The hugely-successful televised ICC Women’s World Cup obviously played its part in taking the game to the masses, with an estimated 180 million people from across the world tuning in to the event.
The Lord’s final between England and India was indeed a spectacle, with the television audience being 400 000 more than those who watched the Men’s Champions Trophy final between India and Pakistan – rated the biggest rivalry in cricket – a couple of months earlier.
Cricket’s bible, the Wisden Almanack, which is a comprehensive chronicling of the past 12 months, has also ventured into uncharted territory by featuring England bowler Anja Shrubsole on its 2018 cover. Shrubsole, whose six-wicket haul led England to victory in front of a sold-out Lord’s, is the first woman to feature on the famed yellow cover.
Wisden India followed suit. Despite Virat Kohli’s men’s team finishing the year ranked No 1 in both the Test and ODI formats, the honour was still bestowed on two members of the India women’s side - a high-fiving Sushma Verma and Shikha Pandey - on the cover of its 2018 edition.
And that is why I think the South African Cricket Annual 2017 missed a golden opportunity here. While it was groundbreaking that Proteas captain Dane van Niekerk was featured as one of its “Five Cricketers of the Year”, can you imagine the statement it would have sent out had Van Niekerk featured on the cover instead of Quinton de Kock?
England and Australia have traditionally been ahead of the game in women’s cricket since the very first World Cup in 1973 – two year’s prior to the inaugural men’s event – but the strides made by nations such as India and South Africa has been phenomenal over the past few years.
The central contracting of players has subsequently led to a huge improvement of not only playing standards on the field, but also the professionalism required off it. The coaching, conditioning and management staff provided to the Proteas women’s team by Cricket South Africa have also made a significant impact.
It could so easily have been Van Niekerk raising the trophy above her head at Lord’s with the Proteas falling just two balls, and two wickets, short from defeating the eventual champions England in a pulsating semi-final at Bristol. Watching Shrubsole – there’s that woman again – trying to console a distraught Van Niekerk by lifting her off the ground after hitting the winning runs was one of the images of the year.
Van Niekerk and her team captured the hearts and imagination of the South African public last year. It is now up to them to sustain the interest, and the best way to do that is by keeping on winning!
There is still a copious amount to do in regards to growing the women’s game, in terms of making it accessible to young girls all around the country, while the implementation of a professional’s women’s league would be monumental too.
But those are the “uncontrallables” as cricketers like to say. The “controllables” for the Proteas is the upcoming 10 limited-overs matches against the World Cup runners-up India. There are five ODI’s before another five T20I’s that form part of the preparation for the World T20 in the Caribbean later this year.
Both series are undoubtedly going to be tightly-contested, with South Africa having defeated Mithali Raj’s team at the World Cup last year.
It is just a pity none of us will be able to watch it as the series at this point will not be televised.