Women’s County Cricket: Bridging The North-South Divide

Women’s County Cricket: Bridging The North-South Divide

For Middlesex’s Izzy Westbury and Lancashire’s Jasmine Titmuss, county captains both, the women’s county game is a labour of love. They got together to explain their obsession.

Anything exciting happened over the winter at your respective counties?

JT: We’ve signed an overseas, Meg Philips, on an Adam Gilchrist scholarship from Tasmanian Roar. She got here in time for Media Day so that she could settle in, meet everyone and have some training sessions with us.

IW: Also perhaps to try and understand your accents, right? The main news at Middlesex is that a whole load of us got some cricketing winter sun. No overseas this year – we don’t need anyone coming over here telling us how to play cricket…

Both Middlesex and Lancashire had Press Days with the men this year. A few other counties do the same – Warwickshire and Essex too – but it’s by no means commonplace. How did it come about in your county?

JT: This is our first Media Day that we’ve had with the men – essentially it falls down to the Lancashire Cricket Board (LCB) getting closer to Lancashire County Cricket Club (LCCC). The women’s side is still run by LCB, while the LCCC run all the professional stuff. The Communications Manager at Lancs does exactly the same for the women as he does for the men – that’s been written into his job description now.

Plus we’ve got a project called ‘Lancashire Way’ which focuses heavily on women’s cricket. It was a really great feeling – like a ‘Team Lancashire’ feeling.

IW: Ours was more of a mutual meeting of minds. The women’s team were obviously enthusiastic about sharing a Media Day with the men. Perhaps not quite as integrated as at Lancs, but it was a pretty decent start!

Lancashire had an exciting announcement on their Press Day – what was it? Something similar for Middlesex perhaps?

JT: We announced ‘LCB Thunder’. We wanted to make women’s cricket ‘cool and sexy’ – you can quote this it’s okay! I’m not sure ‘Thunder’ does that, but it’s a concept that other counties will hopefully follow.

IW: ‘Thunder’ isn’t that bad! I mean, our nickname is ‘Middlesex Meatballs’ – I don’t think we can really plaster a meatball across all of our kit!

You’re both captains of First Division counties but neither in the England set-up, a rarity at this level. As you’re not professional cricketers, what do you do for a living?

IW: Oh dear – where to start. I finished my law exams earlier this year and was supposed to be heading off to the City to start a career in law. But cricket took hold a bit so I’ve deferred that for a few years and I’m now finishing up a dissertation in law, doing some work for a sports law journal, some schools coaching with Middlesex and a bit of freelance journalism on the side. Lots of fingers, lots of pies really!

JT: I still spend my days involved in cricket, I’m afraid! I’m Clubs and Leagues Officer for the Lancashire Cricket Board. So basically along with my manager I do all the club support for 349 cricket clubs in Lancashire. I’m a special constable with Cheshire Police too which I volunteer for, which I have to do 16 hours a month for. It doesn’t sound a lot, but it is during the cricket season.

Alex Blackwell batting in Australia: the Aussie league is often held up as an example of women's cricket working well
Alex Blackwell hits out: the Aussie league is often held up as an example of women’s cricket working well

Women’s cricket is still largely amateur. There are changes being made and we saw the first contracts last year, but these are still yet to be seen at a domestic level. What’s made you stick at it – no pay, silly hours and lots of travelling – not really selling it there are we?

JT: To sound really geeky, I just love it, in a weird way. I’ve gone through being on the England Academy, putting a lot of pressure on myself, getting dropped and losing interest – but then after a break I came back and now enjoy it more than ever.

I’m playing better than I ever was now too, and that’s partly because I’m captain. I’m fitter and stronger, and I guess a role model too. Lancashire have loads of players in the England set-up, from U15 to full seniors, so it’s a lot of pressure being captain!

IW: I’m so glad you feel that, too – I always think, oh dear, I’m captain but all these youngsters coming up are way better than me! Otherwise pretty similar to Jasmine really. I hated cricket after I got dropped from the England Academy. I didn’t play for a season and a half. Mainly because of injury – I tore my ACL – but it was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I ended up just missing cricket so much. I’m a terrible cricket badger, but it will always remain a love-hate relationship.

What style of captain do you reckon you are?

IW: I seem to have two alter-egos – I’m balancing two different hats. In terms of my captaincy style I think I’m probably more on the aggressive side. I like the sound of my own voice, let’s be honest, and I’ll say exactly what I think. I think most of the girls that we have in our squad are at the level where you can be quite candid like that.

JT: I’m a good listener and will listen to what my team wants, so I think I am quite approachable in that way. Switched on and sensible when need be, but otherwise approachable and fun.

Lancashire Women captain Jasmine Titmuss
Lancashire Women captain Jasmine Titmuss

Who’s in charge of the music in the dressing room?

IW: There’s normally a good tussle. I’m in charge, certainly – captain’s takeover – definitely an autocracy over a democracy when it comes to the speakers.

