Dominic Lawson: Well done our women cricketers. Just don't ask me to watch them

It's no criticism of women to point out that they are physically incapable of propelling a cricket ball at 90 mph

Share
Related Topics

Scandal surrounds the victory of our national team in the women's cricket world cup. The scandal, apparently, is that there was no terrestrial television coverage of their great triumph – or so the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham, argued in these pages yesterday. Mr Burnham fulminated, further, that "the absence of celebratory voices reinforced a point I have been making since [the] Beijing [Olympics]: that coverage of women's sport is woefully absent from our television screens, radios and newspapers. I feel more strongly than ever that this needs to change – urgently".

As far as I am aware, Andy Burnham is typical of New Labour in being obsessed with football, in a way that almost blots out all other sports. If it were otherwise, it would surely have occurred to him that the BBC has long ago given up televising cricket altogether; if that doesn't bother him and his colleagues, why on earth should they be putting pressure on the Corporation to show England's women cricketers?

At the risk of creating the impression that I lead an empty and idle life, I admit that I did watch Sky's highlights of the England women's victory over New Zealand. I soon realised why the vast North Sydney Oval was almost deserted. The standard seemed little higher than that of a good club cricket game, of the sort which is played in villages up and down the country every weekend in summer; but no one except for friends and families would actually think of going along to watch such matches – let alone pay to get through a turnstile.

The one thing clearly lacking was pace on the ball – the very element which thrills and makes the hairs on the back of our neck rise when we witness it, and which causes our tongues to cleave to the roof of the mouth when we actually experience it on the field. I'm sure that the England women's so-called "fast" bowlers would have been much too good for me, in the days when I played club cricket – but they occupy a different universe from the leading male equivalents.

In a charity game I once found myself facing the West Indian fast bowler, Courtney Walsh, in his fearsome prime. I have never been so frightened, not even by a visit to the dentist (which can amount to much the same thing, only the dentist will give you anaesthetic before removing your teeth). My mistake was to have dismissed Courtney when he was batting – and now he was going to show me what a real fast bowler could do.

Three times he hurtled in; three times I never saw the ball – only hearing its percussive thump a fraction of a second later as it struck the wicketkeeper's gloves about 20 yards behind me. On the fourth occasion the ball burst through the keeper's grip, and as I was called for a scampered bye, I became aware of my shirt clinging coldly to my back, drenched in the sweat of sheer terror.

It's no criticism of women to point out that they are physically incapable of propelling a cricket ball at 90 mph, or that if a woman tried to apply as much torsion though the shoulder as Shane Warne did with his leg-breaks, it would probably be her arm, rather than the ball, which would be spinning through the air towards the batsman. Neither is it the case that they are not really playing cricket (indeed, given that the England women's cricket team are all amateurs, they are in many ways closer to an old ideal of the game). It's just that they are, in every sense, in a different league.

It's true that we can all get extremely excited about any form of well-matched sporting competition – especially when national pride is involved. So if a British woman becomes an Olympic champion at something – swimming, for example – it captures our imaginations. We like the fact that one of our own has beaten all the rest, and, even if we had never known of her existence before the event began, we end up vicariously sharing in her joy at victory.

The same, obviously, applies to a male champion; but with the truly exceptional man – such as the sprinter Usain Bolt – there is something extra, a kind of gasping astonishment on our part that such strength and power could be encompassed by a human being at all. This, perhaps, is why the whole world seemed to be in thrall to that extraordinary Jamaican, and not just his own homeland: such athleticism easily transcends mere parochialism and national rivalries. By contrast, I hardly think that Mr Andy Burnham would have been jumping up and down with excitement if it had been the New Zealand team that had carried off the women's cricket World Cup.

We are sometimes told that we should support women's sport because to do so is more "inclusive"; the same argument is used to advocate television coverage of sport for the disabled. This is a fine cause: sport is good for people regardless of how many x or y chromosomes they possess, and especially good for the disabled, whose general state of health may otherwise be a particular concern.

Yet since women's sport and sport for the disabled is kept separate from able-bodied men in all forms of competition, there is a sense in which it is the complete opposite of "inclusive". Even chess – where you might think there would be no biological reason for separation – is divided up into a women's world championship and a man's championship. It was with the greatest difficulty that the world's strongest woman chess player, the Hungarian Judit Polgar, was able to persuade the sport's authorities that she should compete only against the men, rather than other women. Yet none of her fellow women players have followed her example, presumably judging that they have a better chance of becoming a "world champion" if they limit the competition to members of their own sex.

I realise that it is not advisable to suggest that that there is anything inferior about sport events which are only open to women or the disabled: President Obama has been forced to grovel after telling the chatshow host Jay Leno that his lamentable tenpin bowling skills were like "something from the Special Olympics".

There is a particular sensitivity here that English readers might miss. The Special Olympics – nothing to do with the bloated Olympiad movement – were set up over 40 years ago by Eunice Shriver, the oldest surviving sibling of President John F Kennedy, driven by her love for their disabled sister, Rosemary. For a Democrat President to be seen to mock the idea, therefore, was more than merely politically incorrect.

Outside the Democrat family, Obama has been criticised by the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, whose young son has Down syndrome. Governor Palin protested that "this was a degrading remark about our world's most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world".

Come off it, Mrs P. I too have a child with Down syndrome, and was thrilled that she took part in the school sports day; she came last, by a very long way, but I was touched beyond words by the cheers of all those watching, as she finally crossed the line. I don't, however, think that the BBC should have been required to televise it.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree:...

Ashdown Group: Reporting & Analytics Supervisor - Buckinghamshire - £36,000

£34000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Analytics & Reporting Tea...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the SNP’s ‘fundamental problem’, says Corbyn, is that too many people support it

John Rentoul
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future