Sometimes, journeys into women’s cricket start with the smallest of steps.
Last August, I participated in one of the ECB’s Softball Cricket Festivals, held at Loughborough University ahead of Lightning’s KSL match against Southern Vipers. Alongside me were Jules and Kate – both in their 50s. They have followed the England team for a number of years, but had rarely had the opportunity to play the sport themselves.
On the day of that festival, I interviewed Jules about why she had gone along that day. “To have a really good time,” she said, “and to get back into cricket, because I’ve not played for about 25 years.”
“I’d love to get back into it – if anybody wants me! It’s been really good fun.”
When I left Loughborough that day, I wondered: would she get her wish?
Unbeknown to me at the time, a year earlier – in August 2017 – a hockey player named Claire had sat at her club, Brixworth CC in Northampton, watching her son play cricket; and pondering how the girls playing alongside him at the club would fare as they grew up and encountered a lack of adult female role models.
“I felt they needed female coaches,” Claire tells me. “And the chap that I was saying this to, little did I know he was actually a committee member. So then he said, ‘well are you prepared to put your money where your mouth is and start coaching?’ So I had to. I became the club’s first lady coach.”
Three weeks later, the club chairman approached Claire at a Friday night training session and asked about the possibility of starting a ladies’ section at the club. By 10 o’clock that night, Claire had recruited 20 women – work colleagues, neighbours, teammates from her hockey club – who were interested in playing. Their first step was to enter a local Women’s Softball Festival.
“That was the last festival of the summer,” Claire says. “We entered that, one of our teams came second, and then we played a couple of indoor softball games through the winter. Then we played every softball festival going last summer – and we went from strength to strength. It gave us confidence to do the basics without getting hurt.”
Fellow club member Jane, aged 55, concurs: “It’s a good introduction into cricket, getting people involved, especially the mums. They’ve realised that actually it doesn’t hurt that much, I can do this, I can play cricket. It’s a good stepping stone into other cricket.”
The club now have 40 adult women playing regularly, as well as 30+ girls in a new, dedicated girls section. They are the biggest women’s club in Northamptonshire, and they have secured grants from the county that have helped fund women’s-specific kit – provided by SM Cricket.
This season, they have started playing Last (Wo)man Stands – a modified version of T20 cricket designed to be quick, exciting and less time-consuming than the real thing – in the first ever female version of the competition anywhere in the country.
“We were all terrified the first game,” laughs Jane, “but we’ve done alright! We’ve even won a match!”
So where do Jules and Kate come in?
I meet them again at Northampton to watch England play the West Indies. They are accompanied by Claire, Jane and Claire’s 10-year-old daughter, Poppy. And all are proudly sporting Brixworth women’s jumpers.
After I met Jules and Kate, they carried on playing in softball competitions; and at one of those competitions, they encountered Claire and Jane, who invited them along to play at Brixworth. Being local to Northampton, they decided to do just that. The rest, as they say, is history.
A few weeks ago the pair of them played in a men’s 4th XI fixture, and Jules took a wicket – removing the opposition captain after he had scored 86.
“I’m 54, and some people have said, ‘bit old to be playing cricket, isn’t she?’” Jules says. “Well, my ambitions of playing for England might have gone down the toilet a bit – although I’m still waiting for the call from Robbo – but if I’m fit and able, and if I can be the best that I can be, then why not?”
“We’re just generally a fun bunch of ladies who all get on,” Claire says. “None of us are too precious to laugh at ourselves. None of us are head and shoulders above the others. None of us are awful either. We just have a laugh basically and encourage each other.”
As Jane puts it: “We’ve all been involved in cricket – I scored for my son, did the teas and watched him for many years – but not many of us have played before. But I’ve always wanted to have a go. So that’s what we’re doing.”
And it all started with one Softball Cricket festival.