Sarah Taylor, the 23-year old England women’s wicketkeeper, could make history when she becomes the first woman to play county 2nd XI cricket next summer. Taylor has a verbal agreement with English county Sussex and could possibly make her bow with the side’s second team in the coming summer.
Still, Sussex insists that no guarantees have been given about a 2nd XI debut and that the offer is subject to further assessment of her ability.
In a media statement, the county said: “Whilst the club can confirm that initial and informal conversations have taken place between Sussex coaching staff and England women’s coach Mark Lane, it needs to be stressed that these are at a very embryonic stage.
“Sussex holds the abilities of Sarah, and indeed her Sussex and England playing partner – Holly Colvin – in very high regard, and to this end Sarah could, theoretically, solve our short-term dilemma surrounding our 2nd XI wicketkeeping place, with both Academy keepers Callum Jackson and Leo Cammish still in full-time education and therefore unavailable for the early part of the season.”
The possibility of such a ground-breaking move, especially in a conservative cricket environment like England, has been met with a mixed reaction. The majority of the English media has welcomed the possible move and especially a large section of the women’s contingent has celebrated, believing that it could be a watershed moment for women’s cricket.
Former England women’s cricketer, Ebony Rainford-Brent, believes that the possibility has set in motion a good conversation, but insists that Taylor should stay focused on the current task at hand – England’s defence of the Women’s World Cup.
The team is scheduled to travel to India on Thursday 17 January to defend its title. The English women lost the final of the ICC World T20 against Australia last year, despite destroying their old foes in a pool match earlier. The decider of the tournament went down to the last ball and was played in front of a massive crowd in Colombo. The 50-over format poses a different challenge, though, and for now, that remains Taylor’s focus.
“I think it is brilliant; if anyone is capable, it will be Sarah. It is possible, but naturally a process needs to be followed to make sure she is ready. It is great [that] the conversations have started, but it will be important she stays focused for the World Cup and deals with it when she returns to the UK,” Rainford-Brent told the Daily Maverick.
Taylor wouldn’t be the first to play with men: Australia dual international Ellyse Perry played in a Sydney grade cricket Under-21 T20 game back in 2010, but never before has a female had the opportunity in cricket to play with men at such a competitive level.
Celebrations of equality aside, former Australian women’s captain Belinda Clark has her reservations about the abilities of female athletes to adapt to the pace of the men’s game.
Clark is the senior manager of Cricket Australia’s Centre of Excellence, and although she does believe Taylor will be able to apply herself adequately, she does have some doubts about how successful the integration of sexes would be in cricket overall.
”I don’t think it’s unusual for really top female sportspeople to be competing against males at some level,” Clark told the Sydney Morning Herald.
”But generally speaking in a lot of sports – and cricket would be in the same basket as athletics and swimming and tennis and hockey – there is actually a physical differential that, at some point, becomes an issue.
”That doesn’t mean that the girls wouldn’t benefit from being exposed and challenged to different forms of competition. The girls are asked to be constantly challenging themselves so it certainly would be that … there is certainly no reason why you couldn’t play at the highest level you possibly can.”
For Taylor, the focus is less about who she plays with and more about simply bettering her game. She’s an astute athlete and has won the World Cup, the Twenty20 World Cup and the Ashes. To get better, you have to play the better opponents, and while some have reservations about how men would react to bowling their usual pace against women, Taylor is staying focused on simply getting better.
“Mark Lane [who coaches England’s women] is looking at me getting some games with the second XI at Sussex,” she says, “and that will be just phenomenal cricket. The plan is also for me to play some early-season games for the MCC boys. Mark is trying to get me a lot of men’s cricket, which can only help my game,” the 23-year old said.
Taylor, aka The Fastest Hands in The West, is a talented cricketer. She has an aura which sets her apart from other female cricketers, and if she makes the step up to the men’s game, it’ll certainly start some important conversations about where the women’s game is headed. Whether she is good enough to step up to the pace is another matter – as is whether the men she is playing will see her as simply another competitor instead of somebody they want to go easy on because they don’t want to hurt her. DM
Photo: England’s Sarah Taylor hits out during their ICC Women’s World Twenty20 cricket warm-up match against South Africa at Moors Sports Club Ground in Colombo September 22, 2012. The women’s tournament begins in Galle on Wednesday. REUTERS/Philip Brown
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