An ICC for women? It might be the only way to save women’s Test cricket

There will be a lot of women’s cricket in England over the next three months – the Commonwealth Games; the second iteration of the Hundred; an ODI against India at Lord’s in September – but ask any English player what match they really, really want to play in, and they’ll all say the same: the test match against South Africa in Taunton next week.

If you’ve listened to the recent comments from ICC chairman Greg Barclay, you might be surprised at that response, as he has in fact declared the death of women’s Test cricket. “I can’t really see women’s test or long-form cricket evolving with any speed,” he told the BBC. Test Match Special recently. “That does not mean [members] can’t choose to play Test cricket, but I don’t really see that as part of the landscape that is really moving forward.” White-ball cricket, according to Barclay, “drives the money”.

Men’s Test Cricket is also a loss maker in most cases, but Barclay doesn’t mind that because, according to him, “Men’s Test Cricket represents the history and legacy of the game – it’s what makes the game unique”. The fact that women have been playing test cricket since 1934 – much longer than men in Pakistan (First Test, 1952) and Sri Lanka (First Test, 1982), and almost as long as men in India (First Test, 1932), is evidenced by his to have escaped attention.

Barclay was simply repeating an existing ICC policy. Since the ICC took over women’s cricket in 2005, only 20 women’s tests have been played. The majority of these (11) were between England and Australia; South Africa has played two, India seven, and New Zealand and the West Indies none at all. Compare that to the first 71 years of international women’s cricket, where multi-Test series between all these countries was the norm, and you realize that the ICC under his supervision has done a very effective job of establishing the existence of undermine women’s tests. cricket.

The ICC’s follow-up statement, issued to ABC after criticizing Barclay’s comments, suggests they are surprised anyone is concerned about their lack of encouragement for women’s testing. “If you focus on the lack of growth in test cricket, you’re ignoring a lot of the sport,” it reads. “The growth of women’s cricket is one of the strategic priorities of the ICC strategy and the game has grown significantly in the 17 years since its integration with the ICC… Test cricket can be played by members, but the ICC has chosen to focus investments on the white ball game to accelerate growth and engage broadcasters and commercial partners so we can achieve a sustainable long-term future for the game.” Referring to success stories including joint T20 World Cups with the men, more broadcasts of women’s cricket and a full MCG ahead of the 2020 stand-alone World Cup final, the statement concludes: “This investment has been fantastic for the women’s game.” The undertones of these comments are pretty clear: women’s cricket should be thankful for what it got from the ICC.

The players disagree. For the England squad, excited at the prospect of their first Test against South Africa since 2003, as well as players around the world, the idea that a bunch of men on the ICC board can dictate to them that they are not cricket’s main format. playing is maddening.

Could there be another way?

Sometimes I dream of an alternate universe, where the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) did not vote in 2005 to dissolve itself and hand over the leadership of women’s cricket to the ICC. This is not entirely far-fetched. When discussions were first held about closer cooperation with the men, the IWCC, which had single-handedly run women’s cricket since 1958, hoped it could continue to exist as a part of the ICC. Their 1999 board report concluded that they “could create a subgroup of the ICC board responsible for women’s cricket development…There would be a separate women’s cricket development officer and administrator, but would report directly to the [ICC] DIRECTOR.”

Had that happened, Women’s Test Cricket would likely have been played around the world – albeit with a reduced number of matches given the subsequent rise of T20. An IWCC survey conducted in 2000, five years before the merger, found that “all countries supported a combination of test and one-day cricket”; the Women’s Cricket Association of India believed that “without tests, women’s cricket would be seen as without test players and the game would suffer” – a comment that has proved prescient.

In this alternate history, women’s voices would have been heard much louder in the ICC. The IWCC committee, which led the women’s game, was a women-only affair; men were not allowed to represent the IWCC or act as delegates at council meetings. Those involved knew women’s cricket through and through, having served in the coal industry: The last president of the IWCC, Christine Brierley, chaired the New South Wales Women’s Association, had served on the Australian Women’s Cricket Council for eight years and had led the Australian women’s team. Compare that to the board of directors of the ICC (18 directors, one of whom is a woman) and the committee of chief executives (19 CEOs and ex officio members, one of whom is a woman) and the difference is quite significant.

