Sanjay Manjrekar
Former India batsman; now a cricket commentator and presenter on TV

Look to women's cricket for the game's lost pleasures

If you're a fan of spin and swing, you could do worse than become a fan of women's cricket

Sanjay Manjrekar

February 16, 2013

Comments: 37 | Text size: A | A

Chamari Atapattu was bowled for a duck, New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Women's World Cup 2013, Super Six, Mumbai, February 8, 2013
The women's World Cup has produced a high percentage of bowled and lbw dismissals, because bowlers in women's cricket tend to pitch it full © ICC/Solaris Images
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Series/Tournaments: ICC Women's World Cup

For the last couple of weeks I have been watching and commentating on a different kind of cricket, where I have had to bite my tongue while saying things like "Bowled him!" Barring that, commentating on the ICC Women's World Cup has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

No serious comparisons can be made between men's and women's cricket, for various reasons, but watching the women's game up close has been instructive for me - for its contrasts with the men's game, and what it tells us about the evolution of the men's game.

It has been truly gratifying for me as a cricket follower to see some real spin and swing being bowled. As a rule, women seem to swing the ball more than men do, and they also do not need turners to spin the ball - all they need is a 22-yard cricket pitch. This, of course, is not to demean the men in any way, but it raises the point of how swing and spin are less and less evident in the men's game now.

The pitch at the Cricket Club of India, where the World Cup games were held, was hard and bouncy, covered by a thin layer of grass. With matches starting at 9am, our pitch reports always suggested bowling first as the obvious option after winning the toss, and spoke of how it was going to be a seamer's delight. And each time it startled me how the spinners extracted spin from the pitch, even when they were bowling first. No way would the men have found spin on that surface at that hour.

There are two simple reasons for this: female spinners flight the ball more and bowl it a lot slower than men do, with their average speed being around 65-70kph. Male spinners generally bowl around 80kph, and their trajectory is much flatter. This is why women can find turn even on a pitch with no soil exposed, to get the spin advantage.

There was a time when men used to flight the ball like the women do today, but we all know why that does not happen anymore.

One, with increasing amounts of limited-overs cricket being played, the batsmen's mindset has changed completely. Hitting the ball in the air is no more the taboo it used to be. Two, the bats have got heavier and bulkier, and the boundaries are rarely long enough. It amazes me how many times a batsman mistimes the ball and it still sails over the ropes into the stands.

This is where I find the game is unfair to the bowler: ideally such miscued shots should land in the hands of a fielder well inside the boundary, but that does not happen anymore. Given that, only really brave bowlers will bowl full or flight the ball today.

For the ball to swing, one needs to bowl it full. Over the years, with bowlers realising that full balls can be risky, as the batsman can hit you straight over the head into the stands, they have gone shorter, and this habit has stuck in Tests too. Next time, watch carefully when you see a pitch map during coverage of a men's match, and look at how many times a seamer has bowled balls that would actually have gone on to hit the stumps. They are very few. This also means they are giving themselves fewer chances to get lbws and bowleds.

What was striking in these women's matches has been the number of bowleds and lbws they have got. This is because of the full length they tend to bowl; on the pitch map we could see that most of their deliveries were pitching in the full-length area, unlike in men's cricket, where the stock delivery is just short of a good length and balls invariably sail over the stumps if allowed to pass.

Women are able to bowl full because they know very few women in the world can hit the ball out of the ground. So it does not need an especially big-hearted, courageous bowler to pitch it full or throw it up in the air as a means of deception. Even though the boundaries are shorter (around 55 metres on average), sixes are rare in women's cricket, while in men's cricket, with 70m boundaries, it is batsmen who can't hit sixes who are rare.

 
 
Women bowl their overs quicker because they do not "mill around" like the men do. Even on a humid day, the women were rushing through their overs and running to take their positions in the field in between overs
 

One other reason why 50-overs men's cricket seems a drag sometimes is because men take so long to bowl their quota of overs. They invariably go overboard by 30 minutes. Women get three hours and ten minutes to bowl their 50 overs, as against men, who get three and a half hours. This, I am told, is because men tend to have longer run-ups.

