Wednesday, 26 September 2012

World Twenty20: fair game?

(Image courtesy of Getty)

A winning streak of 21 T20 internationals. A captain who averages 49 in tests. One of the most elegant keeper-batsman in the game, an aggressive, quick opening bowler and a group of hugely talented fielders. The England women’s team have gone from strength to strength over the past few years, and are now at the peak of the international game. Yet the women, despite achievements to rival the men, are still not given the recognition that they deserve by governing bodies.

Differences in prize money are an accepted part of sport. Tennis is the only sport that offers equal prize money for Grand Slam finals, but the gap in other sports seems to be ever widening. It’s not a concept that sits comfortably, but that is the way it is. Men’s sport is perceived to be more professionalised than women’s, despite the increasing schemes in England to encourage women’s cricket. There is also the fact that, no matter how much we may not like it, men’s cricket draws a bigger crowd than women’s. It receives more media attention; it has more funding and effort put into it; the media is largely based around male experts.

 During the T20 tournament, the men receive £61 a day for living costs. The women, £37. This isn’t about prize money – it’s about day to day living. £37 may be plenty to live from. But that isn’t the point. How can the ICC, on the one hand, say it is doing everything to encourage women to play professional sport, and then on the other still treat women’s sport as lesser to the men?

The Women’s T20 tournament was launched to encourage equality in sport. In 2009, the women’s finals and semi-finals were held on the same day and at the same venue as the men’s competition. Many of the England women gave up employment to pursue a career in cricket. It was only in 2008 that the first round of central contracts was awarded to the England women, with wages that were no doubt lower than those the men received. England’s male team have a deal with Jaguar; player's Twitter feeds are used to advertise their sponsorship campaigns, everything from Red Bull to expensive watches and suits. The women? The Sri Lankan women’s team joined the armed services after failing to find any interested sponsors. Male cricket grows ever more professional. Women’s cricket seems to be crawling towards some sort of equality.

It is not as though women aren’t interested in cricket. There’s a huge disparity between the amount of women who attend cricket matches and those who are involved in the set-up. Gemma Broad is the only female member of England’s back-room staff. The media is crying out for more female commentators. Yet a quick browse through Twitter shows how many women there are who have a huge interest and knowledge in cricket. Why are they, too, not being encouraged to get involved? Incidents such as this do little to persuade women to be involved in cricket. Why bother to work hard, to get to the top of your game, only to still be paid less than others who do just as much work, but happen to be a different gender?

Men’s cricket draws the crowds, and crucially, the money, in. But both sets of players have to get by on a day to day basis. Both train as hard as one another. The standard of women’s cricket may viewed as less competitive than men’s, but that doesn’t mean the women don't put huge amounts of time and effort in to their performances. Standards of women's cricket have risen over the last five years, and they can continue to do so if they are given as many chances as their male counterparts. The women are committed and driven: and they deserve to be shown some level of respect.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Case of Ravi Bopara

There is an unwritten, but widely acknowledged, rule of English cricket: if it's not Trott's fault, then it is almost  definitely Ravi's fault. Bopara is often England's scapegoat, although his critics have the numbers to support their claims; 13 test matches have wielded three consecutive centuries, right at the start of his career, before tailing off almost entirely. An average in one day cricket of 30.62, the lowest of England's regular top five, with a more convincing ability to take wickets than to consistently score runs.

Now, once again, Bopara is in a dreadful run of form. A two ball duck in the last one day game; a timid showing in the T20 against Steyn, who had difficulty concealing his amusement as Bopara nicked behind. But what do England do? Do they drop him, thereby damaging his confidence further, but giving him a chance to work on his technique away from the eyes of the international circuit? Or do they continue to play him, maybe giving him a chance to play himself back into form, or, more likely, be targeted by an opposition that will feel confident in removing him early in the game?

It's easy to be frustrated with Bopara. Much like the Ian Bell of 2005, he appears fragile at the crease, only ever one false shot away from giving away his wicket. But whilst Bell has grown, Bopara seems to be stuck in a rut. He is not a bad batsman. Anyone who saw him earlier this year in the Australia series can testify to that. He is classically elegant, but it is an elegance that disappears when he is down on confidence. The 2009 Ashes saw him promoted to number three, and subsequently become the whipping boy for Peter Siddle's armoury of short deliveries. Called back into the test side this year, following a successful performance against Australia, Bopara fell to two innocuous deliveries. On the final day, when Bopara had the chance to prove himself, he faltered; bowled by Steyn, he trudged off the field, the sighs of the crowd ringing around the Oval.

It is a relatively unpopular opinion, but Bopara has, at times, been thrust into the England team like a lamb to the slaughter. Two of his centuries came against the West Indies at the number three position. But batting at three against the West Indies is very different, in terms of technique and mental strength, to batting against Australia. Yes, the Australia team who arrived in 2009 may not have been the same as the Australian team of old. But they had a decent pace attack who were capable of bowling hostile spells. In each West Indies game Bopara scored a century, England won an innings or 10 wickets. They were not sustained test matches. Bopara did not have the experience in battling throughout a test match. As a result, he floundered. Short ball after short ball was sent down to test his patience, and crucially, his technique. He was dropped for the final test, whereby a confident, patient Trott edged him out of the team.

There is a sense among fans of Essex favouritism with regards to Bopara. Both Flower and Gooch, Essex stalwarts, have rated Bopara highly. They stood by another Essex player, Cook, when he went through his run drought, and he repaid them in Australia. Despite their words, Bopara's support has always seemed less meaningful than Cook's. There is a sense that he isn't trusted within the team. The words coming from the England management have always sounded empty. The sighs of 'Oh, Ravi' that echo around Twitter and England's grounds appear to be mimicked by the looks of dismay on the faces in the dressing room.

So, England persevere with Ravi. He is in a catch-22 situation: clearly down on form, down on confidence and, one could argue, down on support from the fans. Keeping him in the team feels cruel. Sending him out in front of the best pace attack in the world, when at times he looks like he'd struggle against a medium pace county bowler, and watching him flounder, has become voyeuristic, and not in a good way. Dropping him may damage his confidence further, but realistically, how much more can he take? Viewed by the opposition as a walking wicket, he will be targeted by the bowlers, mocked by the fans and surely, his confidence will plummet even further. Bopara is a talent, but he's a talent that is not being respected by a team that prides itself on man management. Let him go away, and work on his technique. Stop sending him out to face the lions.