January 20, 2013

Mixed cricket? No thanks, boys

Raf Nicholson
Sarah Taylor's possible inclusion in the Sussex men's 2nd XI is not an aspirational move for women's cricket as a whole

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few days regarding the news that Sarah Taylor may play some matches for Sussex (men's) 2nd XI next season, as a wicketkeeper. Much of this has been along the lines of praising the development as being welcome and, indeed, far too late in coming.

But if Taylor's selection, and the idea of mixed cricket generally, is such a positive move for female cricketers, why did the Women's Cricket Association, the governing body of the sport until it merged with the ECB in 1998, ban matches with men until 1970?

Might there be another side to this story of seemingly linear progress towards fully mixed cricket?

The WCA's ban on official mixed cricket matches was enforced right from its formation in 1926. One of the founders of the association, Marjorie Pollard (by all accounts an extremely formidable woman), wrote a book in 1934 entitled Cricket for Women and Girls in which she outlined the reasoning behind the policy. There were three main reasons why Pollard felt mixed cricket would be a bad thing for the women's game, and all three still hold true today.

Firstly, she was keen to stress that the pioneers of women's cricket in the 1930s needed to "develop a style and a game of our own". "No one tries to bowl as fast as Larwood, no one tries to hit like Constantine... the standards are different."

Imitating the men's game was not going to cut it. These pioneers of women's cricket needed to work out their own ways of playing the game they loved, to adapt it to their own needs. As Pollard put it: "Batting for women is different - the strokes that we need are drives and pulls or anything that really hits the ball."

The bowling was also different: less fast-paced (even less so in the 1930s than now) and therefore needing a more skilled placement of the ball.

This is still the case today; the biggest fans of women's cricket would not deny that it is a different game in many ways to men's cricket. But note that Pollard did not say that the women's game was in any way worse than the men's game. In fact, she argued that in some ways the "outlook, attack and method of self-expression" of the women's game led to a greater focus on skill and less on physical intimidation, which she saw as positive (and indeed which was recognised as such by many English commentators at the height of the Lillee and Thomson era).

The problem with mixed cricket is that it suggests precisely the opposite to this: that the women's game is inferior to the men's game and that female cricketers should in some way attempt to match up to the men.

As Selma James stated in the Guardian this week: "Women who have broken through the glass ceiling in other areas have changed our perception of what women can accomplish. But it has rarely changed the rules and possibilities for most of us. We prove we are as good as men, and men are once again the standard that women must strive for."

Do we really want women cricketers to be striving to be "as good" as male ones? Do we really want the media coverage of women's cricket to be dominated by men talking about what a "big step up" it is from the women's game to the men's game and how they'll never be able to cope with truly fast bowling? Don't we want women's cricket to be covered in its own right and on its own terms? The WCA did.

Pollard's second, related, point was that in order for women's cricket to be taken seriously by the general public, women needed to be seen to be playing the game in a meaningful manner. For the decade after the formation of the WCA in 1926, female cricketers faced a huge amount of media ridicule. Letters and articles in national newspapers described women's cricket as "a joke" and "a sacrilege".

The type of mixed matches that were taking place at this time would only have enhanced this ridicule: for example, in men v women matches, the men often batted with broom handles or with one hand tied behind their back. Pollard and the WCA wanted to move away from the perception that women were this laughably inferior to their male counterparts. They wanted, more than anything, to be taken seriously and considered as cricketers in their own right.

As Pollard wrote: "It is so often cropping up in the Press. We are told that we shall never play cricket like men... men will not realize that we do not want to play like men."

This statement seems to me equally applicable in today's media climate. For the last few days, in every single discussion I have heard on this subject, the same questions have come up. Won't Taylor's male opponents feel they have to slow down their bowling when she faces them? How will she possibly cope in such a fast-paced game? And the old chestnut: what if she gets hurt? (Because there is clearly more of a risk to Taylor than there was to all those England players facing Lillee and Thomson in 1974-75 without helmets.)

