By Richard Clark
There was no county cricket on Bank Holiday Monday.
Not a ball bowled anywhere in England or Wales.
We (that is, the wider public with an interest in cricket) know this because it has been discussed at some length in the cricketing press, blogs and social media. Beautiful weather, everybody off work, kids on half term… and yet no cricket to watch. It’s no wonder the ECB appear convinced that children don’t “engage” with the game if they can’t actually go and see it.
Yet we (and this is a much smaller “we” – those of us who cherish women’s cricket) also know that it’s bunkum.
For there was plenty of county cricket on Bank Holiday Monday – 18 matches, to be precise – in the Royal London Women’s One Day Cup (or County Championship if you prefer). Ample opportunity for those keen to spend a day in a deck-chair or on a bench absorbing the ebbs and flows of the game to get out and do so.
And not just in the “traditional” areas of the country. Monday’s matches stretched far beyond the confines of the 18 First Class counties, from Pontarddulais to Dumfries, and from Long Melford to Instow. They say you’re never more than six feet from a rat, but it’s quite possible that wherever you were in the country on Monday you would have been ever closer to a women’s county cricket match!
Yet there will have been few in attendance, beyond family and friends, at most of those fixtures. Why? Various reasons, but not least amongst them is the almost total lack of noticeable publicity.
The ECB doesn’t include fixtures on its own website and the mainstream media are not interested. “The Cricketer” only includes England and KSL matches on its pre-season poster (although, in fairness, the typeface is fairly small as it is!), and “The Cricket Paper” gives but scant coverage. These games might as well not exist.
Even “the Counties” (with exceptions) provide very little publicity for their women’s teams – perhaps not surprising given that the two are usually totally separate entities run by different bodies.
There is some cohesion, some element of “joined-up thinking”. In my own county (Worcestershire), for example, the women now wear the same kit with the same “Rapids” branding as the men, albeit with different sponsorship. That’s unarguably a step in the right direction, but there is very little publicity given to the women’s team via the County’s official website and social media.
County Boards largely do a good job – again to use my county as an example, they use social media well to publicise matches in advance, and, pleasingly, have been able to encourage the local press to run a few stories this season in particular, but for the most part they are very much preaching to those already within the tent. Their reach beyond their own existing sphere is limited at best.
Websites and blogs such as this one, and a handful of social media champions do a great job, but I’m sure Syd and Raf will acknowledge that by and large they too are preaching to the well-and-truly converted. Nothing wrong with that, and all praise to them for doing a great job, but it has a minimal impact in terms of spreading the gospel.
The question that needs to be asked is this. Do we want to keep the status quo, where England’s games are well marketed and well attended, the KSL (and whatever it morphs into in two years’ time) likewise, but the county game all but invisible? Or do we believe in the Championship and its T20 cousin? Are we happy to keep it as our own little secret, shared between a select group, or would we rather share it – as much as we can – with the larger cricketing family?
And this is the thing. There are, I’m convinced, people out there who would be interested in the women’s county game if only they knew about it, and who would be keen to sample one of their county’s fixtures. Some of them may well be aware that it exists, but have no idea how to go about finding out more. We (that’s the second “we”) know where to look, but if others don’t know where to look how do they find out where to look?!
At times I feel – wrongly, I’m sure – that there’s a fear amongst those of us “in the know” of shouting too loudly about the women’s county game. Is it because those of us who appreciate it want to keep it to ourselves, or because we worry about criticism from newcomers who compare it with the men’s game, or the sneering and knuckle-dragging responses from the “caveman element”? maybe we fear it turning into something that isn’t quite what we came to appreciate in the first place? I hope, and deep down believe, that I’m wrong about all that.
So what do we do?
Well, take this Sunday for example. There is another round of Women’s Championship fixtures – Divisions 1 and 2 only, of course. There are also a number of Men’s Royal London Cup games, but obviously not every county is at home, and two (Yorkshire and Somerset) don’t have a game at all.
In Yorkshire’s case, their women play Nottinghamshire at Harrogate, and the Yorkies are still in with a decent shout of the Division 1 Title. That’s a game worth shouting about, worth publicising, surely? Yet neither Yorkshire CCC’s website nor their social media platforms make any mention of the match. There is – to their credit – an impressive section on their website about the KSL Diamonds, but nothing on the actual county team.
Elsewhere on their website, however, a page on the women’s county team (which I eventually found after some time searching) includes a useful link to “Our Review of 2013”. Hmm…
Meanwhile, Hampshire’s men are away to Glamorgan, whilst their women host Middlesex at Andover. With Hampshire currently topping the table, surely some supporters would like to get along and potentially see them lift the trophy? And to Hampshire’s great credit as I write on Friday morning it is the lead story on their website, whilst they have also plugged the match through their social media. Top marks to them!
These two examples illustrate perfectly what can be done, and what is not being done. And we can play our part in making sure there are more Hampshires and fewer Yorkshires.
Those of us on social media can influence the way counties behave in this area. Badger them, tag them in when you’re mentioning matches, remind them, make it hard for them to bury their heads in the sand.
Similarly, use Facebook pages and forums to mention games at every turn. Irritate people. Learn to appreciate the boneheaded comments from those still dwelling in the 17th century, for the one thing they tell you is that you’re being seen and heard. Besides, you know the answers to every snark and snipe. Take those jibes at face value and argue them down. It may not make a difference to that particular individual’s view, but others reading will take it in.
Women’s county cricket has so much going for it. Free (or very cheap) admission – making it affordable for a family, and also meaning you don’t feel you’ve wasted a load of money if you can only pop in for an hour or so – a friendly “traditional cricket” atmosphere, usually a bar (this is very important!), a chance to mix with and talk to the players to an extent, more often than not space for the children to run around unhindered…
But you know all this. I’m off on a converted-preaching mission again. It’s time we started to be proud of this game, and began to tell the world about it.
Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68