The ICC World Twenty20 marked an important day in women’s sports. Not only did a group of all black female athletes win a major tournament in thrilling fashion, the support shown from the men’s team for them was fantastic. The celebrations are important as the women’s team was included and recognized by the men in what was also their greatest triumph. And these are lessons we can look to moving forward in sport.
I have a confession. I’m a healthy, happy Pakistan woman and I don’t like mangoes. My people look shocked and offended when I state this. They are equally as horrified to learn I am not too keen on cricket, the beloved sport of many of nations that were subjected to cruel colonization in the Global South. I never really understood it, but have family who love to play. I enjoy being with them as they watch these matches and try to explain the rules and the plays to me. It is not unlike other sports that I follow closely; full of promise, disappointment, heartbreak and hopefully, unadulterated joy.
This past Sunday, the West Indian women’s cricket team (Windies) won their first T20 World Cup Championship. They beat the revered Australians – and it was magical. Their powerful batting made the difference. I got swept up in the excitement and shared the photos, and news reports on Twitter and revelled in those powerful queens as they celebrated. Sheer joy erupted on social media and so many ardent cricket fans were expressing happiness.
Adding even more delight was the way in which their male counterparts joined them on the field in joy. The Windies men’s team would go on to win their own World Championship a few hours later. But this moment was to celebrate the women. What a moment for cricket and what a moment for women’s sport. Some have called this the re-branding of cricket in the West Indies.
A few years ago I discovered something wondrous – women’s cricket. Pakistan women’s team (‘Girls In Green’) got my attention. As a sports writer and an advocate for athletic women, I followed them on their journey, and cheered for them. Their story and experiences really resonated with me. Not only battling against cultural limitations, and societal challenges, they were trying to excel in sport. Maybe because, just like in the West Indies, they don’t get as much support as the men do. Women started playing cricket professionally in the 1970s and since then, they have not had the same level of financial backing, access to training facilities and qualified coaches as the men do. This isn’t a problem relegated to non-white majority countries. This is a global issue in sport.
The Windies herstory eludes dedication, passion and hard work: it isn’t a fairy tale. They first started playing as a region for the One-Day International in 1993. Before that teams were entered to represent Jamaica, and then Trinidad and Tobago separately. The West Indies team came to the T20 World Cup in a humble fifth place, according to the ranking from the International Cricket Council (ICC). They followed Australia, England, New Zealand and India. They have practiced and had support from the men’s side.
Captain Stephanie Taylor spoke eloquently of the solidarity from the men. “I’ve been waiting for this a long time and it has come at the right time,” Taylor said. “The batting has done it for us. It was fantastic to know that the men were with us. Captain Darren Sammy sent me a text this morning that we were going to win.”
That support is imperative if we want to see women, and specifically women of colour, succeed in sport. This resonated with me because in my work, I see so many female athletes struggling to advance without the proper support of their sports federations, fellow athletes and even communities. We can learn a lot from the Windies.
I spoke with a Sherriff Boodhoo, professional coach, instructor and cricket expert of Qasra Sports in Toronto. Boodhoo, runs the Qasra Cricket Academy and he has many years of experience, specifically in coaching women. He tells me of the many, many talented young girls who come into his academy and are so passionate about the sport. Boodhoo says there is support for Australia, England and South Africa but there could always be more for other cricket program like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and West Indies.
“The Caribbean is moving forward. A lot of women do take up the sport. They show a lot of guts and get bruised but they don’t defect and they play against the men.” Boodhoo insists that by simply playing the sport, women influence young girls. “The ladies are breaking that barrier. You watch a game and you see a woman- it might make girls turn and look. They might say- if she can look at it and say, ‘if she can do it then I can’. Might not be an IPL level- maybe a state. Maybe it can be local.”
He says that it is also crucial to trust the young players. “People have to remember, you don’t write off youth- you give them a chance.” And this is exactly what the Windies did as a part of their game-winning strategy.
Sunday’s final saw them majestically dethrone the three time world champions, Australia. Match reports burst with exciting stats and renditions of how Windies teenage superstar Haley Matthews blew the socks off the cricket world by batting 42 of her 66 runs in boundaries. She is a very young player but the leadership shown by Captain Stefanie Taylor, who, also provided a half-century, encouraged the whole team to persevere strongly and clinch the Windies win.
“They Showed colour, showed character,” he says. “I’m hoping and praying it starts a revolution. That the women get up and say ‘We can do this! We can start a revolution’.”
I strongly believe that they can. These incredible women have conquered the top spot in the world in their sport. They have proven their efforts were not in vain. As for the Windies, a women’s win, a men’s win and a win in the U19 Championships means that this year, the Windies have won it all. They have swept up all major cricket tournaments in which they played. It boosts the sport and it is definitely revolutionary.
And I will be watching the Windies women- without the mangoes.