Do we really want the media coverage of women's cricket to be dominated by men talking about what a "big step up" it is from the women's game to the men's game? Don't we want women's cricket to be covered in its own right and on its own terms?

There is a danger with this kind of coverage that it becomes extremely patronising (some of it has been, some of it less so). But this type of coverage also, to reinforce the point I made above, takes the focus away from the actual cricket. Will the women's World Cup make it on to the front page of the Guardian next month? I somehow doubt it.

Thirdly, Pollard was quite firm about the WCA's intentions as a governing body: "We do not wish to follow, we wish to go our own way - run our own Association, play our own cricket in our own way."

The WCA would not initially let men serve on its executive committee and was never keen on utilising male umpires or coaches. Why? Because they recognised the importance of having control of their own sport, making decisions about the way they wanted to play the game themselves. Sussex's recent statement that whether Taylor plays depends on further assessment reminds us that it is a group of male selectors who will decide whether Taylor will play for them next season, regardless of any media furore surrounding that decision.

The 1998 merger of the WCA with the ECB has brought with it countless benefits for the women's game, but it also appears that more and more of the decisions affecting female cricketers are being taken by men.

The idea of men controlling women's cricket is entirely in contradiction with the vision of the WCA back in 1926, and frankly, if women had sat back and relied on the efforts of men to launch and establish women's cricket in Britain (and elsewhere), the sport would probably have been set back by at least 50 years. A cricket set-up that is fully mixed will only advance male control of the women's game, and I'm not convinced this is an entirely positive thing for the women involved.

Why did the WCA change its policy in 1970? It was not done with the desire to promote mixed cricket at a serious level. Instead it was recognition of the trend towards holding matches of men's against women's teams for fund-raising purposes. The money-making potential of such matches was not to be sniffed at by an entirely amateur body that relied on donations to fund international cricket tours. It was a decision made for practical purposes and the WCA continued to argue that serious mixed cricket was an unlikely and probably undesirable prospect.

Evidently Taylor is an excellent player and nothing should take away from the fact that if she does play for Sussex, it will be a fantastic achievement for her personally. However, let's not get carried away.

Colin Cowdrey wrote the following back in 1976, in the foreword to Netta Rheinberg and Rachael Heyhoe-Flint's history of women's cricket, Fair Play: "The all-male cricket party is over. How many men will be playing for their counties by the 1980s, I wonder? There will be Maids of Kent aplenty challenging Denness, Luckhurst, Asif, Shepherd and Julien. Bachelor Alec Bedser may find himself, as chairman of selectors, having to consort with four ladies. Mighty Tony Greig can no longer rest secure in his size and strength, mindful that brute force alone did not keep Goliath going too long."

Decades later, that vision looks overly optimistic. Will it ever come to bear? It seems to me both unlikely and not necessarily something that female cricketers, and fans of the women's game, should aspire to.

Raf Nicholson writes at womenincricket.blogspot.co.uk

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Terry on January 21, 2013, 21:48 GMT

    This is the most rediculous article that I have ever read. Mens cricket world wide earn tons more then womens, so of course a professional athelete would love to play in the mens competition. This isnt about men or women but about their competitions. The simple fact is that womens compeititions dont give the same level of competitiveness, dont provide the same level of money and dont provide the same level of recognition that they players want and deserve. I think the solution is to turn womens domestic teams into mixed teams. Allow a maximum of five players in the team to be men. This would be the best way to increase the level of competitiveness, just like in many mens competitions you can have one or two "international" players. (note: I am not implying that women still cant play mens, but have a mens and a mixed, no womens comps domestic). With increased level of competitiveness, women will be able to compete better, it will draw more media attention & they will get paid more!

  • anton on January 21, 2013, 18:54 GMT


    George Foreman was beating guys half his in the boxing arena.

