The women’s cricket team from England
by nine runs on Sunday to win the World Cup at a place that not so long ago shunned female players. Lord’s, the London
ground often referred to as the Home of Cricket, drew a full house for the title game — another breakthrough in a tournament full of them.
For the first time since the Women’s World Cup began in 1973 (two years before the men’s tournament began), the players received daily expenses equal to those provided for men in International Cricket Council
events, and the visiting teams flew to England
for the tournament in business class, as has long been the norm for men.
Prize money increased to $2 million, 10 times the figure for the previous tournament, which was held in India
in 2013. The competition, which started among eight teams on June 24, had attracted a global television audience of more than 50 million for the matches before the final, an 80 percent increase from 2013.
“There has never been a better time for girls to play,” said Heather Knight, England’s captain. “The support has been fantastic throughout the tournament. Hopefully after our success, we can grow the game in this country.”
England’s win, its fourth in 11 editions of the tournament, was watched by more than 26,500 ticketholders, about six times the previous high mark for a women’s match at Lord’s — 4,426 attended the 1993 final.
Yet perhaps the most significant legacy of the tournament will be greater interest in the women’s game in India, the economic powerhouse of men’s cricket. (Appearing in its second final on Sunday, India
squandered a dominant position as it was on the verge of winning its first World Cup.)
“These girls have really set the platform for the upcoming generations in India,” said India’s captain, Mithali Raj.
“They’ve opened up the channels for women’s cricket, and they should be really proud of themselves. Every official has been very encouraging and positive about the way the team has performed.”
Raj made her international debut in 1999, and as a teenager, she said, she did not even realize there was a national women’s team.
“It’s not the same for the current generation of young girls,” Raj said. “A lot of young girls in school are taking up the sport.”
In 2015, India
introduced national contracts for its elite players, becoming the last of the top eight women’s teams to do so. Shortly before Sunday’s final, the country’s Board of Control for Cricket announced a bonus of 5 million rupees, or $77,500, for each team member, regardless of the outcome in the championship match. That figure is about three times the annual salary for a leading female player in India.
Raj said she hoped that the board would also create a women’s equivalent of the Indian Premier League, the lucrative men’s competition in Twenty20 cricket, the shortest format of the sport.
The women’s game “has made tremendous strides,” said Enid Bakewell, a former member of England’s team who was the leading run scorer in the inaugural Women’s World Cup. “It’s moved on phenomenally because we’re being treated more as equals — but not completely yet.”
The first World Cup, in England, fell short of the necessary number of teams, so the field had to be padded with an International XI (a group of players who missed qualifying for the other squads) and a Young England
squad (players under age 25). None of the teams in 1973 came from the subcontinent, where men’s cricket is most popular, and the competition so needed publicity that Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, England’s captain, wrote reports for newspapers. Lord’s would not agree to stage matches.
“I had to work part time to get time off to play cricket,” said Bakewell, who was a swimming instructor. “During the tournament, I wasn’t being paid, so I’d go without hairdos and makeup when I was playing.”
A generation later, Clare Connor, a former star for England
who is now the head of women’s cricket in the country, made her first international tour, through India
in 1995. She and her teammates received no match fees and had to pay 500 pounds, or about $650, toward their airfare and accommodations. The athletes also had to buy their own uniforms, and they played in skirts instead of the practical trousers that today’s teams wear.
Connor recalled getting scars on her knees from diving.
“It was a bit weird,” she said. “It didn’t feel athletic.”
By 1998, the all-volunteer association that ran English women’s cricket merged into the men’s England
and Wales Cricket Board, opening up funding that meant free uniforms (and a farewell to the skirts). Seven years later, the International Women’s Cricket Council and the International Cricket Council
became one. Only since then has the Women’s World Cup been held at regular four-year intervals and gained secure funding.
In 2013, Australia became the first country to provide full-time contracts for leading female cricketers, and the top players there are now paid more than $100,000 a year. Other countries have since done the same, though the deals are less lucrative.
For the International Cricket Council, the interest in this year’s tournament has increased optimism about the organization’s ambition for equal pay between the sexes within 15 years.
“The quality has been the highest we’ve ever seen,” said David Richardson, the council’s chief executive. “It has more than justified the I.C.C. investment in prize money, and our aspiration for parity is unwavering.”
Women’s cricket still requires subsidies from the men’s television rights, but the council believes that could soon change.
“The women’s game undoubtedly offers a huge business opportunity for the sport, and more importantly, for the growth of the game,” Richardson said.
For Sunday’s final, every former female cricketer for England
was invited to the hallowed members’ pavilion at Lord’s — the same pavilion women were barred from entering until 1998.
“Less than 20 years ago, it was basically a sport played by men and run by men,” Connor said. “Who knows where it can go?”