Writing about cricket is one thing; but sometimes there is nothing quite the same as getting out there and playing it. I do plenty of the former, but there are times when I miss picking up a bat.
Last summer, the ECB launched its first Women’s Soft Ball Cricket Festivals: an initiative designed to get more women of all abilities playing the sport in a fun, relaxed environment. This year the scheme has been expanded, with hundreds of Soft Ball Festivals taking place across the country.
I last played cricket years ago, at university; my late entrance into the game (years of Nicholson Beach Cricket, but no formal coaching) meant that I was never destined for greatness. The problem for women like me is finding a route in to club cricket: how do we work out where our nearest club side is? And would we find a welcome there if we did?
Soft Ball Cricket is the perfect initiative in that respect: “It’s a game for absolutely everybody, no matter your skill level, fitness, or age,” say the ECB.
The Festival I took part in was held at Loughborough University, right before Loughborough Lightning’s KSL match against Southern Vipers last weekend. It was a perfect representation of the all-abilities, all-ages mantra: a local club side formed one team; another team was made up of mums and daughters; and the third, my side, was formed of individuals. All three sides therefore got to play two 8-over matches.
The way in which Soft Ball Cricket works is incredibly inclusive. Everyone gets the chance to bowl an over (either underarm or overarm), and everyone bats for 2 overs, alongside a partner. If you get out, you switch ends with your partner, and wait for another opportunity in a few balls time.
Not only did we get free Loughborough Lightning t-shirts (I’ve been sporting mine ever since!) but we also got free Pimms, strawberries and cream, and free tickets to the Lightning v Vipers match afterwards, which most of us stayed on to watch, sitting in deckchairs around the boundary.
Chatting to participants on the day, motivations were varied. Some were already playing local club cricket; some had daughters who play regularly, and wanted to try it out for themselves; and some, like me, had played previously, but a long time ago, and want to try and get back into the sport. (It seems likely that some of them will get their wish, too, with several of my teammates recruited on the spot to sign up for a local Midlands-based club!)
What I loved most about the day was the supportive atmosphere. There was no embarrassment in putting down a catch, or swinging dramatically at a ball and missing it completely (guilty as charged!) My team won our first match but lost our second; but it didn’t much matter. It was just great to be out playing in the sunshine, and having fun.
The ECB should be hugely applauded for the whole initiative, which fills a big gap at the recreational levels of the game, and which I hope will lead to many more women (and girls) finding an accessible way into playing our sport.
If you want to sign up to play Soft Ball Cricket, it’s not too late! Find a list of festivals available in your area here.