One Ashes Test down, five to go: Women and cricket prove a success

Geoff Lemon Columnist

By Geoff Lemon, Geoff Lemon is a Roar Expert

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    The world is an espresso machine: there are knobs everywhere, and most of them are useless. But in 2017, the people knocking women’s sport have grown ever fewer and quieter.

    Given the general cesspit that has been world politics this year, we end up sifting for glimmers of hope. One is seeing sport change across gender lines. There are still detractors who have a problem with other people’s enjoyment, but their pessimism looks silly next to concrete results.

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    The AFLW’s first season packed out Princes Park and has clubs lining up to join. The Matildas dominated Brazil as Sam Kerr became a star. Serena Williams took out the Australian Open while pregnant, and cricket got over 27,000 people to the Lord’s final of the World Cup.

    Four years previously, when I wrote about the 2013 World Cup for The Roar, no one was covering it. There were explosive stories. England accused Australia of throwing a pool match to block them from the final. In that final, Ellyse Perry pulled up lame before her first ball, then bowled ten overs on a broken foot to be player of the match.

    After Australia’s win, I scrolled the sports websites of Australia’s newspapers and found nothing. Not worthy of mention.

    Four years later, I was calling Australia’s World Cup games on ABC and BBC radio. We had teams of experts joining us on commentary. There were spreads in the papers and listeners in the hundreds of thousands. Selling out Lord’s was the remarkable culmination.

    Last week in Sydney, England coach Mark Robinson said that the moment felt as significant when Perry made a Test double-century, scrambling there with her team nine wickets down, in front of a jubilant crowd.

    “It reminded me of the day at Lord’s. It was a special day to have nearly 4000 there for a pink-ball Test match watching a player relentlessly go on to be excellent, and excellent, and excellent. I just thought it was brilliant. Hopefully it was another landmark day for women’s cricket.”

    Ellyse Perry celebrates a century

    (AAP Image/Daniel Munoz)

    Those numbers are significant for the format. Men’s Test cricket can be a hard enough sell at times. The women’s version doesn’t lack history – it dates back to 1934 – but has never had the profile, the player pool, or until the last couple of years, the professionalism.

    Things started slowly on the first afternoon, a Thursday, but a good crowd came in by evening. The Friday night was better, Saturday better again. The grass banks around the eastern side had barely a space between sprawling bodies and picnic blankets.

    There was a casual joyfulness. The sun slathered the ground later in the day, then drew back to set placidly behind the stands. A sky from eggshell blue to faded rose to gunmetal. That feeling of Australia’s end of year, summer starting to come in, the first hints of work barbeques and mince pies and Die Hard marathons.

    It had cricket’s familiar types without the screaming drunkards. Groups of lads trying to work out how to impress each other. Chardonnay types in the corporate marquee. Couples getting pragmatically affectionate as the evening cooled. A few forward-looking types had brought doonas.

    There was something beautiful about hearing classic fired-up fans in this format: “It’s come off her bat, you idiot,” echoed from the Thompson stand. The Richies came down too, a largely female group of them, playing the Wide World of Sports theme on trumpets and all the rest.

    New South Wales players Ed Cowan and Sarah Aley chatted with Cricket Australia handyman Pat Howard on the hill. Mitchell Starc went to find Nathan Lyon while carrying two beers in each enormous hand.

    Steve Smith was there, an Australian Test captain watching an Australian Test captain. He had his TV interview cut short because a wicket had fallen. There was a more important game in town.

    Bevies of Sydney folk from sports bodies and media companies wandered in, not working but as punters. A full complement from The Roar’s Sydney office came down, not even at my suggestion. Telling was the presence of former Prime Minister John Howard, ever the populist.

    For Sydney, it had become an official Thing To Do. It had seeped into the consciousness. The Betoota Advocate, finger on the pulse, ran an article headlined “Women’s Test Cricket Makes Stunning Debut On Office Man’s Laptop.”

    Said its fictional subject: “I’ve suffered through the soap opera that is the f***ing men’s team for months now. This is a nice refreshing take on the game. Everybody looks like they’re having fun.”

    The spectacle still has a way to go, as CA boss James Sutherland suggested while dampening the expectation of women’s Tests more than once in a blue moon.

    He tempered “delight” at the crowd with the criticism that “there were 21 wickets for the game and the run-rate was relatively slow. There are probably a whole lot of conducive factors to that outcome.”

