Development of Women’s Cricket – The New Frontier
Cricket is a traditional English sport. It is a sport that has developed and achieved great popularity in the current Commonwealth countries. It is not surprising that the elite level of the game referred to as “Test Cricket” is the preserve of the former British colonies. The only former British colony, which does not have Test status is Canada, probably because of its vicinity to the USA and the popularity of baseball in North America. Like most sport codes and activities, Test cricket is dominated by men.
Test cricket is a huge money spinner in terms of investments in playing facilities required for the game, sponsorship and television broadcast rights. Matches between the giants of the game such as Australia, England, India and Pakistan are always hugely anticipated and sell-out events. The implementation of Test cricket events and other related events has ensured that the annual calendar for the sport is always loaded. Shorter versions of the game such as the One Day and limited overs matches have also increased excitement and interest in the game.
The traditional rivalry between Australia and England epitomised in the Ashes Cricket Tests has always captivated the interests of both cricket fanatics of both nations and neutrals alike. In addition, the historical political rivalry between India and Pakistan on the Indian sub-continent has also added flavour to international cricket. In terms of popularity, cricket is not just a sport in India and Pakistan; it is much more than that. It is almost a religion. The Caribbean or West Indies is also another hotbed of talent in the sport of cricket.
Africa has got only two nations playing Test Cricket, that is, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Other countries like Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda and Zambia have decent cricketing traditions but have not achieved the privileged Test Status. The only inhibiting factor in the advancement of the game in East, Central and Southern Africa is the critical shortage of meaningful sponsorship to support competitions and development activities. Furthermore, the acute shortage of facilities has also compounded the problems of developing the game to its fullest potential in Africa. However, the game is increasing in popularity such that in Southern Africa, even Mozambique, which is a former Portuguese colony, now has meaningful involvement in the game to such an extent that the country is now fielding teams in regional junior tournaments.
With regard to achievement of “Test Status”, the process of graduation from associate membership is a complicated process presided by the International Cricket Council (ICC) as the world governing body for the sport. This means that the number of nations playing Test Cricket will remain more or less the same for the next half century, if not longer. This means that emerging talent cricketers from developing will never have an opportunity to rub shoulders with the big guns of the game. This is unlike other sport codes where it is technically possible for lower ranked countries to play against the more established and traditional powerhouses of the game. For example, in football, the island nation of Tahiti was able to play in the group stages of the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil despite the huge gulf in rank between them and their competitors such as Spain, Uruguay and Nigeria.
This is good because at least for once in their lifetime, some teams can be able to test themselves against the best in the sport. Although critics might refer to such pairings in sport as mismatches, there is always a real possibility that the underdog can cause a monumental upset. Mismatches sometimes do happen in sport and other aspects of life. It is reality, which has to be confronted and dealt with accordingly.
However, what is exciting about the modern game of cricket is the involvement of women and girls, which is a recent phenomenon especially in developing countries. Over and above, the issues of gender equity and equality, cricket for women and girls offers genuine and meaningful excitement and entertainment for all sport loving people. Although, women’s cricket is not as currently as marketable as its football equivalent, it offers another additional platform for developing sporting talent amongst the women and girls. It will obviously take time for the women’s game to develop legendary stars and role models such as Donald Bradman, Vivian Richards, Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar and others.
However, with regard to the Africa, Southern African countries have got a wonderful opportunity to promote the game of cricket amongst women and girls. Improvements in performances on the field by Southern African women and girls especially against their counterparts from developed countries will also help to improve the marketing of the game. It is up to the cricket authorities to ensure organisation of comprehensive development programmes and competitions for women and girls.
The development and promotion of the cricket among women and girls is definitely a challenge. It is the new frontier in the fight to advance equity and equality in sport for women and girls. It will not be easy but progress in this regard will definitely add great value to the game of cricket. Who knows, legendary female cricketers may emerge from Southern Africa who will be role models for other women and girls. They just need to be taken seriously by the corporate sponsors as very little can be achieved without money!