Suburban Lounge Room, November 2014
‘I think you need to move your feet a bit more when you bat, to get forward to the ball’
‘Huh, what do you know about cricket? Why don’t you play?!’
‘Well, I can’t. Where would I play?’
When the North Metro Cricket Association (NMCA) introduced the idea of a Women’s Cricket Competition in 2015 our intention was to answer that exact question. It occurred to us that whilst men and boys could just wander into their local club for a game on any given weekend, the opportunity for women to do the same was almost non-existent.
In creating a grade for adult beginner female cricketers to play amongst the men’s grades of the NMCA, we aimed to provide a flexible, accessible and fun opportunity for women and girls to learn and enjoy the game of cricket. We were aware that it would have greater social ramifications amongst our clubs, and all participating teams were required to undertake club development training to cater for this. We were hopeful that it might bring some new members to our association and to the game we all love. We were thinking that social Women’s Cricket was important for modelling because it offered the chance for young girls to see their mothers, grandmothers and sisters playing the game.
Over the last twelve months, we’ve come to learn that Women’s Cricket is important. It’s very important, but not just for women. It’s important for cricket.
In alignment with the intentions of Cricket Victoria and Cricket Australia, we understood that if we created a competition in which women could play then the girls we were trying to attract to the game and into the burgeoning girls competitions and increasing pathway opportunities, would be able to see the women they knew playing and think it was for them too. And they did.
Our statistics are impressive. Our first season saw 45 women across four teams participate. Our second season saw over 150 women across eleven teams participate. And three more clubs have enquired about playing in our Summer Season starting in February. Of these 150 women, about fifteen of them have played cricket at high school, and seven of them are marquee players who have played cricket at a higher level. The rest of them are beginners.
We hosted a four week Women’s Skills Masterclass program in September, where over 170 women attended across the four sessions – over 85% of them beginners and new to the game. Perhaps the most impressive thing about these numbers is the age range. We have players from 13 to 64 years of age and in several teams we have mothers, grandmothers and daughters playing together.
But cricket isn’t just about numbers. Cricket is about people, and stories, and teams, and memories. For us in the NMCA, cricket is about our community and women’s cricket has changed and enhanced our community in ways we could never have anticipated…
Our competition medal is named after a past player who won seventeen A Grade Premierships and several competition medals himself. He has lived and breathed NMCA culture for a long time however it was of great surprise to him when he turned up to cricket last year to find his club had a women’s team, ‘Where did all these women come from’ he asked. ‘We didn’t know they wanted to play cricket!’ to which we replied ‘Well, Billy did you ever ask them?’ He spent the rest of the season trying to recruit his granddaughter to play.
Like all associations, we have our local legends. Men who have played over 40 years at the one club, who have started up entire junior programs during this time, who coached teams to numerous premierships, who still dabble occasionally with playing on a Saturday afternoon, who we’d still see from time to time around their clubs but whose passion for the game and the place had started to wane after such an innings.
And then women’s cricket arrived. Suddenly, they are the first to training, they stand on the edge of the boundary line for the entire innings encouraging their team, they’re all back coaching and at training three nights a week. They’re even there when they don’t need to be there. They’re doing extra sessions on a Saturday morning, they’re learning how to use Facebook to communicate with their teams, they’re buying boundary cones at Kmart at 12:00am on a Saturday and they’re even coming up with new names for fielding positions that make sense to beginners. Let’s be honest, none of us have every really understood ‘covers’.
Some of our clubs play cricket in working class areas of the Northern Suburbs, one club in particular (as Mick Lewis once put it) in ‘the dodgy part of Heidelberg’. Theirs is a demographic reflective of their working class surroundings. Their first event after the introduction of their women’s team last year was a trivia night, to which the expected ten attendees turned up, plus another forty. Not only did they have not enough drinks, they also had all the wrong drinks as the women promptly advised them. They didn’t make that mistake twice. Specifically because after one season of women’s cricket they went from no women on the committee to six women on the committee. Even the President looked a tad surprised.