But it was obvious to me that the real reason why women bowl their overs quicker is because they do not "mill around" like the men do these days. Even on a humid day, the women were rushing through their overs and running to take their positions in the field in between overs.

Visits by substitutes with drinks are infrequent, unlike in men's cricket, where it has gone completely out of control. In the women's games, every time the batter was ready, so were the fielders and the bowler.

Why are women generally so keen to finish their overs in time - even when their side is lagging in the match sometimes? Is it hefty fines or penalties in terms of money or runs? Bans? No. There is no penalty of any kind if they don't bowl their overs in time. They do it out of habit, a good habit.

The game is a lot more attractive to spectators if they get to see all its facets in one match, and those include swing and spin. It is up to administrators to ensure this. My stint covering women's cricket has confirmed what I have felt quite strongly for a while: sooner rather than later, the rule-makers will have to restrict the weight and dimensions of the cricket bat. At the moment the edges are starting to resemble the face of the bat.

Wherever possible they need to drag the boundaries further away, so a batsman will know he is taking a huge risk when he is trying to loft a full, swinging ball or a flighted, spinning delivery. If it does not come from the middle of the bat, he should know that is probably going to be the end of him. When a batsman has this doubt in his mind, watch how the game becomes more attractive than it is today.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by D.V.C. on (February 18, 2013, 22:22 GMT)

I believe this to be a good article, and all the observations to be correct. There is one point not addressed though that I wonder about. What role does the smaller ball play?

Posted by   on (February 18, 2013, 3:02 GMT)

Watching (men's) Test cricket remains the ultimate fan experience for me, but I could not help wondering why was so often switching over from ODIs and the BPL T20s being shown on other channels to have a look the Women's World Cup, (much to the chargrin of my wife, incidentally!). Reading Sanjay's article, I now know why; men's limited overs cricket has become much more predictable and monochromatic in terms of the skills on display, while in women's cricket, they are much more varied. I fully agree with Sanjay- unless they do something about bat weights soon, one might as well stop watching limited overs cricket. Its an absolute travesty that someone like Matt Hayden, to a large extent by reason of the weight of his bat, should have an avergae which brackets him in the same class as Greg Chappel, Viv Richards, Lara, Tendulkar or Ponting.

Posted by kalyanbk on (February 17, 2013, 14:51 GMT)

Cricket will be a better game when administrators realize that the contest between bat and ball is more exciting than a contest between bat and bat.

Posted by   on (February 17, 2013, 7:35 GMT)

Hello Sanjay Manjrekar. Nice to see a former cricketer write a wonderful article on women's cricket. I completely agree with what Sanjay had to say. By the way, there's always a huge difference when a cricketer/former cricketer write articles about the game (either men's or women's) and someone who didn't play any level of cricket in their lives write articles on espncricinfo website. Just goes to show the latter don't read, understand, interpret and analyse the game properly while they're watching it. That is why we need more cricketers/former cricketers to write articles on this website.

Posted by suvam.ask on (February 17, 2013, 6:45 GMT)

Men do need to realise this.......and more than that the public(cricket viewers) of us.....

Posted by   on (February 17, 2013, 3:21 GMT)

Restrictions on the weight and dimensions of the bat will be restricting batsman's individual capability.If you do this then why not restrict fast bowlers' speed, say to them you cannot bowl with speed more than 145 and less than 125.Just swing and seam the ball.That will be not fair to bowlers like Lee and Akhtar.It is their individual capability if they can use a heavier bat or not.I also disagree that mishits or edges should be penalized. If they give batsman unfair runs, they also give bowlers many chances to take wicket.It is a risk, a chance, sometimes batsman benefits sometimes bowlers, and that is the beauty of cricket. In 20-20 and ODI, game may seem a bit unfair for bowlers, but it is more due to time. In 120 bowls, it is hard to take 10 wickets, batsman can take as many chances as they want.It doesn't effect team much if one gets out while trying to hit. There are others to take place.All focus is on getting as many runs on board. Bowlers still rule and win Test matches.

