It's horrible that women's cricket is so unpopular. It doesn't bring in huge crowds or lots of money.
But it's great that that means it's cheap and you can just turn up and get good seats. This is where we sat yesterday, at the County Ground in Taunton.
After an early start (I had to get up at 5:30!), and an extremely pleasant trip down (a friend of Ali's from her old cricket team joined us, and we chatted nonstop so the time went really fast), we found ourselves in these seats. Good cricket fans that we are, most of us had brought warm and waterproof clothes as well as our sunscreen and hats (I couldn't find my big floppy sun hat so had to bring my Twins hat, from a totally different ball game), but it was definitely a day for the latter: the weather was perfect: hot and sunny all day.
Sri Lanka won the toss and batted first, which I ended up being really glad of because we watched their innings with rapt attention, having pinned Tas's Sri Lanka flag to the fence in front of our front-row seats at the old pavilion end. Tas told us more stories (there had been a few in the car) about what it's like going to watch cricket in Sri Lanka, where she says it's like a religion and she'd wander in to matches after finishing school for the day, once taking a Dutch student friend who hadn't known anything about cricket and got caught up in it and soon was hooked. She told us about how, despite that, women's cricket gets little investment. The players are expected to cover costs themselves, and they're not likely to be well-off. "There's no one from Columbo on the team," she said. "These are village girls."
When the first wicket fell, I was sad but also I had been looking forward to seeing Athapaththu, who had shattered the record by getting 178 runs earlier in the week against Australia (a match that Sri Lanka, heartbreakingly, still lost). So of course she got out for only one run! Tas had just been telling a story of her dad or uncle or somesuch who went to see Don Bradman one day and he got out for a duck, the moral of which was that there's no batter who is immune from the bad day or the unlucky shot. Cricket people love to wax lyrical about this, about how batting is the loneliest thing in any sport and how arbitrary the amount of time that you get to play can be.
We reapplied sunscreen and ate sandwiches we'd brought with us, even had a couple of cans of cider (shared between three of us, since one of them had been caught at the bag checks as we came in, so Maz who was watching us laughed and said we looked like twelve-year-olds at a bus stop, passing the cans back and forth). Three other matches in the Women's World Cup were happening at the same time as ours: India v Pakistan, South Africa v West Indies, and Australia v New Zealand. During a drinks break, the scores for those matches were read out, including 42-7 for the West Indies. Ali and I had been following the scores and knew they'd been 35-5 or something, but also 16-5 so really it could have been worse and maybe they could still turn it around? But 42-7 was tragic. Soon after, while the game ahead of us was going on, an announcement was made over the tannoy that West Indies were all out for 48, news we met with audible gasps.
Still, at least it meant when things were looking a little ropey for Sri Lanka in the thirty-something overs, Tas could console herself with "at least we aren't the West Indies..." and laugh. She was pretty sanguine really: at least no ducks, at least no one's embarrassed themselves...I recognized this as the kinds of small-market fan goals that I'm used to setting for my Minnesota teams.
Tas also told us about the way that Sri Lankan names are put together, after seeing Ranasinghe's come up. Rana- and jaya- and -singhe and -wardena, she told us about old kings and lions and beauty and it was just great to have some of the unfamiliarity of the names worn off a little bit. All I know about Sri Lankan names I know from cricket, but even then I was able to notice some of the patterns and the elements of them, which I always like.
By one o'clock things were looking salvagable for Sri Lanka and I hoped they'd hit 200 runs. But at the same time, we saw that South Africa had already won their game, passing the West Indies score in six overs. "We'd already be int he pub by now!" we told each other. It seemed inconceivable while we were still watching the first team bat here. Though I knew such things were possible: two years ago I saw what was supposed to be an ODI at Old Trafford -- that was Eng v SL too, though men's that time -- which didn't even last as long as a T20 game, because Sri Lanka (batting first) were out for about 63 I think. Though soon after rain would have stopped play anyway. It was the saddest cricket imaginable.
Sri Lanka did manage all their overs, and 204 runs. It was time for the lunch break, and a few of us went inside for a while to get a break from the sun. Tas ended up chatting about Wi stuff, as she inevitably does -- she is the best president, always thinking about things and networking with people -- and we generally had a nice enough time that we didn't notice cricket had started again until after it had. We went outside again and I drank a beer (not as expensive as I feared, once I learned you got a quid back when you returned the plastic cup) and all too soon the boringly good England team had scored enough runs to win. They lost three wickets doing so, one right at the end from someone that Tas said she expected to see out the match, and it's nice to see that even when it was unlikely to matter, Sri Lanka weren't giving up. I had almost given up watching, being very warm and sleepy by then!
Just as we were leaving, Ali told us that the New Zealand cricketer she'd previously mentioned as the first to play international cricket who was born in the 2000s had gotten two Australians out on two balls, one of them being Meg Lanning! And Pakistan were not doing much better than the West Indies; they also had about 55 at the point their score was read to our crowd, again getting groans and gasps (they ended up with 74). Women's cricket is still such an uneven game, prone to score differences like these making me think about which countries are putting money into it (though my understanding from what I heard yesterday is that better is expected of the West Indies). It's sort of a shame knowing there's only a few teams I'm likely to see in the final in a couple of weeks -- though I'm still looking forward to it, of course! There are things that I prefer about the women's game, but there are frustrations with it too.