‘Women’s game proving to be a great spectacle’

VIVEK BENDRE

“The women’s game is subtly different and it’s just as engaging as the men’s version,” says Clare Connor, the Chairperson of the ICC Women’s Committee, in an interview with G. Viswanath.

Clare Connor (OBE) had played for England in all formats of the game for 11 years. The right-hand batter and left-arm spinner had captained the team for six years (2000-06). She performed a hat-trick against India (Rupanjali Shastri, Hemlata Kala and Anjum Chopra) in a one-day international that India won by 86 runs at Northampton in 1999. Clare is now the Chairperson of the ICC Women’s Committee.

During the course of an interview at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) she said: “In a few years time I would like comparisons with men’s cricket end, because that would tell me that women’s cricket is acknowledged, accepted and celebrated for what it is. I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh… she bowls slower than the man’. The big breakthrough will be when we start to see some bowlers bowl at 80 mph. Probably they are all trying. Katherine Brunt (England fast bowler) tries. The other day she bowled at 75 mph. There will be some physical limitations. I think the skill level is more important than pace. I think Cathryn Fitzpatrick (Australia’s coach) was nearly around that mark and I was at the receiving end; at times I certainly felt like 80 mph.’’ Excerpts:

State of the game since 2006

Well, almost unrecognizable. I don’t think I will be getting a chance in many of the teams now because the standards are so much better. The commitment of the players towards the game and the skills are beyond recognition. One has to only look at the statistics of the World Cup held in India; and comparing it to the 2009 World Cup in terms of the number of people who have watched it, the number of centuries scored, the sixes hit, the number of bowlers bowling 70 miles an hour… I think we are seeing a different game now.

Men versus women

The speed is lower, but the skill-level is there. We have seen some big hitting. I don’t think the comparison matters. We don’t compare Venus Williams with Rafael Nadal. We don’t compare women sprinters with Usain Bolt. Women’s cricket exists in its own right and it is proving to be a great spectacle as this tournament has shown us.

Merits of women’s cricket

It’s natural for people to compare women’s cricket with men’s because that’s where the roots of the game are. But the women’s game is subtly different and it’s just as engaging as the men’s version. If one enjoys a game of cricket, there’s no reason why one wouldn’t enjoy the spectacle of women’s cricket. Okay, there may not be so many bouncers, 90 mph bowling, but the skills are high, the competitive nature is there and that’s gradually accepted. What’s truly important is that it’s part of the journey of evolution of women’s sport for it to be accepted in its own right.

Test v Limited overs

Limited overs cricket is going to showcase the women’s game best; it can attract new players and new fans. Test cricket can be a bit slow. But 50 overs and Twenty20 can be just as explosive, just as engaging and I think in terms of captivating girls to the game and showing them that there’s something for them in the sport. I think probably Twenty20 is the one that’s the most easily understood and is quick. We have seen that in England; girls want to play Twenty20. But the 50-over World Cup is the pinnacle for the players.

High points of this World Cup

The progress of West Indies and Sri Lanka has shown us that the women’s game has become stronger. More teams are contesting. We have seen some amazing skills from these teams; and the big sixes from Sri Lanka’s Eshani Kaushalya and West Indies’ Deandra Dottin. In the past women’s cricket was criticised for being slow and that’s changing now. For me that would be the real highlight of this World Cup.

Chance of 50-over World Cup held concurrently with men

I think it would be difficult in terms of facilities, logistics and broadcasting. The beauty of Twenty20 is one can have the double header. It works well for television and the spectators coming to watch as well. I think it’s there (World Twenty20 tournament being held together for men and women) we have seen the raise of profile of women’s cricket come through. What’s important is that women’s 50-over World Cup should stand alone. It would get lost if it’s happening at the same time as the men’s tournament.

Growth of women’s cricket

The real growth is seen in Papua New Guinea in recent times. There is a lot of really good growth happening in places like Afghanistan, Hong Kong and China. The beauty of it is that some of the countries there never had a history of cricket. Virtually in every single member country there is some form of activity; some focusing on women and some on younger girls. I will target by the end of 2015 a million females playing the game; at the moment we are just short of 700,000 globally.

Commercial viability

It’s just the commercial reality in relation to where the women’s game is at the moment. In 10 year’s time that could be very different. We have got to be realistic about what we can achieve, and the challenge is to make women’s cricket commercially viable. It has got to attract investments and stand alone sponsors. None of these things happen overnight. What we have achieved in the last five years is huge. If we move at the same pace in the next five years we may see bigger budgets and more sponsors.

Marketing and promotion

I am not an expert in marketing, but some of the players are articulate, attractive and successful. They have great qualities and I think we need to look at marketing some of the players. That’s not the ICC’s role, that’s the job of the members to work out ways to promote their players so that they are well known. That’s something we have done a bit in England with some success. I certainly think it needs to happen in this part of the world. There are some good cricketers in the Indian team, it will be great if they become more well known in India.

Women’s version of Big Bash

I think something like that would be really exciting. I think there is huge scope for that, whether in India or somewhere else, something of that nature that’s really going to showcase the best women players, like a franchise competition or zonal competition. The IPL is one model, the Big Bash is another. There are similar Twenty20 leagues in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Something like that for the women’s game will be brilliant.

Central contracts to players

That’s part of the reason why the West Indies and Sri Lanka have become so much stronger. It’s an obvious step in terms of retaining the players, giving them financial support and more time for them to train. It’s difficult in England, we ask about 100 days of the year of them. It’s a pretty expensive hobby, the players have to be remunerated well and you got to make them feel valued. I don’t know if India contracts their players, I know they used (via employment) to do with Railways. It’s a natural progression to semi-professionalise women’s cricket.