To mark Women’s Sport Week 2016, England captain and regular BBC Sport columnist Heather Knight looks at the perception of women’s cricket around the world, as she prepares for her first overseas international series as skipper.
The beginning of our five-match one-day series against West Indies on Saturday comes at the end of Women’s Sport Week and after a landmark summer for women’s cricket in England.
Two years ago, I found myself halfway up Mount Kilimanjaro facing, and being dwarfed by, the “Barranco Wall” – the steepest section of the ascent that literally looks like an inaccessible giant wall in front of you.
One of the group asked how on earth we were we going to make it up there without any climbing equipment? “There is a path but it’s a tricky one” was the response, causing some of the group to turn a slightly paler colour!
A glance behind to see the clouds below, however, showed how far we had come and on we plodded. It feels like women’s cricket globally is in a similar position to this, having come a long way, still with a long way to go – but it feels like we are just starting to crack that “Barranco Wall”.
The first Kia Super League, in the same year as the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League in Australia this year, is a continuation of incredible progress being made in the women’s game.
Women’s game becoming more professional
The Super League and Big Bash were both very successful, on and off the pitch. There are more professional contracts on offer for women cricketers, an increase in TV and radio coverage and, most importantly, more people coming to watch matches.
The Super League in particular generated more interest than I thought it would. It was brilliant to see such fantastic crowds throughout the group stages of the competition and on finals day in Chelmsford.
I am incredibly lucky to play in a country where the governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), has invested so much in all levels of the women’s game.
The likes of Australia and New Zealand are the same, too. In Australia, New South Wales have just gone fully professional and players from both countries are affiliated to the men’s players’ unions, just like we are part of the Professional Cricketers’ Association.
However, players in some other countries aren’t as lucky and this is where even more progress can be made.
In Sri Lanka, they play hardly any cricket outside of internationals, while the Pakistan team used to have to train behind closed doors.
But it’s not about only looking after the very best players. Money at the top obviously helps, but it is also about opportunities, facilities and infrastructure.
Looking forward to the Women’s World Cup
The next big opportunity in this country is the Women’s World Cup, which England is hosting next summer. The marketing campaign for this has been released this week to coincide with Women’s Sport Week, and I know that everyone at the ECB and International Cricket Council are already working really hard to deliver the biggest and best global women’s cricket event there has ever been.
I think one aim is to sell out Lord’s for the final – it is amazing to think that there could be 28,500 people at the home of cricket watching women’s cricket.
England have the best supporters of women’s cricket in the world, so I have every confidence that this could happen, and the upward trend in the game will continue.
Following our World Cup next summer, England is also due to host the women’s hockey and netball World Cups in 2018 and 2019 respectively. To mark this unique opportunity for women’s sport, the ECB, England Hockey and England Netball have come together to launch “TeamUp”, with the dual aims of promoting each event, alongside encouraging women and girls across the country to get involved and play the three sports.
I was involved in the official launch of “TeamUp” earlier this week, and enjoyed a morning at St Edward’s Primary School in north London, meeting England women’s hockey captain, Kate Richardson-Walsh, and England netballer, Jo Harten. It’s always great to meet players from other sports, and I look forward to catching up with them again and supporting them over the next three years.
The World Cup, though, is for next summer, and our immediate focus is on the five matches here in Jamaica.
Concerns over Hurricane Matthew
Our preparations have been disrupted by Hurricane Matthew, which thankfully didn’t turn out to be as strong in Jamaica as other parts of the Caribbean, which have been devastated.
For a little while, everything stopped. The hotel was boarded up and we could not train at the Trelawny Stadium because the staff there had gone to make sure their homes were prepared.
At times like that, you really find out who your friends are, going off the messages you receive checking that you’re OK. I heard from mates and my boyfriend back home, but I didn’t even get a message from my parents!
The girls were pretty chilled about it, though there was a little concern when we realised how strong the storm could be, and our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected, in particular in Haiti over the last couple of days.
In the end, it passed us here in Montego Bay with rain, but not a great deal of wind and we were allowed out pretty quickly. Still, because we couldn’t go to the stadium, we ended up practising on the beach.
We did some bowling, throwing, and fielding. Trying to pick up a ball on the uneven ground, or spotting the white leather against white sand is harder than you think.
This tour is my first as captain and comes after we beat Pakistan convincingly at home in the summer. On that occasion, I don’t think Pakistan played poorly; it’s just that we were brilliant.
Now we face the World T20 champions on their home patch, so it is certainly going to be another test for us and we will no doubt learn even more about where we are as a team.
The Windies are just above us in the ICC Women’s Championship and have home advantage, but we have prepared for slow, turning pitches and long, straggly outfields.
They have world-class players, but we are ready. It will be an exciting challenge.
BBC Test Match Special will have ball-by-ball commentary on England’s one-day international series in West Indies, which runs from 8-19 October, with live text commentary on the BBC Sport website. You can read more BBC columns from Heather during the winter.