Why these are exciting times for women’s cricket

Last year was a big year for the women’s game, and I for one am fascinated to see how the sport has built on the success of 2017’s thrilling World Cup competition. It was a particular success of course for England, whose women beat a good India team at Lord’s by nine runs last July to lift the trophy. It was a fantastic occasion, but one that I think was encouraging for the women’s game not just because of the high quality of play – it was also a watershed moment in terms of public interest.

A big year for the women’s game

It’s my hope that the momentum created by that successful tournament for England – and the subsequent campaigns at the Women’s Ashes and the exciting Twenty20 games against the Aussies – will continue throughout 2018 and beyond. As in any sport the engagement and interest of the viewing public is absolutely essential, and maintaining this as the women’s game develops will be critical.

The success of the England women’s team’s trip to Australia in 2017 (in terms of audience numbers, if not the final outcome of the Ashes series) is especially telling for me because of the variety of formats that were played. Across Twenty20 games and Test matches, the number of people turning up at the grounds in Australia to watch was particularly impressive – especially encouraging in the light of the less than stellar figures the same event had drawn just four years earlier.

Opening up new frontiers

And it’s not just all about England, of course. Women’s cricket is also growing in some more unlikely places too, spreading the word about our great game into markets that previously haven’t been traditional cricket strongholds, such as Mexico. Women there are playing a key role in promoting the sport to an audience that is more used to watching football – and its popularity is slowly growing.

The short term aim is to reach a standard that will allow Mexico to send a women’s team to represent the country at the 2018 South American Championships in Bogota, Colombia, and the signs there are certainly encouraging. Most pleasing of all is to see the large numbers of children who are also now getting into the game in Mexico – it is a slow, steady start, but we’re beginning to see an exciting new era for cricket opening up in the country.

Women influencers

Meanwhile, there is also some small progress in terms of the representation of women at an administrative level in the sport – in Australia in particular. The Australian team’s Alex Blackwell has become the first woman in 159 years to be elected to the board of Cricket New South Wales – and the governing body Cricket Australia now also has six women working full-time as coaches, as well as five part-time assistants or national selectors.

It’s good to see, but will hopefully represent only the start of a new wave of women who will be joining the game and bringing their influence to bear on how it is run. It’s been a tricky 12 months or so for the Australian men’s game (with the ball-tampering scandal looming large), but the appointment of Blackwell as well as the Australian women’s team’s win in a T20 series against England in India made for a welcome contrast.

The future

So, what’s next? Well, it’s clear that the ICC Women’s Championship is certainly a positive influence in the women’s game, bring a greater number of international fixtures and a higher standard to many of the performances we’re seeing. There will also be a Women’s World Twenty20 to look forward to in November in the West Indies – and the big difference this year over previous events is that it will be completely separate to the equivalent men’s event. I believe it’s certainly the kind of higher profile and attention that the women’s game deserves.

Longer term, we also have the World T20 competition Down Under to look forward to in 2020. What has been really encouraging is that this time the authorities behind the women’s event in Australia are giving it the same level of attention as the men’s competition. I’m anticipating a huge crowd for what should be a wonderful showcase for the women’s game, at the final which will be held, fittingly, on International Women’s Day.

Saad Raja