“Not many women like cricket”

On International Women's Day, a young British girl tells us what it means to be devoted to what is predominantly recognised as a man's sport.

It’s a simple enough statement, but it was said to me as I was sat at Lord’s watching Kevin Pietersen on his way to a double century against India over the 2011 English summer. It’s one that female cricket fans may well have heard a variant of at cricket grounds across the globe. In the past, this statement would probably be true. The MCC didn’t allow female members amongst its ranks until 1998 and cricket was very much seen as a man’s game. But in the age of the social media and better access to televised or radio coverage of the sport, the amount of women following the game is growing. Twitter has provided me with the opportunity to meet other like-minded similar aged people, of both genders, to watch cricket with and has allowed me to expand my knowledge of the game through discussion in less than 140 characters.

I’ve been watching cricket live in the flesh since 2007 and I’ve only ever had a handful of experiences where I’ve been made to feel either uncomfortable, due to unwanted attention, or someone’s expressed surprise that a woman, especially someone so young, has been found at cricket by herself. I’m a fan of all forms of cricket, ranging from the village green on a Sunday afternoon to the Test matches played in huge arenas. Just because I am anatomically different, it doesn’t make me any less of a spectator. I am there because I love the game. Rather than have the fact I’m a woman pointed out to me, a fact I’ve been aware of all my life, I would prefer to be engaged in a discussion about someone’s strike rate or why someone else is struggling with their bowling action.

I play cricket myself. I’m not very good, but I enjoy the atmosphere and competitiveness that a village game can provide. Female cricket is a sport on the rise, especially in England. More women are being encouraged to pick up a bat or a ball and play cricket. It is something that can surely only encourage a new generation of fans to this sport. England’s women have just returned from an incredibly successful trip to New Zealand, where they won seven out of the seven matches able to be played, with rain preventing it being eight from eight. Three of the Twenty20 matches between New Zealand and England were televised, all of these being on before the men’s games between New Zealand and South Africa. From what I managed to view in the early hours of three February mornings, these games were sparsely attended and it’s something that I, sadly, expect to see more of
when the women’s international summer begins in England.

England’s women are one of the best sides in the world. There has been a lot of hard work going into the development of the women’s side of the game and this hard work has been paying off for years in the international field.  Claire Taylor being named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2009 was huge leap forward for women’s cricket and whilst she has recently retired, there are plenty of other fine cricketers coming through. It’s always disappointing to see sparsely attended cricket matches, regardless of gender, but even more so when it’s an international match containing some superb players.

I’m probably on first name terms with train ticket conductors across the United Kingdom because of how much travelling I’ve done watching cricket. I’ve been a member at Essex since 2009 and retain this membership despite being a student at a university many miles away from Chelmsford. I travelled to Australia by myself for the fourth and fifth Ashes Tests of the 2010/11 series and nobody recoiled in horror at my presence at such historic cricket grounds. In this modern era of cricket, the old guard is perhaps beginning to wane and an acceptance that women enjoy cricket just as much as men is appearing. I’m very content to watch cricket between nations and counties that I have no affiliation with, because I enjoy watching the game and I want to learn more about it. I am regularly found on cricket statistic websites in the small hours of the morning, comparing career statistics between obscure county cricketers in the hope that this random snippet of information will one day prove useful.

I’m not just a cricket fan: this sport is my passion and, perhaps tragically, a way of life. My social life this summer consists of watching many days cricket, from the hotly anticipated series between England and South Africa, down to the four day County Championship matches being played by Essex. I know that this is probably the case for a number of women out there. So to say to me that “not many women like cricket” feels like a mass generalisation. We are out there, whether it’s on the social networking sites like Twitter or on the benches in front of the pavilion at Chelmsford, and we are just as passionate, knowledgeable and devoted to cricket as our male counterparts.

Hannah Sibley is 20 and a second year English Literature student at Lancaster University. Her blog, Down at Fine Leg, combines the odd combination of cricket and rubber ducks to provide recaps of England’s Test matches.