BY POLLY STARKIE, SPORTS JOURNALIST
The record-breaking 2023 summer of cricket feels like a world away from the dark evenings and dropping temperatures of early Winter. Off-seasons, however, are a great opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the summer and the memorable moments on the cricket field.
For women’s cricket in England and Wales, it was a transformative summer. The highly anticipated Ashes series attracted over 110,000 spectators to mostly sold out matches at some of the most notable venues.
ENGLAND’S Record-Breaking Ashes
The roar as England secured their first win of the Ashes at the Oval on the 5th July 2023 was mesmerising. A record crowd expressing their relief that the Ashes were still alive and crucially, that England had beaten the intimidating Aussies. However, as the famous phrase goes, ‘it’s the hope that kills you’ and although England drew the Ashes, it was not the blissful victory which once looked achievable.
Legacy, in some ways, is more important than the individual results. As mentioned, over 110,000 people came through the gates of the seven different grounds hosting the series. These figures do not include the viewership on TV where games were shown on Sky Sports and occasionally the BBC, at prime time. Being marketed alongside the men’s Ashes by the ECB, the series was put on a level playing field, engaging some traditional men’s fans to the thrill of the women’s game.
Getting people through the gates is one thing, but keeping an audience engaged is another. Spectators couldn’t have been more entertained as all the IT20s came down to the wire, the first two ODIs following the same pattern. Nat Sciver-Brunt and Tammy Beaumont lit up stadiums with their multiple centuries and the inevitable Sophie Ecclestone spun her way to success. Although the audience were often extremely partisan and leant towards England, the Aussies also charmed the crowds with Ashleigh Gardener and Ellyse Perry living up to their reputations in world cricket.
The ecstasy around women’s cricket continued into the height of summer as over 580,000 tickets were sold for the Hundred, an increase on the previous two years’ sales. Six of the venues broke attendance records for women’s matches and viewing figures on Sky Sports increased, peaking at 217,000 in one match.
For those already clued up on women’s cricket, it was an emotional ride as England legends and World Cup winners, Anya Shrubsole, Katherine Sciver-Brunt and Alex Hartley all retired from the game. For Anya, England’s 2017 World Cup hero, it was the fairytale ending, lifting the Hundred trophy at Lords as captain – a fitting way to send off a game changer!
The Hundred also aided the rocketing figures of women’s and girls’ grassroots participation in the game. Northamptonshire have confirmed a huge rise in uptake for 2023 with over 100 more women’s games happening in the county than the previous summer. Lancashire had a large increase in female participation for their All Stars programme, providing cricket for girls aged five to eight.
Additionally, at the end of the season, the ECB announced their pledge to treble the number of girls’ cricket teams in England and Wales, reaching 6000 teams by 2026. Women’s cricket is on the rise, both professionally and at the grassroots level.
LOOKING TO India series & WBBL
While there may not be cricket matches to watch in the UK, the Southern Hemisphere is just heading into their summer with a handful of English players involved. 15 English players have been a part of the WBBL 09, with England stars, Tammy Beaumont and Heather Knight, headlining the tournament. Regional players such as Linsey Smith and Georgia Adams have held their own in the tournament so far, demonstrating the positive impact and increased quality of England’s domestic system.
While the England men’s team may have struggled playing in India in recent weeks, England women will be hoping to change the nation’s fortunes in the sub-continent, facing India at the start of December. Mumbai will host a four-day Test match and three IT20s with England sending an ‘A’ side to face India A the week before.
It will be a prime opportunity for England to test themselves against one of the best sides in the world ahead of the T20 World Cup, next September. Furthermore, it’s a fantastic time to gauge the interest in women’s cricket in the sub-continent. In December 2022, Australia toured India, selling out multiple matches in Mumbai, demonstrating the appetite for women’s cricket. With the addition of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) last Spring, women’s cricket is dramatically growing there.
The ECB announced their three squads for the series, the world’s best bowler, Sophie Ecclestone, returning following her shoulder injury. The ‘A’ squad is full of exciting prospects such as wicketkeeper, Rhianna Southby, seamer, Grace Potts and young all-rounder, Grace Scrivens!
It’s set to be a thrilling series, with high expectations of England after their staggering English summer.