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Mixed cricket? No thanks, boys

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

Raf Nicholson

January 20, 2013

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

Sarah Taylor lifted England to 237 with an unbeaten 41 from 43 balls, England Women v New Zealand Women, Natwest quadrangular series, Derby, July 2 2011
In the women's game, there's greater focus on skill and less on physical intimidation © Getty Images
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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

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by tfjones1978 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!

Posted by anton1234 on (January 21, 2013, 18:54 GMT)

A.Sarkar17,

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?

Posted by SpaMaster 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.

Posted by MENDIS_Forever on (January 21, 2013, 17:35 GMT)

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

Posted by A.Sarkar17 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.

Posted by Kapil_Choudhary 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.

Posted by wakaPAK 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.

Posted by Udendra on (January 21, 2013, 3:29 GMT)

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

Posted by slappinjax 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.

Posted by Chris_P 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.

Posted by Rahulbose on (January 21, 2013, 0:47 GMT)

The main point debated here seems to assume that women in mixed cricket cannot play their style. In a mixed side who is to say which style will prevail. It is just as likely to be defined by the women players as by the men. Sarah could do a Gilchrist and redefine the role and style of a wicket keeper in the side. Segregation has never resulted in equality in any social setting, it is unlikely to do so in cricket.

Posted by rbnaylor on (January 20, 2013, 23:26 GMT)

If woman's cricket really did have it's own identity then this article might be relevant and interesting but the fact is that it doesn't really, it's pretty much just men's club cricket. Well done to Sarah Taylor, doing a hell of a lot more to advance the woman's game then most!

Posted by   on (January 20, 2013, 23:12 GMT)

Cricket is unlike most sports, as it far more skill-based than strength. The 11 people playing in the highest level of the game, which currently appears to be the "Men's" Team, should be the best 11 players a country can produce...be it men or women. I support Sarah's inclusion in the "men's" game, as long as it allows her the chance to play upto her skill...maybe it is time we start thing about England XI, not England Men's XI or England Women's XI.

Posted by anton1234 on (January 20, 2013, 23:12 GMT)

I agree cricket will become a complete laughing stock. Cricket is actually a dying sport anyway. The T20s around te wolrd has given a last lease of life, buth the talk of mixed teams, no one will follow it any more, especially in the Subcontinent and the Caribbean where women perform a feminist role. The only thing that's keeping cricket alive in the Subcontinent is T20s and to a lesser extent, ODIs. But as soon as you get mixed teams, the game will die off there.

I won't be attending any more Surrey T20 games.

Posted by bford1921 on (January 20, 2013, 21:10 GMT)

the men's game is the elite for cricket, if a women is good enough to compete there should be no further requirement. There should be elite sport with the best performers. Sussex are a professional team with a reputation to uphold, they would be silly to select somebody who would sully there club. As for the idea that the women's game would be lessened for not having their best players, the same applies to all level of the game. NSW or Sussex are weakened when their best players are on international duty, should these players be denied the opportunity to play at the highest standard possible as it does so?

Posted by Harlequin. on (January 20, 2013, 21:07 GMT)

@Stos, great point pal! When the different wickets are debated, everyone is all for players adapting to different styles to stop the game becoming 1-dimensional, but we can't have mixed games because women's style is different to men's?!

Posted by Harlequin. on (January 20, 2013, 21:02 GMT)

As I have said on many occasions on these boards, I am a big fan of the women's game - it is interesting cricket, and in many ways more enjoyable to follow than the men's game. I also thnk, if done properly, that mixed cricket would too be an interesting game to follow, with different challenges for both the men and women playing. I think if it was done as occasional exhibition matches featuring some of the worlds leading women's players and some of the up and coming youngsters of similar skill and physical abilities then it would be fascinating to watch, and that is what cricket is about; an interesting contest.

Posted by   on (January 20, 2013, 16:54 GMT)

Its about as sensible as mixed soccer teams or mixed rugby teams.Cricket would become the laughing stock of mainstream sport.

Posted by Stos on (January 20, 2013, 16:04 GMT)

It seems a rather peculiar assumption that women not playing with men will mean that women's cricket is seen as 'separate but equal' rather than just assumed to be worse, the latter being in fact the case and not wholly without reason. I suppose that nations with their own styles of cricket should also withdraw from the international game.

Posted by Chris_P on (January 20, 2013, 15:14 GMT)

We have a girl playing 2nd grade in our association (10 grade competition too, so pretty strong) & she performs as well as her peers. Let me reassure you out there, if they are good enough to cut it, there is no issue. There is not one guy there who is against it either.

Posted by Hardy1 on (January 20, 2013, 13:45 GMT)

I think @yunaimin has the right idea that this isn't actually going to be the dawn of mixed sports & it will provide good exposure for women's cricket. I still want to state that I don't agree that the only criteria should be whether you're good enough because in that case men would be able to play in the women's game (otherwise there would be clear gender discrimination) & there would be less opportunity for women to get into the game.

