This all sounds lovely, but it also reflected a stereotype of women’s sport as a cuddly, less competitive version of the men’s. Indeed, when the newly appointed captain Tim Paine started introducing handshakes with the opposing team as a pre-match ritual, many past Australian male cricketers voiced their displeasure, perceiving it as a soft departure from the hard-edged ruthlessness that had brought them so much success in the past.
Cricket Australia, however, persevered. After all, its women’s team were finding success on the pitch while still managing to be pleasant human beings.
‘‘We had a benchmark, both in terms of on-field performance and playing in a manner that’s consistent with the spirit of cricket, Cricket Australia’s chief executive, Kevin Roberts, told London’s Daily Telegraph. ‘‘We ended up looking really closely at what the Australian women’s team represent.’’
These sentiments were soon underlined by action. The Australian women’s vice-captain, Rachael Haynes, was co-opted on to a player-led review alongside a number of men’s cricketers. And then there was the leadership program. Thirty senior cricketers, coaches and administrators within Cricket Australia were sent on the Harvard-style course. Roughly equal numbers of women and men participated, including Haynes, and the women’s captain, Meg Lanning.
Involving women, in all aspects of cricket, it has been seen as integral to changing the way Australia’s men have gone about their cricket. It has, almost inadvertently, also proven very helpful to the women’s team. In the 2017 women’s World Cup, Australia were knocked out by India in the semi-finals at a time when the women’s team were reaching their own, albeit less disastrous, breaking point. A clique had formed, dividing some of the higher, more intimidating profiles within the team – the likes of Lanning, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy – and, well, the rest.
A chance to pause, reflect and approach some of Lanning and Co’s failings in an honest and constructive manner led to a more inclusive, more pluralistic approach. Newcomers have felt welcome and the team has played more as a team, less reliant on a few individuals – much to England’s disadvantage.
On the eve of the greatest challenge of Paine’s career, it is to role models and behaviour, the very values upheld by Australia’s women, that Australia’s men’s captain is turning to. This is no small coincidence. Whether it is immediately beneficial, we will soon see, but for Australian cricket’s wider future, the inclusion of women, on and off the pitch, is now seen as imperative. Let us hope it catches on.