The battle of the sexes....is there a place for women in men's cricket?
It was reported in Wednesday’s Guardian that women’s wicketkeeper-batsman Sarah Taylor has been in informal discussions with Sussex over the prospect of appearing for Sussex second XI next season.
By some commentators, the majority those who campaign that the female game should be viewed on its own merit rather than against the men’s game, it is seen as a watershed moment in the game.
To the England international’s credit while at Brighton College Taylor was preferred to her male rival behind the stumps but is the idea of a female batsman-wicketkeeper performing alongside male counterparts really feasible? Former New Zealand international Iain O’Brien’s feelings on the matter are clear; the answer is an unequivocal no.
Speaking on The Cricket Sadist show O’Brien, who made 22 test appearances for New Zealand, was not concerned by the 23-year-old’s abilities as a wicketkeeper but the adjustments that would be required with the bat.
“I can’t see it anytime soon that a woman will play first class cricket. I also can’t see that they will play second team cricket soon, either, the difference in pace of the bowling, the difference in how the ball is hit.
“For Sarah I think she could adjust with the gloves on but batting time, come when she does put pads on I think that’s where the real difference is.”
O’Brien not only speaks as an ex-professional, but as a player who has had experience netting with and coaching the New Zealand ladies cricket team along with Taylor herself.
“I say this from an educated point of view, not a sexist point of view; I’ve bowled to the New Zealand girls off two steps, when I was coming back from my hamstring surgery. I was still too quick for them off two paces.
“I’ve also bowled to Sarah Taylor she played for the Wellington Blaze last summer, and she was hugely successful and I’ve bowled to her in the nets and for me off two paces she was about okay. Had I got anymore into it and bowled any quicker that’s when it would have started to get difficult.”
Since calling an end to his cricket career in January of last year O’Brien has since gone on to win acclaim for his thoroughly candid writing for CricInfo, appearing as part of the BBC and Sky’s commentary teams. Alongside this journalism the former Kiwi bowler has set-up ‘010 Gear’, based in Britain, specialising in the production of active underwear.
The key factor regarding Taylor’s introduction into second XI country mainly surrounds her capabilities as a batman at that level but something that O’Brien believes needs considering is how opposition will approach playing against her.
“I would also love to see how teams approach playing against a female cricketer, teams like the Durham second team the season before last Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett were playing.
“You’ve got guys who can bowl 90mph coming up against a 5ft 7inch seven stone dripping wet batsman, how is that going to work?”
It was Tanya Aldred of Guardian who broke the story, a firm believer that the game should be judged on its own merit rather than against the men’s form. A fair enough argument, but men’s cricket is a very different animal compared the female game, a viewpoint that is shared by O’Brien.
“It’s a completely different game, even when you watch women’s cricket, it’s a different variation. They play a much slower game.
“You’ve got girls like Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, these girls can bowl fast but you’re talking about a length delivery that’s going to hit the stickers and above stump height, that’s the difference if you go to men’s cricket.
“For Sarah Taylor it’s going to be coming through above stump height, how is she going to adapt and how is she not going to get hurt. She will adapt over time but not this summer and if it does happen for me it’s a publicity stunt that could go horribly wrong.”
Whether Taylor will in fact play second XI cricket the decision will not be made until her return from the World Cup, which starts this month, but for the county game and in the interest of Sussex and Taylor herself a great amount of caution should be exercised to prevent a PR or a career-ending disaster.