December 5, 2013

For love, not money

Despite encouraging performances on and off the field, the women's game still retains an amateur air about it

Australia: top of the women's heap © Getty/ICC

Australia were on top of the women's cricket world in 2012, keeping the World Twenty20 title after beating England, the inaugural winners in 2009. Surprisingly the teams had not met in a world final since 1988, and the keenly awaited contest did not disappoint, with Australia squeezing out a four-run win.

India, meanwhile, were the unsurprising winners of the inaugural Asia Twenty20 Cup, beating Pakistan in the final.

But it was off the pitch that the real stories lay.

The ICC brought together the male and female voting academies for its annual awards and opened the Cricketer of the Year award to both sexes. Great fanfare accompanied West Indies allrounder Stafanie Taylor making it to the longlist for the ultimate prize alongside eight men. However, while an admirable idea, in practice the chance of a female cricketer ever winning the trophy is slim. Although officially nominees need not participate in all three formats, past male winners have dominated in the Test arena in the year of their victory, and with women not playing Tests (the Ashes notwithstanding), the award is not on a level playing field.

Taylor took the Women's ODI Player of the Year trophy as consolation, with England's Sarah Taylor awarded the Women's T20 title. The awards for Emerging Player, Spirit of Cricket and People's Choice are open to women too, yet, tellingly, not one woman, or a women's event, was even longlisted for any of the three.

The dearth of media coverage and lack of public awareness is a huge factor, yet the ICC, whose commitment and contribution to developing the global women's game is notable, can only do so much. It would, for example, love member countries to include women's cricket as part of their TV broadcast rights negotiations, but does not put a rule in place to ensure it. Nevertheless, in Australia, women play on free-to-air stations - Channel 9 and ABC.

'Women's game needs more participation at younger levels'

The women's game is certainly of a viable standard for TV - particularly with T20s - and this coincides neatly with the ICC's vision of the women's future lying in limited-overs cricket. To further underscore this, the ICC also introduced T20 player rankings for women.

But funding remains a constant challenge and one that is getting harder in the global climate, forcing the ICC to look desperately at a breadth of different sources, including government funds and corporate social responsibility.

It's an issue that needs increasingly urgent resolution. While the women's game has become extremely professional, with professional expectations to boot, payments still do not match. The players are still forced to play more for love than money, and with the ICC upping the minimum number of matches required - to three ODIs and three T20s in any year not including ICC events; if they don't play that minimum, they stand to lose their T20/ODI status - they are continually compromised in terms of developing a career away from cricket.

Indeed, even though England are far and away the best resourced nation - and 2012 pushed them even further with performance fees and other payments - it was still newsworthy when Charlotte Edwards, their phenomenally successful captain, won a sponsorship that will help buy her a few more years in the game.

Most players her age (33) would have retired by now to pursue professional careers away from cricket. In fact, this year her England team-mate Isa Guha hung up her bowling boots at 27. Australia's Melissa Bulow also left the international scene, aged 32. As Edwards said: "If we played for money we would be playing different sports."

The other big guns - Australia, New Zealand and India - are still underfunded, while West Indies' players have increased exponentially since the introduction of contracts, and it's to be hoped that they don't plateau because of lack of further injections of funds. West Indies were again World Twenty20 semi-finalists, having in 2010 famously knocked out holders England. This further underlines the case for the Australia, England, India and New Zealand boards to invite them into their quadrilateral series, making for a world pentangular.

Another idea would be to run the men and women's one-day World Cups in tandem. While there would not be the double-header advantage presented by T20s, the women could piggyback on the media attention lavished on the men. The time gap between women's and men's matches in T20 double-headers could also be narrowed to fully maximise in-house crowd and TV audience potential. Whatever the future holds, the women's game continues to head, albeit slowly, in a promising direction.

High point
The importance of female administrators within traditionally male bastions must not be underestimated, and in 2012 came a watershed moment, with the appointment of the first female to head a country board. It was Kenya who made history in appointing Jackie Janmohammed as its CEO.

The MCC invited Charlotte Edwards on to its World Cricket Committee, which meets twice yearly to discuss issues in the game. Edwards' appointment comes three years after England women supremo Clare Connor was first appointed to the ICC board.

Further wins in women's recognition included England's Arran Brindle being an Olympic torchbearer, while another England player, Enid Bakewell, was deservedly inducted into the ICC's hall of fame.

Another barrier was knocked down in Australia, when the Melbourne Cricket Club created a women's team, finally following the lead of the other MCC, which has fielded a women's side since 1999.

Low point
An avoidable gaffe from the ICC, who during their World Twenty20, paid their male players a US$100 a day subsidy and the women $60. It was a tiny thing but spoke large volumes about the more subtle inequalities that still persist despite the ICC's broader praiseworthy efforts. A more blatant inequality, however, was the prize pot: $1million for the men; $60,000 for the women. Given the media backlash over the difference in player payments, it's unlikely the ICC will repeat this mistake. The chances of them closing the gap in the prize money is a different matter.

New kid on the block
England opening bowler Georgia Elwiss' game has come a long way since she was belted for huge sixes in boys' cricket. Duly toughened up and with a serious commitment to boot, she earned the Player of the Series title during five home ODIs against India, taking six wickets at 14.83 with an economy - her greatest asset - that made Scrooge look like Santa. She needs to work on her end-of-innings bowling but has the maturity to do so. Her long-term future is bright.

Also look out for Australia's Megan Schutt, who made her debut in December's Rosebowl series against New Zealand. Schutt is a frontline fast bowler who generates plenty of cut off the seam, and also offers a great arm and solid outfielding ability. With Australian bowling stocks currently low, the 19-year-old has a real chance of playing the 2013 World Cup.

What 2013 holds
The World Cup is the big-ticket item, where holders England will start favourites, alongside Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and hosts India. Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka make up the eight teams.

It's also a rare Test year, with a solitary Ashes match, the only remaining Test fixture in the women's calendar. Although players would like to play the longest form, which would also add depth to their game, an emphasis on the shorter formats for commercial reasons remains.

The inaugural women's World Twenty20 qualifier will also be staged in 2013. This leads on from five regional T20 qualifying events held in 2012, and there are now 40 women's teams with T20 rankings.

Jenny Roesler is a writer based in Australia