Posted by MridulM on (February 17, 2013, 0:41 GMT)

@nidhin.rajan : Manjrekar is not comparing the quality of cricket. He is comparing the skills being used. Unlike tennis, quality of a team game depends on the facilities being provided to that game. Its a matter of altogether different discussion. We can't even say that quality of men's game has improved. Put the players of todays generation in trying conditions and a spinner loses his spin, pacer can't swing/seam the ball and batsmen can't gauge the swing/seam/spin/bounce of the delivery. As the men's game has evolved in time, a tendency to blame the lack of skill on pitches has increased. If you agree on the lack of skill part, the next question is how come skills have deteriorated? Well, to provide "entertainment" to the crowd, game has been continuously tweaked in favor of the batsmen consequently focus of bowling has increased more towards containment. Somehow this misplaced notion of "entertainment" being "batsmen beating a hell out of the bowlers" has damaged the gmae.

Posted by iHitWicket on (February 17, 2013, 0:36 GMT)

Kudos Sanjay for apt analysis. Yes Bat restrictions are needed. Most big hitters will get affected but again they can't play test cricket with just muscle so its better to make them improve their game in shorter versions as well. Taking front foot out of the way and slogging through the line is one the most ugly sights in cricket (~ Raina, Dhoni etc)

Posted by ARad on (February 16, 2013, 23:44 GMT)

I very much doubt if a majority of professional women's Tennis players (apart from the top 10 or so at most?) would be too successful against male Tennis players from prominent (American) Universities. While there is room for improvement in the women's game (with respect to fielding, the size of the player pool and such), these shortcomings are not very different from what Women's Tennis experienced until the 70s. Before that, the number of very good women's players was very low (partly because it wasn't popular outside a few countries which limited the player pool) and they were not as athletic as the well-trained women's Tennis players of more recent decades. Women's cricket, like women's Tennis, has the ability to create its own fan base but it is going to take some time. Another good column by Manjrekar. I agree about the effect of bat dimensions in the modern game...

Posted by Selassie-I on (February 16, 2013, 22:44 GMT)

Good article, the problem though is that the games marketers assume that everyone just wants to see a load of sixes, rather than a true battle between ball and bat. So the rules probably wont change unfortunately.

However I think boundary limits should be set and seem much more possible

Posted by ygkd on (February 16, 2013, 22:09 GMT)

Restrictions on the weight and size of bats are long-standing. They are there for good reason. However, it is clear that bat-making technology along with other factors such as roped-in boundaries have made a mockery of such restrictions, especially in Test cricket. There may be a case for larger bats in T20 slog-fests, but Test cricket and to some extent ODIs, if they continue, should be treated differently. They are different games and, just as it became obvious that different fielding restrictions and bowling restrictions were needed in limited overs, it should also now be obvious that different bat restrictions are also necessary. The alternative is to remove a large proportion of the skill from batting. Cricket is a game which can be played at the highest level by people of many different body sizes and shapes. This is being eroded somewhat and that is a blight on the game. There are already enough sports where only the physically large can prosper.

Posted by sticket on (February 16, 2013, 18:55 GMT)

Modern game,modern styles if girls faced the same they would do the same.Its not really a credit to them.Whats your point again?

Posted by nidhin.rajan on (February 16, 2013, 17:50 GMT)

I am sorry Sanjay I beg to disagree with you on this. The quality of cricket displayed was quite poor. Thats the problem with womens cricket. There is a large difference in quality with the mens cricket unlike tennis where the quality is comparable. The international womens team would not even have a chance against a mens university team.

Posted by agarkarno1 on (February 16, 2013, 17:46 GMT)

Excellent analysis. I wonder if women also will bowl short and flat if their game gets more popular with hard hitting batswomen.