Posted by Hardy1 on (January 20, 2013, 13:39 GMT)

AlexfromPessac, tennis is a completely different sport to cricket & so that comparison is irrelevant (especially mixed doubles, this situation is more along the lines of mixed singles). Plus even if Graf & the like in the 80s & 90s may have been better than ordinary male pros, the men's game now is much more competitive & you can even see the difference in how hard guys in the top 100 can hit the ball compared to the best female players.

When you're playing at an amateur level there's nothing wrong with mixed-sex sports because standards are very variable, but at professional level where they are pushing their physical limits, men are simply more physically capable & probably always will be. This gives men an unfair advantage in mixed-sex sports & while the best women may be able to compete with them, it's not right that the ultimate aim for all women should be to aspire to the standards of the men's game.

Posted by tickcric on (January 20, 2013, 13:36 GMT)

Marjorie Pollard was such a visionary! Her ideas about the women's game which you have featured here are amazing. Thanks for bringing this out, Raf Nicholson.

Posted by Hardy1 on (January 20, 2013, 13:31 GMT)

The main reason why this idea is so flawed is because it just doesn't reflect well on the women's game if their best players aren't even playing in it. And surely if a woman is allowed to play in the men's game then the reverse should be true too? Evidently if that were the case then all cricket clubs would only have male players since males are naturally more athletic & have higher participation in sports. Hence why we have single sex sports. However this article is flawed in citing the principles of an association that was created decades ago. The world has changed drastically & this situation requires treatment based on today's society, not that of the 1930s.

Posted by MaraudingJ on (January 20, 2013, 13:05 GMT)

This article was a genuine eye opener for me. Fantastic. Thank you.

Posted by RGWRGW on (January 20, 2013, 12:56 GMT)

Very sensible article. As I've said before "Never the twain shall meet" and I am sure Sarah, who seems charming and eminently sensible, and Sussex CCC will in due course drop the idea of her playing for the Seconds - or indeed the First XI! The argument re tennis mixed doubles is false - Graf, Navratilova, Sharapova etc playing with a leading MALE player can, of course hold their own against another top Mixed Doubles pair. But how would the Williams sisters fare in a doubles match against Andy and Jamie Murray? - they would do well to only lose 6-0, 6-0, 6-0! This is a better comparison of what Sarah would be up against in Men's county cricket.

Posted by bford1921 on (January 20, 2013, 12:13 GMT)

the only criteria is if she is good enough to play. If so then it is fine, it should not be a publicity stunt. Nothing else matters. There should be no need to separate the genders, only merit.

Posted by yunaimin on (January 20, 2013, 11:33 GMT)

The prospect of a woman playing high-level cricket in a men's team in no way implies the dawn of mixed cricket, and nobody in their right mind will think so. Gender equality is not all about women and men being on an equal footing in all arenas, especially when the arena is sport and thus the difference between men's and women's bodies becomes important. It seems like Marjorie Pollard had the right idea - that women would have the most success in cricket if they played a game suited to women's bodies. Those reading the article and agreeing more with Cowdrey than with the author's conclusion should take note of Pollard, a good cricket thinker and a better feminist.

Posted by voice_of_reason on (January 20, 2013, 11:15 GMT)

The WCA's ban lasted 44 years until 1970, when presumably it reacted to the wind of change and saw what was happening in the world, as well as the fund raising ventures. Three years later the first ever cricket World Cup was held and it was played by the women cricketers of the world. It is now 43 years since that ban was lifted and 15 since the WCA merged with the ECB. Time moves on so why hark back to 1926, or 1970, or 1998 for that matter when Sarah Taylor is doing something now for the future of the game?

Posted by jmcilhinney on (January 20, 2013, 10:51 GMT)

I'm not sure that open mixed cricket is really something to aspire to. I think that the best thing about Sarah Taylor's possibly playing for a men's second XI is exposure. People who didn't know much about women's cricket before this may now learn more. If people see Taylor turn out and play well then they are more likely to watch women's cricket, thereby bringing more money into the sport and allowing it to develop further. Taylor's playing in a men's team is not a step towards mixed cricket; it's a step forward for women's cricket.

Posted by AlexfromPessac on (January 20, 2013, 10:46 GMT)

I've played with and against women in the nets and in matches at club level and there was no problem at all. However, county cricket is an altogether different ballgame and I would be interested to see if the best women players could compete. I don't see why not - in tennis there is mixed doubles at the highest level, and the likes of Graf, Navratilova, Sharapova etc were better than ordinary male pros (according to an ex-pro friend of mine). I think that PRESSURE to compete with men would be a damaging and pointless exercise, but a woman who WANTS to compete with men really should not be hindered.

Posted by John-Price on (January 20, 2013, 10:36 GMT)

I think that there is much sense in this article. Moreover, if the better women all move on to men's club cricket, where does that leave the women's teams? Is there a not a danger they will struggle to achieve a high enough standard to promote the game properly and therefore women's cricket could stagnate? I suggest that the women's game needs its best players within it.

Posted by sifter132 on (January 20, 2013, 10:11 GMT)

" 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?" Seriously?? Answer: The world was completely different back then. Women couldn't run marathons or be prime minister. Science has since discovered that women aren't so frail as assumed, and are just as smart as men. I don't see much future for mixed matches, but to question the judgement of the WCA of 1970 is...ambitious.

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