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The ominous question still lingers: is the win a sign that England are going to dominate cricket for the next decade, and what could that mean for the future of other nations?
June 21, 2009
New Zealand coach Gary Stead put it best. His side's defeat to England in Sunday's ICC World Twenty20 final was, he said, like the amateurs playing the professionals. He only meant it figuratively, insofar as his team were outclassed on the day against a surprisingly clinical England. At last, the home side's bowlers and fielders truly rose to the occasion in a way which they hadn't throughout the rest of the tournament.
Stead was almost correct in the literal sense too, and therein lies a potential problem. The ECB has invested in English women's cricket for more than a decade now, but the tree naturally takes a long time to first take root and then bear fruit. Only in the last 18 months have England looked like world-beaters. Now they have the World Twenty20, the World Cup and the Ashes in their pockets, and better investment than ever before.
The ominous question goes thus: is this a sign that England women are going to dominate cricket for the next decade or more, and if so, what does that mean for the future of other nations?
England's women are, through Chance to Shine coaching contracts, the nearest thing the women's game gets to professionals; the gulf between them and the rest of the teams is in serious danger of widening. They have beaten world No. 2 New Zealand seven times in their last meetings, while India, the third-best in the world, have been their whipping girls for several years.
Only Australia - whose players have a contract-lite version of England's, but still have to work - have presented anything of a challenge. Players can attend the Academy in Brisbane and have funding through grants, but one wonders what's going to happen in the next few years when Karen Rolton, Shelley Nitschke and Lisa Sthalekar cart all their weighty experience off with them into the sunset.
New Zealand lost captain Haidee Tiffen earlier this year - she wrote on Cricinfo that this was partly down to a lack of funding - while players such as Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine are in eternal danger of defecting to their other international sports of basketball (Bates) and hockey (Devine). The players are desperately keen to get more financial assistance and, given their record, certainly deserve it. Investment can only make the powerhouses stronger.
England, partly due to the funding, have a well-gelled team who can concentrate as much as they like on cricket. They have a young team but one which is already very experienced and Charlotte Edwards - who is the same age as Tiffen - intends to be around for many years yet. And even though they have hardly played perfect cricket in either tournaments this year, it's still been more than enough to reign supreme.
So the future is certainly an issue. But at the same time, the present is very much worth celebrating. England's women already beat their men to an ICC trophy when they took the World Cup in March, the first tournament under ICC regulations. They promptly did the double on Sunday and are flying the flag in style.
The investment from the ECB continues to pay dividends and Edwards was keen to note that the World Twenty20 success shows the 50-over tournament "was no fluke". The victory is also a win for women's sport in England. While the impact on the press may not be long-lasting in terms of a general lift in column inches, the fact that writers and editors witnessed the play at Trent Bridge, The Oval and Lord's for the first time might lead them to look more kindly on the women's game in the future.
The double-header staging of the tournament has been an unmitigated success. While there were no upsets in any of the games, the cricket was exciting and there were some superb performances, such as the West Indies batsman Deandra Dottin's fastest international Twenty20 fifty against Australia in Taunton, and New Zealand captain Aimee Watkins' 89 not out in Nottingham against India. The most memorable game will long stand out as Australia versus England at The Oval where Claire Taylor, the player of the tournament, stroked her side home in thrilling circumstances.
The ICC took a gamble on embracing the women's game, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say a calculated risk, the women having already been on the same stage as the men in domestic and international games. And the decision paid off handsomely.
Women's cricket has arrived on the world stage, and nobody tried to boo them off. Rather, they applauded a surprisingly entertaining new act which represented good value for money, and has the chance to shine again in the future.
With the format to be repeated next year in the Caribbean, the ICC can both breathe a sigh of relief at the successful staging this time around, but also give itself a pat on the back.
The ECB, too, should be applauded for setting the example - and now it is hoped other countries can catch up with their view to a golden future.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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