Does this matter? Well, given the critiques of the ICC outlined in the 2012 Woolf report, and the widely recognized importance of diversity for good governance, the involvement of more women would almost certainly have contributed to the sport’s faster and more effective growth.

What actually happened? The suggestion that the IWCC could continue as a subgroup was firmly rejected by the ICC, which pushed for a full takeover. The problem with an IWCC subgroup within the ICC was that it would have too much independence. A joint ICC-IWCC report on women’s cricket published in 2002 concluded with a stark warning to the IWCC that women’s cricket as a separate entity would struggle to be recognized. “The history and tradition of the IWCC are important, but if the IWCC resists change in order to sustain it, it becomes an irrelevant entity,” the report said.

The leaders of the IWCC were therefore convinced that there was no choice but to decompose the body – which, as we know, took place on May 31, 2005.

What happened that year was ultimately a compromise. As the recent statement from the ICC makes clear, there are significant benefits to the takeover of the women’s game: not least professionalization and the kind of media coverage the IWCC could only have dreamed of. But in return, women’s cricket sacrificed its autonomy and had to hand over ultimate control to people who – as Barclay’s comments make clear – don’t understand the distinctive history of the women’s game.

Founded in 2005, the ICC’s Women’s Committee features prominent former players and has been chaired by a woman, Clare Connor, since 2012. to be approved by the men on the ICC board. How much influence does the women’s commission really have?

Connor is a well-known advocate of Women’s Test cricket, who a few years ago described the format as “sacred to the players”. Those views have influenced the shape of the game in England, where Tests have remained on the agenda. But the men of the ICC apparently paid little attention to it. It’s pretty obvious where the real power lies.

One could argue that all this is nonsensical: there is no way to go back and redo the 2005 takeover. But maybe it’s not too late to give some power back to people who know and care about women’s cricket? Perhaps, with the recent resurgence of interest in women’s Test Cricket and a women’s game now filling the MCG for a World Cup final, it’s time to get loose again?

What could this look like in practice? I’m currently researching the history of sports mergers, and I’ve been thinking about this for a while. A plausible first step is devolution. In the same way that certain political areas are empowered by national governments to legislate, the current women’s cricket committee within the ICC could become the subgroup the IWCC had originally called for. In addition, there would be an equal male subgroup. Both groups would have their own budgetary autonomy; both would have 50% representation on the ICC board. The women’s group would discuss all issues related to women’s cricket, and the men’s group would do the same for the men’s game.

Should there be an issue affecting both games, it could be discussed by both groups, who would submit their views to the umbrella council for a final decision. But more commonly, the new Women’s ICC would have the ability to make decisions independently of those made in the men’s game. The revenues from the newly unbundled media rights to women’s cricket would be transferred to this new Women’s ICC, which would have the budgetary autonomy to distribute it among its members as they saw fit. Crucially, members will then be able to use a portion of this revenue to subsidize women’s Tests playing, in the same way that some members currently use ICC funds (plus their own broadcasting and commercial revenues) to, effectively, promote men’s Test Cricket. subsidize.

In the short term, this new structure could create some complexity – individual member boards would have to work with a new Women’s ICC and Men’s ICC, rather than one organization. But they pulled this off just fine in the days before 2005, so I’m sure they could handle it. In addition, if everything worked out, individual countries might in the longer term decide to adopt a similar model at the national level. And as some of the current national boards oppose Women’s Test cricket – New Zealand cricket, for example, would be opposed to the format – a mandate from the new Women’s ICC to play more multi-day cricket could have a significant trickle down to attitudes at national level.

Perhaps we should see the ICC’s rule as a 17-year experiment: does it work when men rule the cricket world? There have been some successes, yes. But wouldn’t it be great to again have people in charge of women’s cricket whose priority is the women’s game, whose vision for our sport is completely based on its history and who are 100% committed to the future?

Raf Nicholson is a writer and historian of women’s cricket. @RafNicholson

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