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Breaking the glass ceiling - Women in sport

1945 – Babe Zaharias makes the cut in the Los Angeles Open, playing on men’s pro golf tour.

1973 – Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes”.

1979 – Ann Meyers joins the NBA team Indiana Pacers.

2003 – Annika Sorenstam plays a tournament on the men’s US tour.

2008 – Danica Patrick (of Go Daddy fame) wins the Indy Japan 300.

2011 – Arran Brindle scores a century for the semi-professional men’s team Louth against Market Deeping.

2012 – Charlotte Dujardin wins gold in an equestrian event in the Olympics.

Women have come a long way in sport since the Baron (Pierre de Coubertin) barred them from playing in his version of the Olympics. Nevertheless, it will still be a momentous occasion when (and if) Sarah Taylor and Holly Colvin take the field for the Sussex 2nd XI this summer.

Sarah Taylor and Holly Colvin

This, of course, is a far cry from the overtly chauvinistic approach the Marylebone Cricket Club has portrayed over the years. After all, it was only in 1999 that women were allowed to enter the hallowed Lord’s pavilion for the first time. Much water, it seems, has flown through the Thames in these last fifteen odd years.

Now the question which arises is – is this a serious initiative to bring equality to sport or just a shot in the arm for the PR machinery of a struggling English cricket county? There is no doubt that it is an interesting thought – in any case, the women’s World Cup started two years before that of their male counterparts. Better coverage and improved performances by the cricketing heavyweights such as England, Australia and India has automatically led to more women and girls taking up cricket seriously. Boundaries are cleared more frequently and the speed guns have gone up a few notches higher.

There are hurdles though. Women’s cricket is played with balls which are significantly smaller and lighter and the fastest bowler in the world Jhulan Goswami would be classified as military medium in men’s cricket. Top players are at best semi-professional and there is no domestic first class structure in most countries. For every ten Brendan Taylors, there is one Sarah Taylor.

But if someone were to cross over to the other side, the wicketkeeper-batswoman would be an ideal choice to do so. Fast as lightning behind the stumps, she had kept out Brighton College’s male keeper from the starting eleven. Those who have seen her behind the stumps and in front of them as a limited overs opener will vouch for the fact that she is cut out for greater things.

Add to that the fact that a number of women play for semi-professional men’s clubs across the counties of England and the exploits of the likes of Arran Brindle are like candles at the end of the tunnel for them. For those with classically correct techniques, the extra pace offered by male speedsters often acts as a boon with respect to timing. Physically too, the women cricketers are fitter and stronger and undergo regular endurance training exercises. And first class cricket, as we and wiser men have harped over the ages, is more about skill and “percentage cricket” as opposed to the power play in the shorter versions. The pressure in most cases is just the stigma attached to being an “outsider”.

Another sport where skill is of significance and hence offers some semblance of equality to the fairer sex, is golf. Although long, powerful hits and holes-in-one might elude the softer touch-and-play dexterity of women (not to say that the former is impossible to do for women), this is one sport where women have been making significant progress over the last 60 years. Sustained success is still an illusion and non-cooperation from their male colleagues often make it a hard day at work as Annika Sorenstam found with Vijay Singh for a tournament 10 years ago.

Annika Sorenstam

For the first time in its history and as opposed to its founder’s vision, the Olympics last year had at least one female representative from each of its participating members. This does not reflect the true picture – the only truly mixed event is equestrianism which admittedly has thrown up the likes of Charlotte Dujardin since 1952. But that’s about it.

It is hard to imagine a Bend It Like Beckham with the Red Devils in tow or even a reprise of Billie Jean’s feats with the slam bang style of Rafael Nadal and company. It is hard to imagine women doing anything apart from cheerleading or leading teams off the field in the IPL. But for every ten Kieron Pollards, there is one Deandra Dottin as I found out one balmy afternoon in February. Even if Taylor and her compatriot Colvin fail to make a dent, they and we should not lose heart. Hope is just around the corner.

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