Women's cricket has come a long way. It is 75 years since the first international was played but for most of the intervening period it has been a minor pastime played by an oddball minority.
When England and New Zealand meet at Lord's today in the inaugural World Twenty20 final they do so as authentic sportswomen in a genuine sport. The status of both was confirmed in a remarkable partnership on Friday between Claire Taylor, the world's top batsman, and Beth Morgan.
Faced with acquiring almost 10 runs an over for 10 overs to beat Australia, they did so with three balls to spare. They put on 122 from 78 balls to reach a target of 162 and it was breathtaking.
That the final between the two best sides is being held as a curtain- raiser to the men's final is not simply a gimmick. Of all the initiatives begun by the England and Wales Cricket Board in the past decade or so – and they are legion – the promotion of the women's game has been among the more significant and praiseworthy.
The aim has been twofold: get them playing and so get them watching. Some of the participation figures supplied by the ECB take some believing but there has been a discernible rise in the number of players and in time that may lead to a more dramatic shift in the composition of audiences.
It was still a bold step by the International Cricket Council to run the two world tournaments in tandem but it has worked beautifully. The women's group matches have been held at Taunton, where they have caused quite a stir, and the two competitions came together at the semi-final stage. It may be that a template for the future has been laid out.
It would be a mistake to imbue the female game with attributes it does not yet possess. Some of the bowling, for instance, is poor, not to mention slow, and too many balls are waiting to be hit. But the best bowling has wiles and guiles (dare it be said that they are feminine guiles) and in recent years batting has been taken to a different plane by England, New Zealand and Australia.
Women's cricket has had its stars before from Molly Hide at the very beginning, through Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, but England now have a team of stars. The captain Charlotte Edwards, now an MBE, is already easily recognisable having led the side to victory in the other World Cup for 50-over cricket in March.
Taylor was made one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year in April and if that was greeted in some quarters as eccentric, its manifest correctness was brought resoundingly home by Taylor's bottom-handed aggression, precise placement and, yes, power under the severest kind of sporting pressure at The Oval on Friday.
England will need to be somewhere close to their peak form to prevail today. In their captain, Aimee Mason, New Zealand have the tournament's leading run-scorer whose voraciousness matches that of Taylor, while Sian Ruck, their left-arm medium-pacer, can be a handful. But Laura Marsh has been magnificent for England and if the spin from Holly Colvin and Norma Shaw returns to form, England have it in them to repeat their thrilling victory in the World Cup final.
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