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Raf Nicholson

Where are the women on England cricket's power list?

A magazine's recent ranking of the game's influential figures reveals just how much women's cricket has lost

Raf Nicholson
Raf Nicholson
The Kent wicketkeeper coaches young players on how to play the forward defence, Eltham, January 31, 1953

When the Women's Cricket Association ran the women's game in England, all the major roles were filled by women  •  Getty Images

Last month, the Cricketer magazine published what it termed a "power list" of English cricket, as decided by its editorial team. In case you're curious and you missed it at the time, ECB chairman Colin Graves topped the list. Managing director Andrew Strauss came in at No. 2. Current players Joe Root and Alastair Cook both appeared in the top ten. Several commentators and cricket correspondents - Michael Vaughan (7), Mike Atherton (11), Jonathan Agnew (15) - also featured.
How was such a list decided upon? The Cricketer's editor, Simon Hughes, had this to say: "We asked, who makes the decisions and drives initiatives and sways opinion? Who sets the agendas? Who persuades broadcasters and sponsors to part with their money? Which players, or ex-players, are the most important? Who really influences the public's view of the game?
"We took into account status, authority, credibility, reputation, skill and, where appropriate, social media reach."
Essentially, then, this was a list of the top 50 movers and shakers in English cricket.
Two women made the list. No. 23: Delia Bushell, head of BT Sport. No. 24: Clare Connor, ECB director of women's cricket.
Of those in the country considered to have cricketing "status, authority, credibility and skill", 48 are men; of those who make the key decisions in our sport, 96% are male. There were no current female players, no female coaches, umpires, journalists or editors on the list.
At an ECB level, the problem is not so much that decisions are being taken by men, but that they are often being made with exclusively men's cricket in mind
Note: this was not a power list of English men's cricket. This was a power list of English cricket, full stop. One sport: men's and women's. One game, so says the ECB. One power list.
One game, in fact, since 1998, when the ECB took over responsibility for women's cricket, and the Women's Cricket Association (WCA) - the governing body of the sport since 1926 - dissolved itself. Since that time, money and resources have gradually poured into the women's game as the ECB has come to appreciate its responsibilities to half the population. Women have access to top-quality pitches; the women's game gets TV coverage; there are even professional contracts for a lucky few.
Women also now play a sport that is run by men.
That was the trade-off, you see. Had I put together a power list of English women's cricket in 1996, it would have consisted entirely of women. Right up until the merger, the WCA remained an organisation in which no man was permitted to take office or become a full member. The WCA's executive director was a woman - Barbara Daniels; the WCA's chairman was a woman - Sharon Bayton; the WCA executive committee was made up exclusively of women.
Those working as selectors, scorers and coaches were almost all women. In all women's Test matches up until 1996, the WCA insisted upon using female umpires. Any regular media coverage women's cricket received was generally due to dedicated female writers who had also played the sport - Rachael Heyhoe-Flint writing for the Telegraph in the 1960s and '70s; Sarah Potter and Carol Salmon penning reports for the Times, the Cricketer and Wisden in the 1980s.
Then the merger happened and these women disappeared. Initially Bayton and Daniels had asked for a women's cricket seat on the ECB board; this never came into existence. A Women's Cricket Advisory Group was set up, but without access to the main ECB board, or indeed to the audit committee or the cricket committee (which were all staffed entirely by men), it lacked any kind of real influence. At a local level, the new county boards - led by men - were "advised of their responsibilities with regard to women's cricket". Some embraced this. Many others did not.
Other responsibilities formerly dominated by women, such as coaching and umpiring, were also taken over by the ECB. In practice, because this often required female officials to requalify, this meant that such duties became almost entirely undertaken by men. Thus former England cricketer Megan Lear was replaced as England coach by an ECB nominee, Paul Farbrace, and the umpires in women's internationals became male first-class ECB appointees. Umpiring and coaching within the women's game are still today overwhelmingly male activities. And the ECB management board, while it has had a "women's game representative" since 2010, is currently constituted of 11 men and two women.
Make no mistake - the so-called "merger" (in reality more of a takeover) was always viewed as a trade-off. It is hard to disregard the enormous strides women's cricket has made in recent years thanks to proper funding by the ECB. This was the very reason for the merger in the first place: as a volunteer body, it was increasingly difficult for the WCA to both fund a game that was growing at the grassroots, and to continue to fund international tours.
Yet the WCA had always highly prized its autonomy. In 1950, the executive committee agreed that "of the fundamental principles on which the WCA was founded, one of the most important was that women should run every aspect of it". It was hard to contemplate sacrificing this.
Thus during WCA discussions in 1996 and 1997, the fear was ever-present that were a merger to go ahead, the individuality, identity and most importantly its own control over the women's game would be lost, subsumed into the behemoth that was the men's game. It was eventually agreed that the benefits of a merger outweighed these fears. But have such fears really proved so unfounded?
There are some who will be asking: does it matter? Should we care that women's cricket is now run by men? Think about it this way: if you are Colin Graves or Andrew Strauss, and you have spent your whole life playing men's cricket, deciding things within that context, then that is what you know. If you are a journalist and you have spent your entire broadcasting career commentating on the men's game, and suddenly you are given a women's match to cover, you are unlikely to be able to provide the same level of insight. Frankly, in both instances, it is fairly clear that the women's game is always going to be an afterthought. At an ECB level, the problem is not so much that decisions are being taken by men, but that they are often being made with exclusively men's cricket in mind.
Women's cricket was always the priority of the WCA. Who prioritises it now?
The really sad thing about the power list is that I don't really disagree with those who compiled it that those listed are the 50 most powerful people within English cricket. But it does highlight a fundamental problem. Of course, there were multitudinous benefits to that WCA-ECB merger, but something has been lost too - and that power list of English cricket shows just how much.

Raf Nicholson is an England supporter, a feminist, and has recently completed a doctoral thesis on the history of women's cricket. @RafNicholson