Birkenshaw backs women to impress crowds
On the eve of the ICC women's World Twenty20, England's assistant coach, Jack Birkenshaw, has spoken of his joy at the speed with which women's cricket has improved.
"I was certainly amazed by the quality of the women's play when I first saw them last year," Birkenshaw said. "I couldn't believe it when I saw some of the England girls like Katherine Brunt and Jenny Gunn whizzing in the ball 60 yards flat. They're very fit and athletic and - they won't mind me saying this - they throw like blokes. And then there's Lydia Greenway - she's a terrific fielder. She's great at point, she can sweep… in fact, she can catch pigeons."
The tournament kicks off tomorrow and runs alongside the men's event, beginning with South Africa versus West Indies before England, one of the favourites, take on India. All the pool matches will be held in Taunton, while the semis are held at Trent Bridge and The Oval (June 18 and 19) ahead of the final at Lord's on Sunday June 21.
England, the World Cup champions in the traditional 50-over format, are clearly one of the favourites, but Birkenshaw's comments over the improvements in standards were matched by Sherwin Campbell, the former West Indies batsman now in charge of the women's side.
"I had been working with the Barbados under-19s and the men's senior team and I got a call saying they wanted somebody to work with the women. I wasn't too sure at first," he said. "But we had a 30-player camp in Barbados and I couldn't believe it. I didn't know they had so much talent. It's more than that, though - they are so eager and their attitudes are so good. They want to learn so much."
The Australia coach Richard McInnes is in a good position to compare the men and women's games, after his stint as performance analyst for the Australian men between 2005 and 2008.
"I had done a bit of work with them back in 2002 but I was pleasantly surprised about how far the game had moved on from then to now," said McInnes. "The skill level is very good. Obviously the power isn't the same as the men, but the skill level is comparable, as is the fielding.
"They have good arms and hit the stumps as often as the guys from all sorts of angles."
Birkenshaw, indeed, takes it one step further. "You could take several of our best fielders and put them on as substitutes in a men's Test match and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference," he says. "It's just a matter of exposure. People now watch women's golf and tennis without a second thought, so why not cricket? We're here to win the event, of course. But we also really want a Lord's final that people really enjoy because it is good watching. We want to serve up some terrific women's cricket where the ball is hit to all parts of the field. We want a game that gets close to a guys' game.
"We want people to say 'I can't believe the women can play like this.' That would be fantastic."