Amid much gloom about the state of English cricket, the growth of the game among women and girls in Surrey offers some much-needed rays of sunshine, as Richard Spiller reports.
Negotiating a way through two pandemic-affected years has been tricky for everyone involved in cricket. But in 2021 there were more than 3,000 female players from around 70 clubs across the county. That sparked an extra division being added to the Surrey Women’s League and two new ones for the girls.
All of which was good news for the Surrey Cricket Foundation, the body responsible for the recreational game in the county, and in particular Cricket Participation Officer Jess Ward.
“It keeps growing and that’s very exciting, both in terms of the leagues expanding, more clubs taking part and players joining those clubs,” she says, much of the work of the Foundation coming in the winter as Chris Coleman’s team nurture the grass roots.
Ward joined last May and had her share of challenges straightaway – the country was still coming out of lockdown, which involved numerous restrictions in the early stages, and once the season was in full throttle there was the far from new battle to beat the elements.
“The weather was atrocious,” she recalls, which made the ECB-led Women’s Big Cricket Month in June an even greater feat of organisation. The SCF staged several social media campaigns to promote the campaign, including Oscar awards, which enabled clubs to nominate women and girls going above and beyond their obligations to make a difference to the game. There were four categories – volunteer, official/groundswoman, inspiring mum and daughter combination and female coach.
It highlighted the involvement and participation of those involved in growing cricket, the winners getting tickets to the inaugural Hundred match at the Kia Oval and being shortlisted for the overall “female of the month” prize.
Ward explains: “It worked really well in many ways, especially in recognising the work of different people involved in cricket who maybe don’t get that recognition too often. We enjoyed being able to invite the winners up to the first Hundred match and have a reception before the match, which enabled a lot of them to catch up and make new friends.
Indoor festivals and leagues during the winter – a mixture of softball and hardball – maintain the momentum and once the new season gets underway the SCF will be expanding on last year’s busy programme with Girls Schools Week.
Scheduled for June 20-24, it is aimed at under-12s and under-14s with schools able to enter on an ad hoc basis
“Schools have had two disrupted years and are aiming to get back to normal as much as possible at the moment,” says Ward. “There was a bit of nervousness about what might be possible and how exams might affect the amount of cricket played but that seems to have calmed down now.”
With a primary schools competition being staged as well, Ward knows there’s one big factor she can’t control but is praying for good luck: “We just need good weather!”