Defining summer of sport ends in a Storm

The Mixed Zone editor Sue Mott plonked herself down in a deckchair at Hove to watch the Kia Women’s Super League final bring down the curtain on a summer when women’s sport held centre stage. In between a plethora of fours and sixes, she even found time to solicit from sports’ great and good their favourite moments of a memorable season in the sun

So there was this moment at the Sussex Cricket Ground when Suzie Bates took a stride down the wicket and smashed the ball so stunningly hard that the usual yardstick of six was woefully inadequate. This was definitely more like an eight. “Gawd, Batsey …” said one of the coaches as it rocketed out of the nets, through an open gate, past the outlet serving ‘Roast Meats and Falafel’ and into open pasture where an unsuspecting crowd were watching the Kia Women’s Super League semi-final “…I think you’ve just blasted someone out of their deckchair.”

And they called it the warm-up.

There were other moments, most notably when Stafani Taylor, the West Indian international, hit the six that won the KSL for the Western Storm and Charlotte Edwards announced her retirement from professional cricket after one of the most glorious careers in sport. “I’m done with cricket,” she said with typical lack of embellishment. The crowd roared, the Storm players emptied bottles of champagne on each other’s head, a typical divergence of winner/loser scenarios.

In fact, the girls of summer have strung together a million moments in 2017 to recalibrate the nation’s appreciation of women’s sport. Many of the cricketers in action at Hove for their respective T20 teams, are still basking in the joy – and, a new experience: recognition – following their dramatic, game-changing World Cup victory. No wonder the crowds for the KSL were markedly up on last year, by a half at the final, by a third overall.

You have to travel back to 2012 and the Olympics in London to experience a similar cultural quantum leap and cricket was far from the only expanding market. Other team sport revelations are available.

Four million viewers watched England’s football semi-final against Holland at Euro 2107 on Channel 4. England were below par, but the quality of the Dutch team, some of whom will be playing in the FA WSL as the new season begins, was brilliant.

The Rugby World Cup final, an ultimately deserved New Zealand victory over England, proved to be a dramatic and compelling spectacle from spine-tingling haka to last-minute whistle, watched by a peak audience of 2.65 million on terrestrial ITV on a hot Saturday night with barbecues pending.

Hockey has been obliged to set up a ballot for tickets for the 2018 World Championships in London, such is the demand for a sport that was once dismissed as a school game. According to Sally Munday, England Hockey’s chief executive, who describes herself as “still beaming from the cricket and sulking from the rugby”, 80,000 tickets have already been sold.

These are incontestable facts and stats. And when the England women’s cricket team (surely) claim the title of BBC’s SPOTY Team of the Year, the growing status of women’s sport will be assured. We may even find that the strip of sticky tape on which captain Heather Knight scrawled Anya Shrubsole’s winning bowling figures to attach to the Gentleman’s honours board has achieved the status of ‘relic’. They’re like that at Lord’s. If ashes (of what we have no real idea) in a pot have been revered down the century, why not sticky tape with the hieroglyphics six for 46 still just visible.

Traditions are being laid down, memories stored, culture nudged. And everyone who has been engaged by the spectacle can remember their favourite moment. Here are a few responses when we asked: “What has been your outstanding moment of this summer of women’s sport?”

LYDIA GREENWAY, former England player, now coach/ broadcaster
The highlight for me goes without saying: it was seeing England win the World Cup on home soil. I was standing underneath the media centre (I was too emotional to be up there!) behind the sight screen near the edge of the boundary, and I remember looking around thinking just how amazing this occasion was. I felt proud to see how far our game had come, and I felt proud of what the team had achieved. I could see Katherine Brunt and Laura Marsh on the boundary edge, and I just wanted to go up to them and give them each a hug. Having played so much with them, and knowing what they, and some of the older girls, have been through, in a selfish way I wanted to share that winning moment with them. At the end of the game when people normally start trickling out, no one did, people remained, standing on their feet to clap the team on their well-deserved lap of honour. I don’t think Lord’s has seen anything like it. The crowd weren’t there for a boozy day out at the cricket, they were there to support their teams, and that to me showed how much the World Cup had captured the public’s imagination.

CLARE CONNOR, head of women’s cricket, England Cricket Board
I’m obviously biased, but I can-t imagine anything ever rivalling that moment, let alone anything else this year!!! It brought an end to the most dramatic, spirited, remarkable hour’s play I’ve ever seen in a cricket match. And it concluded the most important cricket match the women’s game has, probably, ever seen. A fairy-tale finish.

CLARE BALDING
England women winning the cricket World Cup from a seemingly hopeless position.

ENI ALUKO, Chelsea and England footballer
The Euro Championship final between Holland and Denmark was one of the most incredible games I have ever watched. It was a privilege to commentate on it. It felt like being part of something momentous. The Dutch have very much a pure way of playing, going back to the eras of Johann Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Louis van Gaal. They caress the ball, yet play with pace. They have star players who are team players as well. It was the greatest possible advert for the game.

GAIL EMMS, Olympic medallist
The England hockey bronze against Germany in the Euros. This is a team who had to reset after the Olympic gold last year. The lost a number of hugely influential senior players, their coach is recovering from a heart attack and had to watch at home. Yet there were no excuses. No “Oh, it’s transition time”. They thought: “Sod it, let’s just go out and do it.” And they really weren’t that far from Holland in the semi-final. They were sickened, gutted, to lose that match, so to have won a bronze against a good team like Germany, I think is brilliant.”

MAGGIE ALPHONSI, rugby world champion and commentator
England were beaten by a better side on the night, but regardless of who won it was terrific to hear: “What a bloody great game of rugby that was.” I’ve heard it everywhere, cab drivers, the lot. New Zealand won in a way they don’t normally. Not through the pace and skill of the backs but through the forwards. It was fascinating strategically. Three tries from a prop! England gave everything, but the stronger team always wins the second half. And the Black Ferns were the stronger team. But 2.65 million watching on terrestrial TV in prime time; it could be a defining moment. The perception that people don’t want to watch women’s sport has been blown out of the water. We’ve proved beyond doubt: people do.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles

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