England Women v Australian Women, 1st Test, Hove

The unknown Ashes battle

The Roving Reporter from the first Women's Test at Hove finds the locals unaware of the cricket on their doorsteps

Roving Reporter by Jenny Thompson at Hove

August 9, 2005

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Holly Colvin, a 15-year-old left-arm spinner, made her England debut at Hove © Getty Images
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There is one place this summer where you are guaranteed a seat at the Ashes; where Australia's veteran pace bowler hasn't yet broken down, and where England have a chance to win the first Test. You don't have to hop in a time machine, though. Just to skip down to Hove and jump in a seat - you can have a whole bench or a row of deckchairs if you like - and watch the women's Ashes.

There was certainly no stampede to the ground for the opening day, no fight on the train for a seat, nothing. Not even the residents of Hove know that the Ashes battle is going on in their midst. Bill, a bus-driver having a cigarette break, doesn't follow cricket, but when I ask him how the England men's team are doing he stares at me as if I've been on an alien planet for the last week. Bill pauses to take his fag out of his mouth before saying to me, sternly: "Don't you know the result? England won! It's one-all." But did you know the England women are playing the Ashes down the road, I ask. "Oh no, I don't follow cricket," and continued to puff away.

It's a similar story with Jose. "I don't follow cricket, I am Spanish. Oh, but I watched England win on Sunday! It was very exciting! An Ashes Test one hundred metres from here? No, didn't know that. I don't follow cricket." Neither of the two shopkeepers I asked, nor the ticket inspector at Hove train station, nor the pub landlord who was just opening up, knew about today's match either. And pub landlords know everything, so I knew we were in trouble. Not even a local club player knew, much to his head-hanging shame.

"The Ashes are here?" he asked, looking mortified and not a little guilty. "I didn't know - and I'm a player." Then he brightened up. "But I'm not at work today, so I'll come and watch!" And Hove was suddenly twinned with Hamlin, as he followed me all the way to the ground. I'm happy to do my bit to recruit spectators - however inadvertently - but it seems there is still a long way to go to attract the fans to these Tests, even in the glorious weather. Not all of them need prompting, one man had come over from Ireland to support England, and he was joined by a few hundred more, including some from that much that bigger island, Australia.

They will have found that Hove is a sleepy seaside town, but its residents aren't necessarily dozy for not knowing what's going on. There's little, in fact nothing, in the way of posters around the town. It's a shame as there is some great cricket on show, with the women setting a strong example, technically, at least. But the two-run-an-over paint-drying affair that it tends to be - and today is no different, although wickets are plentiful - harks back to the time-for-a-snooze men's Tests of the 1950s, rather than the blink-and-you'll-miss-it excitement of now. Women's cricket, it seems, is always playing catch-up, even at the highest level, although serious strides have been made over the last few years and npower have come on board to sponsor this Test.

What's eye-popping is that for the women, the Ashes, the precious urn, is not the Holy Grail - the one-day series is. The Ashes is, in fact, is seen as a warm-up for the one-dayers. A WARM-UP! Imagine asking Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting earlier this summer to make sure that their teams concentrated, if you please, not on the Ashes but on the those incessant one-dayers.

England's captain Clare Connor justifies why, for the women, the real thing is the one-dayers which, in the men's game, are the Panda Pop to Test cricket's Coke. "It's on the one-day game that we are judged," she says, and even hints darkly that plans may be afoot to abolish women's Tests.

There is some sense in this, as English cricketers don't play anything longer than one-day matches, ever, until the hit the Test arena. And with working or studying demands on the amateur players being what they are, this is unlikely to change. So this means that for the likes of debutante Holly Colvin - who, at 15, is the youngest ever English Test player - her first game of more than one day's duration is an Ashes Test. It seems madness.

Australians have a slight advantage, insofar as they play two-day matches Down Under, but even this is scant preparation for the mental rigours of Tests. Nevertheless, with England starting to take control of this match and wickets falling all around - shades of the first day in the other Ashes - the spectators were certainly gripped. And at £5 a throw, you can't really complain.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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