(Photo: Getty Images)
By Adam Collins
Upper Tavern. Row E. Seat 46.” Clare Connor knows exactly where she was when the women’s cricket world changed forever. “I probably won’t forget for the rest of my life,” the ECB Director of Women’s cricket told The Cricket Paper.
“It was a dream final in so many ways,” she says with a beaming smile befitting the achievement, both on-field and off.
“A perfect conclusion that has captured lots of imaginations, changed a few perceptions and opened some hearts and minds to the fact these players can play in a brilliant way. That it won’t be as fast as men’s cricket but it will be as dramatic and as thrilling and as wonderful.”
Connor described the “divine opportunity” England had drawing India in the final, the side who defeated the hosts in their campaign opener. Then, they looked uncertain and overcome.
On Sunday, they were perfectly at home in the pressure-cooker of a sold-out Lord’s.
“To see Anya come on and destroy India’s hopes like that, literally take a game we almost didn’t have the right to win – from what, 191-3? – I’ve never seen anything like it,” Connor says.
“Selfishly, I just wanted to sit down and watch the cricket so it was really lovely that I was able to do that and really try and take it in.”
So she did, joining her dad and brother as the finale progressed through a series of pulsating twists. “I was either leaping up punching the air and then sitting back down crying,” she recalls.
“Then I realised that whether we won or lost there would be tears.” There were, Connor emotional as any of the former players in attendance following Shrubsole’s 6-46 epic.
“We invited every woman who had ever played cricket for England to the final,” she says, including 105-year-old Eileen Ash, the veteran of the 1937 national side, who rang the five-minute bell before play. “It was so special for those women who came full circle, some of those who had never played at Lord’s before.”
But it was the children present that provides Connor with the belief that they have cracked the code. So much time and energy is invested from the ECB into finding a way to captivate a new generation of cricket fans.
This, she believes, might just be it. With England’s women, rather than men, providing the spark – confounding gender norms along the way.
“The most inspiring thing for me about this tournament has been children’s faces,” she says.
“When you see pictures from the games from around the boundary edge these are young fans growing up believing that this is normal.
“There’s an amazing photo from Sunday of Katherine Brunt with a little girl around the boundary edge hugging the World Cup. Who knows what that will do for her?”
The sentiment is supported by the breakdown of those who came through the gates. Helped along in large part by the ICC allocating up to 750 free tickets per game to students, 50 per cent of all attendees were female and 30 per cent under the age of 18.
“This is a whole new audience,” Connor says. “Heather Knight at the age of 25 and me a little bit older than that, that wasn’t happening for us when we were that age.”
For Knight’s part, she has not stopped since lifting the trophy, barely sleeping due to a constant stream of media commitments. This included a trip to Manchester where she appeared as a guest on BBC TV’s A Question of Sport. “I even got a Blue Peter badge,” she laughed.
“But it’s made me realise the scope of Sunday and how many people it reached. In the ground you know a lot of people are there, but I think of some of the figures – over a million people were watching.”
To be precise, 1.16 million in the United Kingdom, bigger numbers than those who tuned in for the India versus Pakistan Champions Trophy Final in June.
“It’s not just been in the papers one day but for three days there have been front and back stories,” she added. “Hopefully we can build on that and keep women’s cricket in the spotlight not just for a short time but sustain that.”
For that, enter the Kia Super League. “Perfect timing,” Knight says of the domestic T20 league’s second edition, starting on August 10 with one of eight games scheduled for broadcast on Sky, in addition to extensive BBC radio coverage.
“The momentum of the World Cup will bring people to watch us and it’s great that the KSL is on Sky,” she said. “There was a lot of good cricket that was missed last year, so it’s great this year that it’s going to be a lot more visible.”
World Cup player of the tournament Tammy Beaumont is in full agreement. “It’s a great time for the Super League to be happening on the back of this amazing coverage and support,” she said.
“And keeping that smile on the face we’ve had for the last five weeks.”
Her Surrey Stars are buoyed by the recruitment of Indian bruiser Harmanpreet Kaur, who struck the most glorious women’s innings ever to propel her side into the World Cup final, then collected a clutch half-century in the decider. Her reputation was enhanced yet further, even though it ultimately wasn’t enough.
“I’m glad to have her on my team so I don’t have to play against her for a while,” laughed Beaumont. “If you were picking the teams now you’d probably pick a few more of the Indian players too. India as a cricketing country is a proper force.”
With talk of a women’s IPL as another legacy item of the most successful World Cup ever staged, of their increased presence there is no doubt.
For that, and much more, Connor and Co have earned the right to put their feet up for staging a tournament exceeding the wildest expectations.
But they won’t. It’s not their style. Certainly not Connor’s.
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