It won’t have troubled the Richter Scale, but there was an identifiable earthquake at Lord’s yesterday. The same Lord’s that had maintained a ban on women setting so much as one foot on the linoleum in the hallowed Long Room until 1999, was now host to a thrilling climax of an engrossing month-long tournament featuring those very same once-unwelcome creatures … yes, women.
The 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup concluded with an England victory over India by nine runs. But that was the small print. Beyond that tight fact, there is the titanic significance of women’s team sport selling out one of the most iconic sporting venues in the world, and then pulling a television viewership of 100 million people.
Among those captivated was one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. “Feel for all of you, #WomenInBlue! You were good throughout but sometimes it is not meant to be. Congrats England on winning #WWC17Final!” tweeted @sachin_rt aka Sachin Tendulkar, the former Indian cricketer and national hero widely regarded as one of the best batsmen of all time.
Jeremy Corbin congratulated Anya Shrubsole on her match-winning six-wicket haul and you wouldn’t have thought he’d approve of the brutal imposition of force on another country.
So vast was the outpouring of celebration, it was only a matter of time before a Trump tweet joined in – although we’d probably have had to wait until 3am.
You could almost feel the tectonic plates of national culture moving under your feet. This win, this match, this result, this event, is one of the most significant in the history of women’s sport. What have they always said about women’s team sport … there’s no market for it? Here’s proof. There is.
Utterances like the one that decorated the end of a Sunday Times news story on the new-found popularity of women’s cricket will still proliferate:
“This current fetish for promoting women and ‘para’ sports will inevitably fail as the quality is simply not there. Other women may watch it; men will not in any numbers. Why should they when the spectacle of male sport supplants any female sport by all and every measure? I want to see more women play sport. However, televise it? No justification whatsoever.”
The uncredited writer could have been male or female, we’re not judging. (Just saying, though: panning around the crowd at Lord’s, many of the spectators looked uncannily male.)
But he or she wasn’t alone in their opinion. “When put up against proper football, cricket, rugby etc … the women’s version is utter cr@p … it just is!” chimed in another character.
The “It Just Is” defence of the natural supremacy of male sport has been ascendant for hundreds of years. But it’s absurd. Given the biological and psychological capability of female humans, how can all their endeavours in movement, aspiration, hand-eye coordination and full-throttle competitive spirit come to nought while the male of the species remain transcendent? You should have seen some West Ham home games last year. Anyway, didn’t they ever see Charlotte Edwards bat in her prime? (Stupid question. Obviously not.)
Cricket deserves this moment of pride and self-satisfaction. Notably, the ECB for embracing the notion of equality and Clare Connor, another former England captain now head of women’s cricket, for driving the success. She sounded truly overwhelmed at the moment of triumph. “I jumped in the air and then burst into tears.” She rated the occasion even greater than leading her team to Ashes victory in her playing days. And for one reason. “The significance,” she said. She wasn’t wrong.
Somewhere, lolling delightedly on a celestial bench, glass of bubbly nectar in hand, you could imagine the late, great Rachael Heyhoe Flint, another former England cricket captain, watching on with pure joy. It always made her laugh that in the 1960s and 1970s, she and her team-mates used to self-fund their tours, buy their team blouses from M&S and only the manufacturers of condoms seemed to want to sponsor them. (The authorities nearly died of shame and refused to allow it.)
But these women can be very persistent. Here they are, World Champions, and a very, very good shout for the BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year. Although we haven’t seen what the England football team can achieve yet, over in Holland at the European Championship. And then there’s the Rugby World Cup still to come this summer …
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Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles