News that wicketkeeper-bats(wo)man Sarah Taylor is training with Sussex CCC, with a view to representing their second XI in 2013, is alerting to say the least. The story smacks of a publicity stunt, at least on behalf of Sussex; not a million miles away from the fatuous tales of Usain Bolt training with Manchester United and the Melbourne Stars.
It’s easier to see the legitimacy behind Taylor’s motives though. As the world’s best female player, she wants to test herself at a higher level, taking on quicker and more challenging bowling in order to perform even better in the women’s game. As a ‘keeper by trade, her abilities should be more easily transferable than a front-line batsman or bowler. If she also chips in with some useful runs in the lower-middle order, then she will be heralded a success.
It will still be a steep learning curve. Women’s cricket is a slower-paced game with fields set for glances and nudges. Many stuffy blazer-types will bristle at the notion that a woman can assume to step up to the men’s version, perhaps taking it as a slight against the whole sport. It wasn’t too long ago that women were forbidden from entering the Lord’s Pavilion.
Bowlers in women’s cricket reach speeds of the mid 70s mph, tops. In men’s cricket this would be deemed military medium. Paul Collingwood regularly nudged the high 70s after an apologetic amble to the crease. Even more than the speed, it’s the height of male bowlers which would cause the most difficulty. Hitting a good length and skidding the ball onto the top of off stump is a world away from regularly rattling the splice of the bat from the same spot.
It’s telling that Iain O’Brien, an into-the-wind specialist from New Zealand, said he bowled off two paces to his country’s woman’s cricket team in the nets when easing himself back from injury, and had to rein himself lest he cause them an injury.
While it’s true that women’s cricket – like many women’s sports – has benefited hugely from professionalisation, with the physical and technical attributes of players greatly enhanced, so has the men’s game; to the extent that when Chris Gayle or David Warner are batting it looks almost like a body builder swinging a toothpick.
Not only would Taylor be breaking a glass ceiling in cricket but, by my reckoning, were she to succeed and graduate to first class cricket, it would be the first instance of a woman playing professionally in a physical-based (i.e. not a ‘sitting down’ sport, like equestrianism or motor racing) male team discipline. The closest example I can come up with is mixed doubles tennis, but then don’t get me started on female tennis players…