The Daily Telegraph
England return to Lord’s – but why the five-year wait?
Seminal World Cup final in 2017 makes their absence from ‘Home of Cricket’ all the more bewildering, writes Molly Mcelwee
England’s World Cup win at Lord’s in 2017 has been described as a watershed moment for women’s cricket in this country. And it was.
It led to the Hundred, where women are playing domestic cricket on the same platform and at the same grounds as their male counterparts, with equal prize money (although not equal pay). It also led to domestic contracts, opening the door for 51 more women to play the sport full-time in England and Wales.
But, this weekend in an ODI against India, England are only just returning to Lord’s for the first time since that historic victory over the same opponents. World Cup winner Alex Hartley, however, skips the grandiose talk of progress to offer a more blunt reflection on the past five years.
“We’re further behind than I thought we would be at this point,” she says. “We only got fully professional domestic contracts in the last two years. I would have loved that to have happened a little sooner to really capitalise on everything we’d done.”
Hartley was part of the team who lifted the trophy at Lord’s. She remembers the packed-out stands, Anya Shrubsole’s astonishing six-wicket haul, and the release of tension as England overcame India by a mere nine runs. But one of her standout memories is from the following morning.
Nursing a sore head, she went downstairs for breakfast to find the team’s faces on the front and back page of every national newspaper. “It felt fake – it didn’t feel like women’s cricket,” she says.
But progress did not materialise thereafter as quickly as she imagined. The Kia Super League helped boost the level of women’s cricket, but matches were not regularly televised and players were not full-time professionals.
Up until late 2020, there remained only 16 full-time professional contracts in women’s cricket – reserved for England internationals.
Hartley says it is “remarkable” that it has taken so long for England to return to Lord’s, too. Between 2008 and 2014, one women’s international was played there each year. A World Cup win should have only invigorated the women’s team’s claim to play at the “Home of Cricket”, but instead that 2017 final was their only appearance at Lord’s in the past eight years. Up until this summer, the women had played only one home fixture at a men’s Test ground since that seminal day five years ago. “It’s like we’re now pushing the fact England are playing at Lord’s and it’s an incredible moment – but should it be?” Hartley says.
There are signs that will change, as an MCC spokesperson told ESPN cricinfo in January that it was “working closely with the ECB to be able to bring international women’s cricket back to Lord’s on an annual basis”.
Lydia Greenway, who appeared in 14 Tests, 126 ODIS and 85 T20 internationals for England, is happy they are back at Lord’s, too. In 2017, she was recently retired and commentating on the final and her strongest memory remains that of the crowd. “I was at the women’s Euros final to watch the Lionesses and it felt like that day at Lord’s,” she says. “I looked around and it
‘It’s like we’re now pushing the fact England are playing at Lord’s and it’s an incredible moment – but should it be?’
was like that feeling when you find your tribe. Wembley, like Lord’s, was full of female sports lovers. You just feel part of this massive community.”
Looking at the opportunities in domestic cricket now, both she and Hartley agree the women’s game is on its way to where they want it to be, with the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and the Charlotte Edwards Cup working alongside the Hundred to increase opportunities. The ECB’S restructuring to regional set-ups saw women’s academies develop, and at elite level the second season of the women’s Hundred averaged 10,400 spectators per game this year. At the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Edgbaston drew impressive crowds, too.
“When I look back to when I made my England debut at 17, I had nowhere near as much exposure in terms of the level of cricket that the girls are now playing,” Greenway says. “That’s why it’s so nice to see them really make the most of everything they’re getting.”