A fairweather fan gets behind women’s cricket

Justin Brown was a fairweather women's cricket fan until the White Ferns bowled Australia out for 66 - and he woke up

I recently asked my eleven-year-old sports-mad daughter if she’d like to join me at Eden Park to watch the White Ferns take on Australia’s Southern Stars.

Her response: ‘Is it going to be one of those matches where there’s no one in the crowd because it’s women playing? And how do they get paid if it’s free entry?’

A part of me died.

Both my daughters are handy footballers. They can do the Maradona, Double Scissors and easily outsmart their old man. This makes me proud, but really, what’s the point?

Why should young Kiwi girls strive to be the best in the country only to find the work is not that lucrative and crowds stay at home?

White Fern and recent hat-trick hero Anna Peterson played in that match at Eden Park. I wondered, was my daughter’s response outrageously sad, or far too common?

‘It is kind of heartbreaking,’ says Anna. ‘But also not true any more. The crowd at Eden Park was incredible. Girls of all ages came. Dads brought their young boys down. When I fielded on the boundary I signed twenty bats. Ish Sodi was my waterboy!’

Broadcaster Tim Roxborogh was behind the microphone for Radio Sport during all three matches of Australia’s tour. He is also an expert in the long lost art of crowd estimating. He counted 1000 at Eden Park, and 250 and 400 respectively at the double header in Mount Maunganui.

Which you might also think is heartbreaking, but Anna believes the women's game is on the up since her own international debut at Eden park in 2012. Back then, fans were mostly parents and friends of players.

‘New Zealand Cricket has pumped a lot of resource into girls playing the game. The Women’s World Cup was on TV, as were our recent T20 successes in Australia.’

Which is exactly the moment this fairweather fan awoke from his slumber. Remember how Team New Zealand nearly capsizing made us take notice of the America’s Cup? The White Ferns bowling the Aussie girls out for 66 had the same effect.

‘Southern Stars crash to lowest T20 total!’

Suddenly my social media feed was abound with everything White Ferns. Sky Rugby commentator Scotty Stevenson tweeted a video of the win, adding, ‘Should be the most widely reported and applauded NZ cricket result today.’

Then the most beautiful thing happened.

‘We’d just returned from our win in Oz and I was walking to a cafe near Eden Park,’ says Anna. ‘This guy made a beeline for me from across the road. He said, ‘Are you part of the New Zealand cricket team? You guys are bloody brilliant! I never took any notice of women’s cricket before because it was boring. But I’m coming to Mount Maunganui for the next match!’

Thankfully, according to Anna, the fan wasn’t a creep. A businessman in a suit on his way to work. Ten fingers, ten toes. Who would have thought.

Let’s talk money. A top Australian female cricketer can make around $85,000 a year, an international from England, £50,000. The most any female New Zealand player can earn is between $20,000 to $34,000, plus match fees. Alternatively, Black Cap Trent Boult will earn a million bucks in eights weeks at this year’s IPL.

Anna and her team mates are used to the retorts, the cliches, the sledges. Who would want to watch women's cricket! It's not as exciting to watch as the Black Caps!

Granted, women play with smaller balls, the boundaries are shorter and they don’t bowl as fast as men, but isn't it time we changed the score? As a fan maybe I should change my own thinking. Would I have gone to that free match at Eden Park if I didn't have sports-mad daughters? Does Anna’s brother Alex go to matches out of loyalty, or to support his sis?

It can’t be a rankings issue. The White Ferns ODI side sits at 3rd in the world. Their glamorous hockey equivalents the Black Sticks are 5th, yet share the same amount of newspaper column inches as their male counterparts (who rank 8th). International women’s tennis gets bums on seats, and Kiwi golfer Lydia Ko never seems to struggle to get a crowd.

The White Ferns deserve our support. Winning helps, as does consistent TV coverage, characters and, perhaps most importantly, controversy. Where is the Shane Warne of women’s cricket? A boozer! A villain! Or a cheat. (Preferably not from these shores.)

While we wait for such a drawcard, let’s forget free entry to matches. It cheapens the sport and its stars. It’s no different to watching a pirated movie.

These girls are internationals. They train their butts off while holding down full time jobs. They get paid less yet but put in the same effort as men. If my daughters, or yours, ever play for their country the least we can do is reach into our pocket.

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