It’s Sophie Devine’s choice of course if the New Zealand cricket captain suggests using a smaller ball to send the women’s game into the next gear.
Not that she needs rule changes to hit the fourth or fifth.
As someone who twice thrashed a regular sized ball to misshapen pulp in her 18-ball-50 and 22-ball-70 Sophie-storms, the fabulously versatile athlete who aced hockey and cricket, knows she can batter the ball’s radius to smallness with her 32 runs / over whirlwind or by hammering nine sixes in a match. As unbridled fans of her batting savagery and not entirely ignorant to how a smaller sphere might help in a bowler’s grip, one must look at the recommendation seriously as it comes from the highest authority on the art of brutalising leather.
But one must disagree on shortening the pitch or contracting the ball size or pulling the boundary ropes back, in the interest of batters like Mithali Raj and Smriti Mandhana, Natalie Sciver and Meg Lanning, more sedate and stylish than savage. There is an irresistibility to the bludgeons like Shafali Varma and big hits and high scores — an inevitable progression as the game evolves and progresses. But the women’s game needn’t fall into the mindless trap of becoming an all-out power game where it’s simply six or nix.
Fans of the 50-over format in men’s cricket have endured the phase when Geoffrey Boycott played one-dayers. They chuckled when 36 runs trickled off 174 balls, before applauding a 103 vs NZ with a strike rate of 117.04. India has won a World Cup defending 183, and cursed its latest batch of mega-hitters when they couldn’t chase down New Zealand’s smallish total in a Cup semifinal last summer. Indian fans infact have indulged men’s teams from 90s that couldn’t chase stiff totals, painted them as hallowed tragic heroes and even forgiven serious character flaws of match fixing, to stay put to support the sport.
You don’t need sixes and fours raining onto roofs of stadiums to make cricket interesting. A nip-and-tuck, tight contest will suffice to spice up women’s cricket.
This would imply bridging the quality of play between an Australia / England / New Zealand and the rest starting with India, and roping in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. One suspects an India World Cup win will push the women’s game into the desired stratosphere — with or without tweaking of field or equipment dimensions.
A World Cup triumph for South African women will receive a rousing global reception even. It’s the matchups that matter, not the six-conjuring muscle.
Allowing the one-dimensional power-hitting of the men’s game to determine the contours of what an interesting women’s game should look like, is not entirely the brightest of ideas. India revelled in the exploits of its spin bowlers at the T20 world cup for women. The country waits breathlessly for the emergence of a successor to Jhulan Goswami’s long loping strides. Australia filled up the MCG signalling that it’s the game’s administrators who need to get into marketing huddles, the players are doing alright just the way they are. Ofcourse, India losing to Australia is the next best result in the absence of India winning.
Wounded and hurting, this makes for a fascinating start to a much-needed rivalry in women’s cricket, future chapters of which will be closely followed.
As someone who’s watched parity in prize money in another sport, badminton, I’ll take the liberty of extrapolating what I observe onto cricket. Men and women play the exact same games – equipment, number of sets, court size, etc in badminton. They’ve been paid equally for many years now and the women’s game rich in variety of playing styles (not restricted to slam bang smashing) and brimming with rivalries often plays out as the main act on finals Sundays, edging out the slightly uni dimensional men’s version.
Ofcourse basketball has a Size 6, Size 7 differentiator on ball sizes in the two American leagues for women and men. Tennis has its 3 sets and 5. But the one sport that seamlessly brought parity to the two games didn’t exactly tweak around with the measurements of the sport to give the women a leg-up.
It’s up to the fans of course to reject or accept women’s cricket. But I doubt it has anything to do with making the women’s game appear more of a blitzkrieg with broadsword bludgeoning. Fans will stick around to watch the game and its practitioners evolve as athletes in their own right and step into spotlights as personalities not obliged to follow in the footsteps of men and their mindless marauding.