Posted by ansram on (February 16, 2013, 16:56 GMT)

Penalize mishits. A mishit flying for a six should get only 2 runs and a thick edge that evades the slip cordons should be awarded just a single. I hate the sight of a mishit getting six runs. Game must be based on skill and technique instead of brute power. Use brute power if you want to, but you must still hit them with the meat of the bat.

Posted by Thefakebook on (February 16, 2013, 16:49 GMT)

I guess Manjrekar for got about the Malingas,theLyons,theGayles,the Pollards ,the Anderson,the Hillfenhauses of mens cricket who still Spin(flight),Swing and Hit the ball out of the park even if the boundry are 100 mtrs. But I do agree with him womens cricket is more classy and exciting than men's as men's game is almost always batting dominated!Great job girls.

Posted by tony122 on (February 16, 2013, 14:33 GMT)

I do not agree weight and dimensions of the bat need to be restricted. Why if a Man or Woman for that matter is muscular enough to lift twice the bat to a another player,why he/she should be penalized for that 'ability'? As I see strength or power is as much a genuine cricketing ability as those hard to define balance,hand eye co-ordination etc. I do agree with Sanjay it is unfair on bowlers even mishits these days end up in the stands often. My suggestion is to increase the size of the boundaries far enough that only strokes hit near the middle of the bat with perfect timing end up just a couple of meters over the boundary when hit by a normal physique player. One can set the minimum dimensions of the ground as a rule., Anything over can be allowed and even encouraged but not under it.

Posted by priya65 on (February 16, 2013, 13:42 GMT)

Can't we impose an upper limit for the thickness of the bat? Or may be the weight of a bat? it is so unfair that mishits go sailing away like that. it breaks a team's heart when bullies obliterate the game like this. Authorities think that it is the Six that attracts spectator. Actually it is not the case. Nowadays spinners play too much variations but do not have stock ball a BIg SPINNER. i remember watching murali at a school game way back in 1989. Now here is a boy who can turn the ball square. ( He had a team mate Piyal Wijethunga who used to bowl the doosra at the time - no one recognized it at the time. ) As a cricket fan you get really excited when you sees such bowlers. Remember the hey days of wasim akram. even if SL lost mant matches due to his majic, you tend to appreciate and love him for the things he could do. When Chaminda vaas started reversing for the first time mid career it was so pleasant for us to watch. He concealed the ball and bowled reverse we were thrilled.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (February 16, 2013, 12:32 GMT)

Great if restrictions in size of bat are implemented.

Posted by kabe_ag7 on (February 16, 2013, 11:51 GMT)

Eminently sensible suggestions, all of those.

Posted by MaruthuDelft on (February 16, 2013, 11:04 GMT)

Yes; bowlers are left on ground to fight batsmen on hill. Besides restricting bat size which would tilt the balance between batsmen v.s. spinners to encourage fast bowlers, if a batsman is hit on the helmet or anywhere on his body and if he is not outside the line of leg stump he must be given out; no appealing(of course mostly).

Posted by ygkd on (February 16, 2013, 10:52 GMT)

There is one point above that I would suggest is somewhat incorrect - that most male spinners today bowl around 80kmh. Indeed, so many seem to never get below 85kmh, which is even worse.

Posted by nightcrawler8426 on (February 16, 2013, 10:44 GMT)

I always loved watching women cricket and after watching this world cup i love it even more. As the discipline in women cricket has been noticeable. And as Sanjay said ICC should act like a head and implement the rules rather than just asking for votes. BTW nice article Sanjay

Posted by   on (February 16, 2013, 10:33 GMT)

Yes the rule-makers will have to restrict the weight and dimensions of the cricket bat to make the game an even contest between bat and ball. I totally agree with Sanjay. Whats your opinion - N Vijay, Rajesh and Dr.Karthikeyan ???

Posted by   on (February 16, 2013, 10:21 GMT)

Excellent and insightful commentary - as ever by Sanjay. It must sound oddin coimmentary to say "Bolwed her" or even "Got her"!