JT: Interesting one! It’ll be between me and Nalisha [Patel] probably. They say I put old music on, but that’s not true – it’s me or listening to awful ‘Bolton R&B’.

Biggest challenge of captaincy?

JT: It’s our first season in Division One, so it will be keeping it simple, whatever happens. It’s a big step from Division Two, so the challenge is not to panic as batsmen or bowlers.

IW: Balancing all the different hats we’ve got on – the captaincy hat, the player hat, the person hat as well. Captaincy in the women’s game is more than just the on-field stuff but ultimately it’s on the field where you’ll be judged so I need to remember that!

Can you see a day when county cricket might become professional or even semi-professional?

JT: Yes. I think that the closer the county cricket boards can get with the professional county clubs, the better. Our chief executive is really supportive – he’s got a young daughter who’s cricket mad. He wants us to try and play a game at Emirates Old Trafford – he wanted to get it in this year as a double-header T20 before the men’s, but we couldn’t arrange it logistically – next year is the plan.

IW: As for us playing at Lord’s, well I don’t know, in my dreams! We’ll keep pushing, but it looks a bit of a way off at the moment.

JT: If you have more girls pushing for those central contracts it will hopefully make the county standard better, counties might open up to showcasing us a bit more. We’ll have athletes now competing for a job, instead of just you and me playing because we’re badgers!

Izzy in action at last year's T20 Finals Weekend
Izzy in action at last year’s T20 Finals Weekend

In that vein, is there a danger of those in the England set-up pulling away from the rest of the pack with the introduction of professional contracts?

JT: Yes, absolutely, which is why I think we need something like the franchise system, essentially bridging the gap between county cricket and the England programme. It’s brilliant that we’re now playing white-ball cricket, as England only play four days a year with a red ball, so it’s a bit silly not having been able to attempt to bridge that gap at county level until now.

IW: The irony is that we almost had a franchise system in place with the Super 4s – we just didn’t really capitalise on it. I think you’ve got to look towards the domestic model in Australia, where you’ve got seven state-based teams and now the launch of the Women’s Big Bash League next year. They introduced domestic contracts a couple of years ago, and we’re yet to catch up.

Will we see a day when women’s county cricket will be on a level with the men?

IW: We’re going towards that. Now more than ever there’s a sense that women’s cricket might one day be at a similar level in terms of media coverage, interest, investment. I don’t know when, but I do think the gap is narrowing. Over the last few years, or year even, there seems to be have been a renewed impetus into women’s sport.

JT: Yes. I think that the talk about franchises is exciting, especially if you compare it to what netball do on Sky. You only have to look towards Australia where they play some of their state games before the men’s Big Bash games, and their women’s franchises are owned by the same entity that own all the men’s Big Bash teams. It’s a finance issue and women’s cricket needs to attract that. Which is why Lancashire women are now ‘LCB Thunder’ and making women’s cricket ‘cool and sexy’!

IW: ‘Cool and sexy’ all the way! In today’s day and age you need to tread carefully around the objectification of women and sexist comments etc., but we need to make women’s cricket attractive to the public. If ‘cool and sexy’ is the way to do it then I’m jumping on that bandwagon.

Izzy spent the winter with Prahran CC, bowling at Aussie superstar Meg Lanning
Izzy spent the winter with Prahran CC, bowling at Aussie superstar Meg Lanning

Cricketing role model?

IW: Mike Brearley. He was captain of both Middlesex and England but never really warranted a place in these side as a player. He was, however, an outstanding captain, and that really exemplifies how important the captaincy is compared to other sports.

JT: Jimmy Anderson. He got injured, didn’t play, had to rebuild his whole game and then came back probably better than he ever had. He still knows where his roots are and as a bowler to play for so long and be that good for that long is pretty impressive.

Non-cricketing role model?

JT: Beyoncé?

IW: Tony Blair! Don’t laugh… He was true leader – winning against the odds, uniting a divided party, very popular and personable etc. etc. Many faults of course, but a great leader.

Jimmy: Jasmine's cricketing hero
Jimmy: Jasmine’s cricketing hero

Do you see yourself as a role model?

JT: I do, I think, yes. I’ve done some stupid things in my life and made some wrong decisions, but I’ve done alright for myself in the end. This relates to cricket too – maybe if I hadn’t made some of those choices, I might have played for England. But now I’m in a position I can talk to people and don’t judge them as I’ve made those same mistakes.

IW: Yes. I buy into the ethos of leading by example. Which means turning up for every training, arriving on time, attending discretionary fitness sessions – you bust a gut to be there if you expect others to be there too. Like it or not, as captain, you’re going to be a role model. So yes, we make our mistakes – we all have to let our hair down now and again – but we live and learn.

Who’s going to win the one day championships? And you can’t say your own county!

JT: I think that it’ll be interesting, as there are still county games going on while the England Women’s games are happening which will mean key teams lose key players so it will give other counties the opportunity to capitalise on this.

IW: Kent and Sussex have dominated for the last few years, but there’s no one I’d write off – either for the title or relegation, and a lot will depend on who is away for the Ashes.

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