England Cricket Captain Charlotte Edwards in action
All Out Cricket Magazine is celebrating the mega-successful England women's team in a Women's Cricket Supplement this month. It coincides with England Women's participation in the ICC World Twenty20 in September 2012, with the ICC World Cup coming up in India January 2013.
Here former player, and AOC magazine's Women's Cricket Correspondent Isa Guha shares some of the reasons we have to be proud of our world-class national female cricket squad.
'Australia were the best team in the world. For many years I would watch in awe as they swatted teams away. They possessed a ruthless, confident attitude, and they were highly skilled. They meant business. When I first broke into the England team in 2002 we were nowhere near defeating them, or their antipodean neighbours, New Zealand.
'Fast forward a decade, and England have become the side to beat. The question is, how does a team, particularly an English team, evolve from being the underdog to one of the most successful in our national sporting history?'
The moment it all started
Clare Connor, former England captain and now the England & Wales Cricket Board's Head of England Women’s Cricket says, 'It was March 1998. A new era for women’s cricket dawned when the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) voted to merge with the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB). With it came the start of a total integration process where full-time ECB staff took charge of every area of the sport; from its finances to its competition structures, to coach education.'
Levels of player commitment increased, and in 2002 Sport England lottery funding came in, subsidising many training costs and taking the pressure off players. Training began at Bisham Abbey, where players could compare notes with athletes who have since been competing at London 2012; rubbing shoulders with members of the TeamGB hockey, rowing and synchronised swimming teams made it a fun and inspirational envionment.
On the pitch, a new competition was introduced to bridge the gap between county and international level, labelled 'Super 4s'. It involved the best 48 players in the country split into four teams, providing the players with a 'best v the best' competition.
Playing against England's male cricket team was another step up. Isa explains, 'Suddenly the batters were being tested by quick, bouncy deliveries. Bowlers would have to be smarter and more accurate to avoid being smashed out of the park. It was a great challenge that ultimately gave us more confidence.'
Beating Australia in 2005, England Women's first victory against their old rival in 10 years, then winning back the Ashes after a 42-year wait was a turning point. 'In breaking their stranglehold we finally justified our belief that the number one spot was within our reach,' says Isa, who was a member of that victorious team.
But it wasn't win, win, win, from there onwards. A series of defeats helped England Women's team develop a new resilience and learn to be more ruthless at critical moments.
Meanwhile, the Chance to Shine funding support scheme was introduced, enabling players to earn a salary coaching in schools, while still being available to train and tour.
Charlotte Edwards, England's captain and most prolific run-scorer says, 'For me personally, the Chance to Shine contract and ambassador roles have made the biggest difference over the last 10 years, and enabled me to concentrate on cricket.
'There are no better people to promote the game than the current England players and hopefully it'll inspire young girls to play cricket; I would have loved one of the England players to come to my school when I was a girl.'
It all came together in 2009, when England Women's cricket team won two World Cups, achieved an ODI series whitewash over Australia and retained the Ashes. As a result, Claire Taylor became the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Wisden Cricketer of the Year award.
Since then, the team has enjoyed the benefits of a full-time physio and strength and conditioning coach, as well as specialist coaches and other support in the form of nutrition, psychology and medicine. The ECB introduced tour and match fees in autumn 2011 and as a result the England squad is now the fittest and most skilful it has ever been.
As captain Charlotte Edwards says, 'You're only going to get the success if you invest money and that's what the ECB have done. That's why we are the best team in the world.'
The ECB has committed to developing players beneath the full England squad in the England Women's Academy, where they experience exactly the same environment (methods, specialist coaches, fitness screenings) as the England players.
Another avenue for player development is the MCC Women's Young Cricketers set-up based alongside the boys at Lord's: a full-time programme that runs from April to September.
And what about the future? Says Edwards, 'If I was being really honest, I would like to see it become professional.'
According to All Out Cricket magazine's Isa, 'Professionalism is certainly within our grasp and something that we all wish for. Yes, viewership needs to improve, but with the ever-growing success of Twenty20 cricket, and increased media coverage and advertising sponsorship, it is certainly heading in the right direction.'
Find the full feature in the Women's Cricket Special available in this month's All Out Cricket magazine or go online at www.alloutcricket.com