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A year to savour

Women's cricket, led by the England side, broke new ground and found new followers this year

Jenny Roesler
Jenny Roesler
Charlotte Edwards and Claire Taylor with the World Cup, England v New Zealand, women's World Cup final, Sydney, March 22, 2009

England overshadowed every other side in women's cricket in 2009. The stars of their campaign were Charlotte Edwards and Claire Taylor  •  Getty Images

It was the year of the female underdog, as manifested by Susan Boyle achieving overnight fame for her singing. Before she had opened her mouth, however, Boyle had been dismissed because of her appearance. Women's cricket did a SuBo of its own - one minute derided by those who had either glimpsed it years ago or not at all, the next feted by such stars as Wasim Akram after he chanced upon them at the World Cup in Sydney. The tournament was watched by a global TV audience of a million.
The real clamour, however, came when they joined the men in the World Twenty20, courtesy the ICC. Michael Atherton, who watched, was compelled to call for their inclusion in the tournament to be made permanent.
In the semi-finals at Trent Bridge and The Oval, and the final at Lord's, they faced a nerve-wracking public vote each time, and each time, like Boyle, they made it through with glowing commendation. The women had taken their giant leap in their graceful stride, surprising all but a now-merry band of long-time followers.
Of course the women couldn't equal the men for strength - the fast bowling looks slow by comparison - but they had never claimed it could. With its technique and timing, women's cricket showed itself a worthy spectator sport in its own right, like women's tennis or golf.
But having just dreamed the impossible dream, reality crashed down when the press barely glanced at the subsequent England-Australia showdowns, which included a one-off Test draw where England retained the Ashes.
England women triumphant
The team of the year were England, who completed an unprecedented clean sweep by effectively becoming world champions in all three formats. They scooped their third World Cup, won the inaugural World Twenty20, and retained the Ashes in July - which was effectively the world Test trophy, as England and Australia are the only sides currently playing the format.
In the one-day game, they amassed a record 17 matches unbeaten before Australia finally toppled them in the final group encounter at the World Cup. This only fired them to slay New Zealand in the final - and again in the World Twenty20 final - while in the later series England thrashed Australia 4-0.
Awards rained down. Charlotte Edwards' firm-but-fair leadership was recognised with an MBE, and coach Mark Lane named Coach of the Year. The stand-out individual was Claire Taylor, whose shelves were left groaning under the weight of trophies.
What really built England's success was talent, teamwork, determination - and help from the ECB. Contracts, which made the players effectively semi-professionals, gave a pointed marker to other boards to follow suit where financially feasible.
Good news comes in threes
West Indies hosted England in the last women's series of the year. By England's lofty standards, the trip was a disaster - unfancied West Indies pulled off wins in the ODI and Twenty20 series, the importance of which must not be underestimated. West Indies' triumphs gave the game great hope that, having pulled up a chair to dine with the top table of four, at last a fifth team may have scratched the word "guest" off their place card.
Their performances - including fifth place at the World Cup and some explosive gameplay at the World Twenty20 - were all the more impressive when viewed against the backdrop of the turmoil their game had been in since the last World Cup, in 2005.
Best of the rest
New Zealand were twice the bridesmaids in the finals - their batting battered on each occasion by England, who shook off any nerves on the big day. The White Ferns also failed yet again in their quest for a Rose Bowl title, despite winning the openers against Australia, as rain washed out the fifth game to leave the series drawn. Captain Haidee Tiffen retired after the World Cup and the side made a smooth transition under Aimee Watkins' stewardship. Watkins' batting also flourished under the new responsibility.
Much-fancied Australia failed to win a series and also imploded under the pressure in both world tournaments, slipping from first to fourth in the one-day rankings after a sketchy World Cup. Karen Rolton stepped down from the captaincy after the World Twenty20, but stayed on as a player to lend her support and experience to new incumbent Jodie Fields, the wicketkeeper-batsman. Fields scored a century against England on Test captaincy debut, but her first ODI series in charge proved winless.
The England-Australia semi-final at The Oval in front of a decent crowd provided a neat vignette of the game's strengths. The run-chase, executed by Claire Taylor and Beth Morgan, who put on an unbeaten 122 to hunt down 165, was widely perceived as the best of the fortnight, for men or women
Australia may have slipped when it mattered, but they did pummel England on occasion to show that their class is permanent. Still, a reshuffle of their squad ahead of such an important year hinted that the selectors' timing was more off than a bucket of prawns left in the sun.
India cemented their reputation for mercurial performances, one minute beating Australia easily, the next being beaten themselves. Pakistan also impressed, belying expectations to finish fifth at the World Cup and defeating Sri Lanka for the first time, a tribute to their spirited brand of cricket.
South Africa beat West Indies in a series to show they are still world contenders, but finished a disappointing seventh at the World Cup. Sri Lanka brought up the rear in Sydney, and lost key players for the World Twenty20.
High point
The England-Australia semi-final at The Oval in front of a decent crowd provided a neat vignette of the game's strengths. The run-chase executed by Claire Taylor and Beth Morgan, who put on an unbeaten 122 to hunt down 165, was widely perceived as the best of the fortnight, for men or women. Better still, it was in front of packed crowds, press box and the TV cameras.
Low points
As much as the spotlight picked out the women as never before, they were still frequently left in the dark. Priyanka Roy's five-for in a Twenty20 against Pakistan - certainly a high point - was ignored by most, who cited Umar Gul as taking the first such haul in an international Twenty20. Roy, in fact, had beaten him to the punch by a few hours.
The England women were also totally overlooked in all categories by the public votes in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. Crucially, they were named the Sports Journalists' Association's Team of the Year; hope remains that the journalists may wish to nudge their editors for more space.
Best blow to the traditionalists Part I
One editor who needs no such prompting is the Wisden Almanack's Scyld Berry. His announcement of Claire Taylor's appointment as Wisden Cricketer of the Year was, however, pointedly buried way down a press release.
Taylor, the World No. 1 batsman, earned the accolade for topping the runs table at the World Cup as well as her exploits the previous year. Apparently indifferent to the pressure of the title, she then outscored everyone at the World Twenty20, before walking away with the ICC Female International of the Year. It's a safe bet that the votes were unanimous.
Best blow to the traditionalists Part II
Stafanie Taylor became the first woman to pick up the Jamaica Player of the Year title. Again the decision was a popular one, with the Jamaica Cricket Association reporting "no difficulties" in their choice.
What 2010 holds
Far and away the highlight of a sparse schedule is another World Twenty20 shared with the men, held in the Caribbean in May. This competition will differ from the one in 2009 in that the men will play the first matches of the day to coincide with maximised TV audiences in India and the UK. Having the women playing second hasn't worked in previous county trials - with reports of boorish behaviour from drunken spectators - but an international crowd, educated on what to expect and with more knowledge of the game than ever before, may act differently.
England will not only worry about retaining their trophy in the Caribbean but will wait anxiously to see if £30 million is wiped from the ECB budget as feared. If so, they could lose a significant chunk of the investment that has to date reaped such a fantastic harvest.
They visit India and host New Zealand, whose annual Rose Bowl hunt opens the year in Australia. No series have yet been announced for West Indies.
With funding and backing decisions uncertain, the year in prospect reflects our unpredictable financial times. What remains a sure bet, though, is that the women will continue to give their all, and stylishly.

Jenny Roesler is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo