A boost for national pride
While the UK government has become handicapped and intermittently paralysed by internal bickering, and has succeeded in making itself a source of annoyance and frustration in the European Union and ridicule throughout the rest of the world, something has happened to restore our pride in ourselves – in England, anyway. On Sunday 23rd July, England won the final of the Women’s World Cricket Cup.
This might seem a minor achievement, paling into insignificance beside such national disgraces as the chaos of Brexit, the incompetent handling of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and its aftermath, and the increasing poverty of the poor (and concomitant increase in reliance on food banks) – particularly since cricket isn’t everyone’s choice of sport. However, it merits closer examination. The World Cup as a whole was inspiring for anyone who enjoys seeing competitive sports played hard, to a high standard, and in a spirit of international friendship, and that would have been one of the positive legacies of the series regardless of outcome. Some surprising results added interest and enjoyment: India beating England in the opening match of the group stage, the unfancied South Africans reaching the semi-final (which they lost only narrowly), and India – having been trounced by the reigning champions Australia during the group stage – turning the tables on them in the other semi-final, though it was a nervous victory in the end because of Alice Blackwell’s heroic batting for the Australians. Moreover, these and other matches, notably the final itself, were nerve-rackingly close, keeping the crowds of spectators and the television audiences on the edges of their seats. Individual performances were inspiring, too, not least Anya Shrubsole’s match-winning bowling performance at Lord’s on Sunday, and Punam Raut’s glorious batting for India, which came within a whisker of ensuring a different result.
But the World Cup has implications beyond itself. It’s inspired more girls – and boys – to take up cricket, and other sports as well. That’s good for everyone. It’s given greater prominence to women’s cricket in particular and women’s sports in general, and has without doubt contributed to a much-needed narrowing of the gender gap in media coverage, financial support and provision of facilities – particularly striking in a week during which the appalling gender pay gap among the BBC’s top earners has been made public. To see and hear the accolades heaped on the players (the Indians in particular) by male cricketers and commentators and politicians was heart-warming. Overall, the praise could be summarised as: you may not have won the Cup but you’ve performed brilliantly and the whole nation is proud of you.
One vignette that highlights the gender divide came from the start of the competition, when the team captains were interviewed. Mithali Raj, the Indian captain, was asked whether she had a favourite male cricket player. She answered calmly, with a smile: “Would you ask Virat Kohli [the captain of the Indian men's team, one of the world's best batsmen] whether he has a favourite female cricket player?” The interviewer was silenced. Raj merited praise throughout the competition not only for her graceful and authoritative batting but also for her skilled captaincy, but that little piece of repartee will probably stick even longer in my memory.
There’s another, subtler point, which relates to body image. Feminists rightly complain about adverts that promote a particular body shape for women – size four dress (size zero in the USA) and legs that ascend to the stratosphere – because girls who try to meet this ‘standard’ can and often do harm their health. Look at a photograph of the triumphant England women’s cricket team – or indeed any of the teams – and you won’t see a size four with long skinny legs. You’ll see a group of very fit, healthy, athletic (and extremely happy) young women with the powerful legs and well-honed upper body strength needed for success in this and other sports. Since these successful players have now become role models for many girls in our country and elsewhere around the world, they’ve provided a far healthier body image model for others to try to copy.
Well done, our women. We’ve cause to be proud of you on so many levels.