    In the WWE wrestling, some of the women wrestlers can beat male wrestler. Yes it is scripted but still, someone like Chyna (a female wrestler I would imagine can easily beat some of the male wrestlers).

    Fastest women sprinters in the 100 metres are faster than most male qualifiers in the Olympics. So, to say cricket is one of the few sports where women can compete with men, is wrong. In fact, in most sports women can. Wasn't there afemale Ice Hockey players drafted int one of the NHL tams in the 1990s.

    One thing I will tell you. I have noticed people are just not passionate about sports as they use to be. That goes for most sports. With women encroaching on toto a formerly male domain, people feel sports are being feminized, and that is where their love for the sports are waning.

    Do you seriously think 20,000 people will go to watch Middlesex Vs Surrey T20 if a woman is in one of the teams?

  • Dheeban on January 21, 2013, 18:33 GMT

    The whole Pollard dictat seems a little defensive to me. I am all for not considering men as a standard. Ultimately the basic laws are the same. Whatever is the best XI, let them play. If 2 out of the best 11 are women, so be it. I myself have been thinking about this recently. We need the eleven best players to represent my country. What if some of them happen to be women and do not get considered because they are women? I don't want to miss out on such talent. Let the best eleven play.

  • Lakmal on January 21, 2013, 17:35 GMT

    Just tell me guys...How many comments are there posted by women here?

  • Arunangshu on January 21, 2013, 15:27 GMT

    Cricket happens to be one game where technical skills can easily overcome physical disadvantage. In no other outdoor sport can a average built individual of 165 cm height can hope to compete with a 190 cm muscular individual, nor a 39 year old hold his own against a bunch of under 25s. But this happens regularly in cricket. If women can improve their skills they can compete equally in all aspects of the game except genuine pace bowling. They can easily bat as well as the top men and also match in catching, spin and even medium pace swing bowling. So I think that genuine effort to give importance to skill level can throw some pleasantly surprising display of competitive cricket.

  • Kapil on January 21, 2013, 13:13 GMT

    In an ideal world, playing for the 2nd team of Sussex should be BENEATH Sarah Taylor. Its like Serena Williams playing on the ATP challenger circuit. Unfortunately, unlike women's tennis, women's cricket is not popular which has lead to this situation. The fact of the matter is that men have a significant advantage over women in all games of power because nature has bestowed men with greater amounts of testosterone and hence men vs women is simply not a level playing field. An elite woman athlete can overcome the biological disadvantage and be better than an average male athlete but is unlikely to ever challenge an elite male athlete. That is why all sports where power plays a huge role have separate competitions for women who are never even expected to match up to men - and the women's events are still very popular. Cricket too should keep them separate and not expect the women to be like men.

  • Wiqar on January 21, 2013, 3:39 GMT

    I think it's not impossible for them to be in the men's team.Let them play in FC and let the natural selection decide their fate. I think some women players could be stronger than some men players in international circuit.

  • udendra on January 21, 2013, 3:29 GMT

    Actually 'mixed' cricket will kill 'womens' cricket. Not promote & develop it.

  • David on January 21, 2013, 2:40 GMT

    Quite simply, as a fan of cricket, I want to see the best play the best. Gender shouldn't be an issue. For example if the best leg spinner in the world happens to be female, I want to see her bowling against the best batsmen. It's naive to ignore the fact that men have a natural physical advantage over women but there's been plenty of great cricketers who have not been very physically imposing but have been exceptionally skilful.

  • Peter on January 21, 2013, 1:49 GMT

    @Muhammad Moosa . I used to think that way, but both those sports are contact sports (body wise). The example I have given below is that the player in question is an off spinner & more than handy lower batter. She is a consistent wicket taker, excellent fielder with a fairly powerful arm (from playing baseball in the off season). All in all, probably better than about 95% (or more) of the male cricket population down here. So help me understand how that qualifies as a (your term) "laughing stock"? Is she good enough for 1st grade? No, not yet, but she is easily good enough for 2nd grade & earns her place.

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