By Richard Clark
Syd’s piece yesterday on the non-selection of a woman among Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2021 raised some interesting points. However, I’m not entirely sure I agree with him.
It’s true that 2020 was a summer like no other, and that editor Lawrence Booth’s choices could quite reasonably have followed some ‘left-field’ thinking. In fact, even in normal circumstances, the selection of Georgia Adams (maybe less so Stafanie Taylor) might have been justifiable given her outstanding batting and leadership for Southern Vipers. Equally, though, I feel her non-selection can also be justified.
Like many, I’m sure, I felt that little pang of disappointment on Wednesday night, but this is not about Adams or Taylor. It’s about the wider question Syd asked yesterday – is the women’s game on a par with the men’s… or not?
The timeline of ‘The Five’ and Women’s cricket is an interesting one. No woman was chosen until 2009 (Claire Taylor) despite England having won World Cups in both 1973 and 1993. One wonders how long and hard the respective editors of the time pondered selections from those winning teams – I reckon I know exactly how long!
Bizarrely, from our vantage point now, even our 2009 Double World Champions saw nobody honoured – Taylor had been selected for her achievements in 2008.
Prior to the 2018 Almanack (that’s just three years ago!) only two women had EVER been chosen. Think about that for a moment – TWO! 2017 changed all that, of course.
The selection criteria have always been unique – influence on or excellence in the previous English summer, the fact that you can only be chosen once, and that it is in the editor’s gift. There is no other award in cricket – possibly in any sport – quite like it. Its mystique is precisely therein – as a Worcestershire supporter (apologies for digressing into ‘The Other Game’ briefly!), my fascination with ‘The Five’ was cemented by the selection of Alan Richardson in 2012, but you can’t tell me he was quantifiably one of the five best players in England the previous year.
Richardson’s selection is interesting, though, in the context that it was purely related to domestic cricket. Jamie Porter, Simon Harmer, and now Darren Stevens, have been picked on similar grounds more recently. Women’s domestic cricket in this country, contrastingly, had virtually no public profile until the advent of the KSL in 2016, less than five years ago.
In that context, the suggestion of someone like Georgia Adams even as a potential recipient is a sign of huge strides. In the longer term I hope that more players from the domestic game can force their way into the conversation, and onto the final list. Is this to say we should be grateful for what we get? No, but it is to emphasise the huge differences in profile historically between the men’s and women’s games. And although Wisden has been a very positive influence in shifting those sands, the differences – whilst shrinking – undoubtedly remain.
Despite the selection of women becoming a regular occurrence in recent years, I’m not so sure that this sets – or should set – an unbreakable precedent. The notion that there has to be a woman each year feels awkward. What if nobody genuinely merits the accolade, and the editor is left scrambling around for a name – any name – to fill the blank space?
Similarly, how would we have felt had Booth only been ‘allowed’ to pick one woman from England’s 2017 World Cup winning team? Three felt right, of course it did – anybody reading this probably wouldn’t have quibbled at all five – but being limited to just one?
Nor am I convinced by the idea of a separate ‘Women’s Five’. My own personal view is that anyone being chosen now is up there at the peak of the game, rather than being dismissed or ignored by many as a level (or more) below because they were ‘only’ on the women’s list. Let the dinosaurs rage, let the debate rumble, but at least let’s have that debate and use it as a tool to keep pushing.
I want any woman chosen to be there for absolutely the right reasons, rather than having the ‘token woman’ asterisk beside her name. And to repeat, this is not about Georgia Adams, Stafanie Taylor, or anybody else from the 2020 season.
If that means there isn’t one then so be it, and conversely should it mean all five are women, so be that too. 2022 – Ecclestone, Goswami, Jones, Levick & Raj – you read it here first!
Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68