Suddenly the monotonous things have become fun again. Our umpires mention on a weekly basis they prefer umpiring the females instead of the males, ‘Much more fun, the women just have a blast!’ Then there is training nights, where several of our clubs report, ‘Oh we always have more of the women’s players at training than the men’s. Sometimes we outnumber them two to one!’ Fathers in our competition now look forward to the day their daughters can play for the same club that they do, as one A Grade Captain observed ‘I thought this women’s cricket thing was a laugh, but then I came along and I saw that they’re really good. You know what, now my girls can play at the same club I do. How good is that?’
One Friday night in November, two of our women’s teams played a T20 under lights. As the second team commenced their innings, the local junior matches were all coming to a close. A few overs in, standing in the outer we noticed four boys barrel out of a car in their whites, fresh from their own game, and go running to the fence, the leader yelling to his mates ‘That’s my Mum!! That’s my Mum bowling! Go my Mum!’ before he promptly climbed up on the fence and sat transfixed and cheering until she’d finished bowling the over. He’s 9 years old, and as he sat on the fence cheering, he turned to his mates positively beaming to tell them how good at cricket his mum was.
One of our new players grew up with her sisters at the cricket, her father having now played over 450 games for one club. She’d never played a team sport before, and for the first time in her life in her mid-thirties she joined a team to play with her sisters, for the same club her dad plays for. Her children and husband don’t play any team sports, she was the first in the family. A few weeks into the season she came home from work to find her husband, her 8 year old daughter and her 6 year old son playing cricket in the backyard. That had never happened before. Later that night, her son then told her she was the best mum in the world. Because she was so good at cricket. Two weeks later, after removing a big bush in the garden her daughter asked if they could now put in a cricket pitch. One week after that she was a member of a Premiership winning team with her two sisters, at the same club where their father led the team to its first A Grade Premiership in 28 years back in ‘92/93.
The NMCA is just your ordinary local synthetic cricket competition. Nestled amongst the bustle of the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne, it’s been around for 95 years providing a chance for local members of the community to play cricket. One day we decided to extend the opportunity to play out to women, by just adding another grade to our fixture. In the recesses of our minds, we knew it could work and maybe some women out there would agree with us, we thought we were doing them a favour, but now we know better.
Women’s cricket is so much more to the NMCA than just a chance for a few females to run around playing cricket. It has changed the way we see our clubs, it has changed the way they see themselves, it has changed the types of conversations we have about everything from events and funding to grants and uniforms. It has changed the conversations at our clubs, mothers and wives now share cricketing tales and a mutual understanding of bodily bruising and side strains with their husbands and sons. It has inspired women and girls to join teams, to go to the cricket, to become members, to learn the rules and to fulfil childhood dreams. It has reinvigorated our competition veterans, our smaller clubs, and our clubs in areas where recruitment isn’t always easy. It has brought new members and families into our competition, it has inspired juniors, parents and partners to become part of the game. It has changed the conversations we have with local council, with State Government, with sponsors and with Cricket Victoria. Cricket for us is no longer just a combination of the same old long formats on Saturday afternoons, played in whites by blokes and the perpetual struggle to recruit juniors. These days we have night matches, we have T10 Tournaments, we have coloured uniforms, we play midweek and we play two seasons within a season. In the 18 months since its inception, Women’s Cricket has brought our association together, it has given us more common ground, it has inspired us, it has changed the way we go about our cricket. It has brought joy back. And we love it.
As cricket lovers we know that this sport is so much more than the game. It is the camaraderie, the stories, the traditions and spirit in which it is played that inspires our love and our passion. It’s the long lingering Saturday afternoons, the smell of freshly mowed grass and the afternoon teas with scones that colour our memories of summers past. It is being part of a team and a community who form lifelong friendships because they share a love of this grand old game. And this grand old game has so much more to give. It is part of the patchwork of the Australian identity, a thread that meanders from summer to summer, connecting the triumphs, the tall tales and the heartaches with sound of the leather cracking off the willow. It belongs to all of us, and in the NMCA we have women’s cricket to thank for reminding us just how lucky we are.