England's dominance of Australia in the women's Ashes was complete yesterday. In winning the third and final Twenty20 match by seven wickets and the multi-pronged series by 12 points to four they may also have taken the game to a new frontier.
The team have enjoyed a comprehensive victory over opponents who not only held the Ashes but are world champions in both limited-overs formats. Their feats have captured the public imagination as never before and there is a real sense that the women's game is not only here to stay but can become a part of the national round.
"I do think that this may be a key moment," said Clare Connor, herself a former successful captain and now head of women's cricket. "We've had the most amazing month, we've had more media coverage than ever before. The challenge now is to build on the inspiration of this."
More females are playing cricket than at any time in history. Few at present stick with it, but that may be about to change. For the chosen few there is now the opportunity to make a career from the game.
Sixteen players are under contract to the England and Wales Cricket Board, of whom seven also work for their charitable arm, Chance to Shine, coaching in schools and acting as ambassadors. There are no fortunes to be made, but a top player at present earns between £20,000 and £30,000 a year.
One of the main objectives is to make cricket a first choice for accomplished female games- players. Tennis, netball and hockey remain the team sports of convention and rounders, for all its virtues, has become something of a bugbear. "There is still the concern that girls are playing rounders somewhere on a small section of grass near the cricket outfield while the boys are playing cricket," said Connor. "The ideal is to create a pathway for cricketers and for the recreational game to grow within clubs."
Connor devised a new structure for the Ashes, which has been a huge success. It consists of a single Test match worth six points for a win, two each for the draw, plus three 50-over and three 20-over games, each worth two points to the winners. The teams drew the Test, and after losing the first one-dayer England have won five matches in a row.
They completed a T20 clean sweep after Australia's batting imploded, perhaps intimidated by England's fielding. England lost three early wickets, but Lydia Greenway, who played one of the greatest of all limited-overs innings at Southampton, scoring 80 from 64 balls in the match which clinched the Ashes, again brought her experience to bear. She was once more accompanied by Natalie Sciver and abetted by some errant ground fielding as England won with 22 balls to spare.