BY POLLY STARKIE, SPORTS JOURNALIST
2023 delivered more women’s cricket than ever before. From international series to franchise tournaments, it seemed that women’s cricket was always available. There have been thrilling Ashes matches to regional World Cup qualifiers, all of which provided the drama, thrill and jeopardy which makes cricket so captivating. Here’s a look back on some of 2023’s best bits.
U19 Women’s World Cup
The year started with 16 teams heading to the inaugural U19 Women’s World Cup in South Africa. India ultimately took the title, but England reached the final after a thrilling victory over Australia in the semi-final. After a breakthrough summer, the likes of Grace Scrivens, Sophia Smale and Hannah Baker proved themselves for the Three Lions for the first time. It was exciting to see the high standard of play, boding well for quality senior cricket to come.
India’s Shweta Sehrawat was the leading run scorer in the tournament, picking up a Women’s Premier League (WPL) contract with the UP Warriorz just weeks later. Similarly, a number of Australia’s young guns such as Melbourne Stars’ Milly Illingworth became valued players in this years Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL).
Having 16 teams present at the tournament meant that unlike senior tournaments, so many more countries and cultures were on display. Watching the way Rwanda celebrate cricket, or Indonesia’s unwavering passion in the field and in the dugout, were beautiful examples of why cricket is so unique. It also gave a platform to Henriette and Gisele Ishimwe, Rwandan bowlers who stunned their opposition with their wicket taking.
World cup in South Africa
Weeks after the outstanding U19 World Cup, the senior tournament commenced, also in South Africa. Australia continued their World domination, securing another trophy but, it was South Africa’s prodigy Laura Wolvaardt who finished as the top run scorer on her home soil.
The hosts beat England in the semi-final with Ayabonga Khaka taking 4-fer and Tazmin Brits reaching a half century. Despite losing the final, Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town attracted 12,782, selling out the ground. A distinct memory from that match is Marizanne Kapp,
Proteas fast bowler, getting very emotional during the national anthem before playing in a home World Cup final – what a moment!
For England, there was a lot of disappointment. Having thrashed South Africa the previous summer in a home white ball series and in the Commonwealth Games, losing in a World Cup semi-final was slightly unexpected and raised questions ahead of a crucial summer.
Moving into March, the first ever Women’s Premier League took place in Mumbai. Previously, T20 challenge tournaments had been held in India as a prequel to this highly anticipated and desired WPL.
Famously, the auction took place during the World Cup in February while players from England, India, New Zealand, the West Indies, Australia and South Africa were all staying within the same vicinity – a slightly untimely event. Indian opening batter, Smriti Mandhana was the most expensive player, going for 3.4 crore (£340,000), unprecedented wages within women’s cricket. Australia’s Ashleigh Gardner was the most expensive non-Indian player, auctioning for 3.2 crore (£316,000).
Charlotte Edwards, the serial winning coach, took home the trophy with the Mumbai Indians. Among her winning side was women’s cricket legend, Nat Sciver-Brunt and hat trick hero, Issy Wong.
It’s difficult to vocalise how incredible the 2023 Ashes series was. From the thrilling 5-day test to the high stakes of the white ball series, it was nothing short of spectacular.
Whenever women play test cricket, it truly is an occasion given how rare it is. Tammy Beaumont grasped the opportunity with both hands, scoring a double century, breaking the record for the highest score by an English woman in test cricket. A large crowd at Trent Bridge on the Saturday warmly appreciated this display of talent by one of the best players in the game.
After losing the test and the first T20, England required wins from their final five matches, a tough ask considering the dominant nature of Australia’s squad. However, a tight win in front of a record crowd at the Oval was just the start of a memorable week. England went on to have success at Lords in the final T20 and then at Bristol in an ODI thriller, Heather Knight and Kate Cross keeping the Ashes alive.
Despite Nat Sciver-Brunt’s centurion heroics in Southampton, England fell short, Australia winning by 3 runs. Australia had retained the Ashes with one game remaining, but the hosts fought to spectacularly defeat the Aussies at Taunton in the final ODI, a sold-out venue personifying the remarkable amount of interest in the series.
Retirements of Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Sciver-Brunt
As with every year, there were some significant retirements this year. World Cup winners, Anya Shrubsole, Katherine Sciver-Brunt and Alex Hartley all played their last matches during the Hundred. Fittingly, Shrubsole, England’s World Cup hero in 2017, bowed out at Lords, winning the Hundred as captain of Southern Brave.
Alex Hartley, with an ever-growing media career, is a world-class commentator and will continue to provide her expert analysis over the soundwaves. The former Lancashire spinner has also taken up a role as a spin coach for the Multan Sultans in the men’s Pakistan Super League (PSL).
Katherine Sciver-Brunt featured on BBC Test Match Special over the summer with avenues opening up in punditry. Despite being a player-coach at the Southern Vipers for the past few seasons, Anya Shrubsole has opted to step away from the game and is training as a financial advisor.
Domestic (Vipers & Blaze)
Domestically, women’s cricket was stronger than ever. The Southern Vipers enjoyed victory, winning both the Charlotte Edwards Cup and the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy however, it wasn’t without upsets. The Sunrisers registered their first wins, beating the mighty Vipers twice and the Blaze – formerly Lightning – went undefeated until June in their first season.
Most XIs were professional this summer, with contracts becoming more widely available. Inevitably, the standard rose and despite the increased number of matches and demand on players, the quality did not dilute.
The domestic system allowed the likes of Thunder’s Olivia Bell and the Blaze’s Josie Groves to have their breakthrough years and perform at the top domestic level, playing key roles in their teams’ success.
2023 finished with England’s tour of India – a challenge many teams struggle with. However, England secured a T20 series win against the hosts in Mumbai but could not back up their strong white ball performances in the test match.
Unfortunately, England registered the greatest test match loss in women’s cricket, India winning by 347 runs on the third day. Although it was disappointing from an English perspective, it was exciting to see 24-year-old Shubha Satheesh debut for India and score 69. Similarly, Jemimah Rodriges, one of India’s best white ball players, donned the whites for the first time, scoring 68 and 27 on debut.
England spinner, Charlie Dean, also played well taking five wickets, two coming from consecutive deliveries. There’s work to be done moving forward and frustratingly, England women have no test matches scheduled for 2024.
2023 has been significant in the growth of women’s cricket, the increase in crowds, the attention to the game and the developments with professionalism. With more contracts being signed this winter and a handful of white ball series pending, there’s plenty to be excited about in 2024.