you change that?
You only have to see the standard of cricket that has been produced in this World Cup. Anyone who loves cricket can see the skill level and commitment of the players.
If you see the Indian team, the players are coming from only a few regions. How do you tackle that?
That is the job of the BCCI to make sure the women's game is being developed across the whole country, to make sure they have a partner, to ensure the domestic competition is strong, try and spread the enthusiasm for the game.
Given the standards the women have shown in this tournament, do you think it is time for the ICC to push for a binding FTP?
That is something which is not too far away. In the past the World Cups have only really been competed by four countries. There has been a lack of depth. Now we are seeing a game which is being competed by more countries, which this tournament has proved for the first time. We are approaching the time for such an FTP. It is probably a couple of years away. We have got to cement what is going on. West Indies have some excellent players. They need more depth. If they lost a couple of their best players, I am not sure how strong they would be. We should not rush in to huge moves like that. We have to keep monitoring progress. Countries will have to prove there is that commitment throughout the pathway, not just for maybe 20 players at the top, but that there is a pathway for Under-19 or an academy, competition for places, longevity. It has been England, Australia and New Zealand in every World Cup for the past 40 years. Only these three teams have won it. We have to make sure India, Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa, Pakistan and maybe others are playing brilliant cricket.
What can the ICC do to make sure West Indies, who have played Australia only in World Cups, play more games between World Cups?
That has been a priority of the women's committee over the past four years to increase the amount of bilateral cricket among members. That is why we have seen such improvement in West Indies and Sri Lanka, they have played a lot of cricket, more than India have over the last couple of years, and that is showing now. It is not rocket science. Teams have to play, experience other conditions, players have to perform under pressure. We have to keep encouraging that. We have more and more cricket coming up. We have a big summer in England, we have the Ashes, we have England and New Zealand going to West Indies, for which the itinerary is to be confirmed. We have to ensure everybody is buying in to supporting women's teams to play as much cricket as possible.
Has Test cricket died a natural death in the women's game?
It seems to have which is sad in many ways. There has not been the support for it. We have to find the right product. It is hard to talk about sport like a product but essentially in terms of getting commercial and broadcaster support, the product for us is limited-overs cricket, and on TV, the key remains T20. We still maintain the Ashes with Australia, but that is now one Test match. New Zealand have not played Test cricket since 2004, not sure when India last played. West Indies have barely ever played it. We have limited resources and we have to focus them on where the real benefits are going to be.
Don't you think in the long run, absence of long-form cricket could impact skill development?
We have talked about that in England. We still play some two-day cricket. It is not part of our county competition but we still play it so that our players learn different aspects of the game, learn to bat and bowl longer, understand the nuances in different situations but again, with limited contract time with players, you have to make decisions on where the best time is spent, and at the moment, that is in the shorter formats.
You have said last year that bundling the broadcast rights of the women's game with the men's should not be hard to achieve. Can the ICC nudge some of the boards, at least the bigger ones, towards that?
It is happening a little bit more. In England, New Zealand and Australia, for instance - I don't know if it is a formalised agreement - when the men play T20, televised internationals, there is an arrangement that the women now can piggyback on to those. When we play Australia this summer in England, we have got three televised T20s, along with the England men against Australia. That is developing and is another key move for the future.
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