Posted by Nutcutlet on (February 16, 2013, 9:51 GMT)

The vast majority of women's cricket on view during this World Cup has been eminently watchable - indeed, it has been more easy on the eye from a stylistic point of view than many men's games. The skills on show have been of a high order and should have reminded male cricketers that batting skill are far more about timing than brute strength. In recent years many internat. male batsmen have turned themselves into incredible hulks & power the ball to or over the boundary, often off the side (formerly called the edge) of the bat -- never pretty, but it goes in the scorebook. (You're right, Sanjay, something does need to be done about limiting bat dimensions & weight). In slow bowling the use of proper flight & appreciable turn has been a delight, as has the swing utilised by the quicker bowlers. But India has issues with women (even women playing cricket) & the crowds haven't rolled in & the male umpiring had been lamentable. What know they of cricket who only men's cricket know? Eh?

Posted by azzaman333 on (February 16, 2013, 8:36 GMT)

The biggest tragedy is that women's cricket has such little coverage. It's a damn shame, because it's high quality cricket. Between evenly matched sides, it's a much more tactical game because there's simply not the power or speed to distort the battle between bat and ball.

Posted by Pathiyal on (February 16, 2013, 8:20 GMT)

i liked his commentary during the match for the no. 3 spot between Eng & NZ esp. when he commented about the batting of Sarah Taylor - her aggression against the moving ball in the initial stages. of course, this shot has fetched her a lot of runs in the past but it would be better if she don't go for it when she gets to the middle fresh. anybody would like to watch a long innings from her.

Posted by   on (February 16, 2013, 8:05 GMT)

Gone are the days of subtle touches and delicate cuts .We see a lot of strokes with the power of the bat.I have noticed this concept of men doing the work in their overtime in house holds as well as in their offices while women would like to finish their jobs fast.

Posted by Arunvilla on (February 16, 2013, 7:46 GMT)

Ive become a fan of women's game.the spinners are very good.sarah taylor rkz.catherine brunt bowls really well...they are very professional as well

Posted by ygkd on (February 16, 2013, 6:30 GMT)

I would have to agree with the article on the way the modern aerial route has changed the men's game. It has happened in a relatively short time too. Just over a decade ago things were still somewhat different. A cursory watch of some ODIs from that not-too-distant era easily reminds us how it was without boundary ropes and tree-trunk bats. That might not sound like much of a difference but it is considerable. Where once very, very fine batsmen would think twice about taking a deep fielder on, and for good reason as caught-on-the-boundary was not highly-regarded as a mode of dismissal, now the deep-fielders are not so deep and the bats give far more trajectory than is needed for the job. It is the mis-hit sixes that I cannot stand. They are so common these days and bowlers already have enough troubles with the lack of slip-fielders and other close catchers that one cannot think it has all gotten too ridiculous for words. Now, it seems if you don't mishit slog for six you're nobody.

Posted by Demolish on (February 16, 2013, 6:27 GMT)

The suggestions given by Sanjay are probably the exact opposite of the ICC's mindset at the moment. With the 20 20's becoming more and more popular and test's losing popularity and attendance it is highly unlikely that these measures will ever be taken. Because cricket is not about cricket any more its more about Entertainment. And it's really sad to see. I personally enjoy seeing good swing bowling the batsman cant figure out how to play or spin bowling that beats the bat constantly. And that is unlikely to happen with the bats growing bigger and the pitches going flatter

Posted by   on (February 16, 2013, 4:28 GMT)

I totally agree on the boundary sizes. Often I see the rope a good 5-10m in from the fence, which is unnecessary. We also a variety of sizes and shapes of ground...but there should be a regulation that the boundary be a minimum 60 (65?) metres from the middle of the pitch... MCG is 75+ and that's great!

Posted by   on (February 16, 2013, 4:12 GMT)

Agreed on most points with Manjrekar. One of the many pleasant things that I found in watching the women's World Cup matches was how quickly they would get through the overs and the general lack of dawdling around. And, on one of the last notes he raised, I would pay to get the rules of cricket to restrict bat weight. I'm sick of seeing crappy shots go for 4s and 6s in the men's game.

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