    No, there were two. The pitch, and the preparedness of players. The wicket was rough and chewed up the pink ball while offering no bounce or spin. Neither discipline had the chance for dynamism. It almost guaranteed ending in a draw.

    “The biggest disappointment was it wasn’t a fresh wicket, which I don’t get for this one-off Test match,” said Robinson amid more positive comments.

    “They’ve got a young leg-spinner, she needs bounce. You’ve got Perry, Brunt, I take my hat off to Schutt, all of them ran in hard, didn’t they? Sometimes you want them to deserve better. We made such big strides as a women’s game and there’s one or two strides still to come.”

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    As for preparation, England and Australia currently play two Tests per four-year cycle. There are no multi-innings domestic games, no Tests with other nations. It is, if we’re honest, utterly freaking absurd.

    And it makes it almost inevitable that women’s Tests will, at this stage in their development, be attritional. “It’s amazing what your mind does, when you come into this format of the game,” explained former England skipper Charlotte Edwards.

    Players will be cautious with the bat, as you would if you got one chance every second year. Players will be limited with the ball, because defensive ODI bowling doesn’t work in Tests. This will only change with more games, more coaching, more development.

    For all of that, the effort and adjustment on the fly was impressive. “I’ve done years and years of four-day cricket, but a lot of games like this where it’s actually in balance. Up to the mid-afternoon where we started to get into safer waters, quite a tense dressing room. It was a proper contest.”

    And impressive the public response. Gender is no longer a decisive factor – this format has appeal. It’s just down to the bosses to change their tune. Something that went so well can’t be scheduled in Australia once every four years.

    There are three T20s yet to come will decide the winner of the Women’s Ashes. But I would bet every dollar in the CA budget that none of them will be remembered as long.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.

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    The Crowd Says (9)

    • Roar Guru

      November 17th 2017 @ 9:57am
      Mango Jack said | November 17th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

      Certainly has been a big year for women’s sport here. The highlight for me has been the Matildas, who are playing with such confidence, skill and passion, in contrast to the tentativeness of their slightly misfiring Socceroo brothers.

    • November 17th 2017 @ 10:46am
      matth said | November 17th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

      Good article. The ODI’s were better games overall and I have no problem with the women’s game developing the shorter formats as the main games, with the test matches being true events, not money spinners, but events for the players.

    • November 17th 2017 @ 10:54am
      I ate pies said | November 17th 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

      There’s still plenty of knockers. Our opinions are just “moderated” out in the socialist republic of Australia.

      • November 17th 2017 @ 1:58pm
        Darren said | November 17th 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        You have such a chip on your shoulder. Who’s stopping you from stating your opinion – going by what I’ve seen on The Roar no one is.

    • November 17th 2017 @ 1:30pm
      Albo said | November 17th 2017 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

      “And impressive the public response. Gender is no longer a decisive factor – this format has appeal.”

      Dream on Geoff ! Your ABC & Guardian crew may be most impressed, and the family & friends of the women players will keep turning up to the matches. But out there on the Roar and out in the general Public, the sports bars & pubs, the men’s Ashes First Test Team selections are being furiously debated, along with Ange’s future with the Socceroos .

      • November 17th 2017 @ 2:09pm
        Darren said | November 17th 2017 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

        Thanks Geoff. I only got to watch about 3 hours in total (streamed via cricket.com). Based on that I agree that the two key factors that caused the slow run rate/lack of wickets were the state of the pitch and the lack of test match practice.
        The pitch was just really poor as the administration has enough experience now with the men’s game to realise they needed grass on the pitch for the pink ball not to deteriorate.
        With regard to test matches I’m interested in your thoughts as I think there needs to be a 1st class system to support tests. Is this on the administration’s radar for any time soon?
        One thing I would it add is that it was good to see 100 overs in a day – shows what can be done if you just get on with it.

    • November 17th 2017 @ 2:44pm
      Boris said | November 17th 2017 @ 2:44pm | ! Report

      It had a reasonable profile which made it surprising that it wasn’t on tv at all. I think if it were on tv the ratings would have been decent.

    • November 17th 2017 @ 6:02pm
      Gordo said | November 17th 2017 @ 6:02pm | ! Report

      As always, a great read, with at least one line I’ll steal. Speaking of, not only are there knobs, there’s also plenty of drips, parts that make you steam, and parts that make you froth…

      It’s good that we’re continuing to move forward despite the pucks.

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