“In the shadow of the men’s T20 game” by Andy Richardson (aljazeera.com)



Forget about high-speed convoys led by police outriders.

Sri Lanka’s women’s cricket players arrive for their practice sessions two to a moped. Sponsored cars are not an optional extra. Unlike their male counterparts, they can move around pretty much unnoticed.

We catch up with them in the country’s capital Colombo. They run through fielding drills in one small corner of a pitch. The rest of the outfield has been taken over by corporate hospitality tents for the men’s World Twenty20. It pretty much sums up the task facing women’s cricket. A constant battle for space and attention surrounded by a seemingly all powerful men’s game.

The issue is even more pronounced in Asia’s cricketing countries. While the best male cricketers enjoy superstar status, the women’s game is all but ignored.

The captain of the Sri Lanka team talks impressively about the responsibility her players have to change the situation. Shashikala Siriwardena is not interested in hard luck stories. She tells me that if her team play well then attitudes can be changed and investment will follow.

Big efforts are being made at an organisational level. For the third time the women’s and men’s T20 World Cups are to be hosted in the same country at the same time. It provides a big stage for this all too often overlooked game.

The finals of the men’s and women’s tournament will held back-to-back in Colombo’s main stadium. But the Sri Lanka players are still frustrated that the group stages are not being broadcast on live television.

Privately they worry they could be knocked out of the event before the cameras turn up for the semi-finals.

I also talk to Vanessa de Silva, one of the pioneers of the women’s game in Asia.

She was captain of the Sri Lanka side back in 1998 when they played their first ever Test match. De Silva tells me cultural as well as sporting barriers still face girls wanting to play sport in Sri Lanka but that attitudes are changing.

A major step forward has been the awarding of full-time contracts to the country’s best players for the last three years. Like the current captain, she is also insistent that it is within the players’ powers to really push the game on.

“Times have changed,” she says.

“We are getting some media attention, but it is up to us to make things turn around. We need to finish this tournament in the top two, or top four, to show people here we really can play.”

The favourites to win this edition of the World Twenty20 will be England.

The team has long been given good financial backing and girls’ cricket is now the fastest growing participation sport in the country. But their success is far from guaranteed.

At the last T20 World Cup the side were dumped out in the group stages. The top spots in the newly released T20 player rankings reflect the game’s traditional powerbase. They are dominated by English and Australian names.

There is also a lot of talk about the West Indies team and their powerful batting line-up. But the Asian teams have a lot of ground to make up. As the players themselves are only too aware, the next step in their fight for recognition globally and within their own borders is a strong performance at this event.

source: http://blogs.aljazeera.com/blog/sport/shadow-mens-t20-game

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