Women's Cricket

In each of our regular New Bulletins Raf Nicholson writes her observations on promoting women's cricket. You can read the latest edition below.

February/March 2021

I enjoyed tuning in to the recent Society Zoom meeting with Stephen Chalke in conversation with Mike Brearley. What a thoughtful, erudite man Brearley is. I was particularly struck by his comment (in response to my question) about the lack of awareness of women’s cricket among leading male cricketers during his playing career.

He was generally correct that the levels of awareness of women’s cricket were much lower in the 1970s than they are now, of course. However, just after the meeting had concluded – and quite by coincidence – I came across an article Brearley had written in the Evening Standard in 1973, during the first ever Cricket World Cup. In it, he issued a challenge to Rachael Heyhoe Flint’s England team: Take on an “Old England Men’s XI” consisting of men’s cricketers aged 50+ including Len Hutton, Godfrey Evans and Denis Compton. Heyhoe Flint duly took up the challenge and a match was organised at The Oval. It was branded as a “Battle of the Sexes” match, in the style of Billie Jean King v Bobby Riggs, but unfortunately the men won with a ball to spare. For more on this match (and much more besides), keep an eye out for my forthcoming book The Women in Whites, which I hope will be published in mid-2021.

We are fortunate that we now have some women’s international cricket to look forward to, despite the postponement of our 50-over World Cup by a year. England will be playing New Zealand in 3 ODIs and 3 T20s in February and March. I was rather concerned that New Zealand, who of course are in the happy position of having zero community Covid cases, would stop the England team from travelling altogether given the new “variant” of the virus, but fortunately they are being allowed to go. Quarantine will be strict – they will be entirely confined to their rooms for the first week – but there is of course the “carrot” of normal life to look forward to on the other side. I’m rather jealous!

It’s incredible to think that the forthcoming matches will be the first ODIs England have played since their series against Pakistan in Malaysia in December 2019. The same month as our last general election - what a long time ago that seems. Apparently Cricinfo’s algorithm now automatically records all the England Women as “retired” from ODI cricket because it has been over a year since their last outing in the format!

England have recalled left-arm seamer Tash Farrant to the side, two years after losing her central contract. She will act as cover for Anya Shrubsole, who is recovering from a knee injury sustained over the summer. The on-field action could be interesting. New Zealand are a good side but they are missing one of their best players, former captain Suzie Bates, who suffered a bad shoulder injury during the WBBL and is recovering from surgery.

In my view, England are firm favourites in both formats. Kiwi Sophie Devine - who has a good claim on the titles of both “world’s best batsman” and “world’s nicest cricketer” - may have other ideas, though. Also, keep an eye out for the England XI named for the opening fixture on 23rd February (starting at 3am… zzzz), because I suspect this will be very similar to the XI who will be facing down Australia in England’s opening fixture of the World Cup, also to be played in New Zealand in early 2022. There won’t be many ODIs played between now and then, so England will want to give their likely “World Cup Opening XI” as much match practice as possible.

With a bit of luck, and a swift vaccine roll-out, things will be back to normal by then, and some English journalists will be permitted to apply for accreditation to cover the matches (I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed). For now, I hope you are all keeping safe and well, wherever you are.

Raf Nicholson