For years Mrinal Asija loved cricket from the sidelines. This year, she’s stepped up to the crease.
When I moved to Australia last year for my postgraduate studies, I was excited about getting to watch plenty of sport, especially cricket. For years I have been a big fan of Australian women’s cricket and the WBBL and now I was going to live the experience of being at the games myself.
In my first year-and-a-half in Melbourne, I watched quite a few live games, made some wonderful connections in the very supportive sports community here and even got some opportunities to write about cricket from Siren.
What I never saw coming though was a chance to play cricket myself – the kind played with the actual cricket ball, and with full gear, on a full-length pitch.
Since the attempt to string together a girls cricket team in school failed in year 9, I have only played in my courtyard. Yet, every time I have picked up a bat or a ball, I have loved it and yearned for more. So, when Sarah Guiney from my Change Our Game Women in Sports Broadcasting program cohort asked me if I wanted to join her community cricket club, I said yes before my mind could start questioning how I was going to start playing a sport at 26!
But any apprehensions that I had vanished on the first day of training. What I found at the Youlden Parkville Cricket Club (YPCC) was a supportive community of players and coaches. There were players much older than me, players much younger than me and players with no previous experience of playing cricket. A good fielding effort was cheered loudly, and a missed catch got shouts of “great effort”.
A long history of women’s cricket
It was also fascinating to discover that the club I had joined had a long history of involvement in women’s cricket, going back nearly 100 years. Youlden Kensington, one of the two clubs that merged to form YPCC, fielded a women’s team in the 1930s and one of the players, Lorna Kettels, played in the first-ever women’s Test match for Australia in 1934. Women’s cricket returned to the club in 2019, when it joined the North West Metropolitan Cricket Association’s (NWMCA) women’s social competition.
The social league for women came into being when Sonja Viehl, who is now the Vice President of the NWMCA, decided that she had had enough of being on the sidelines with others. She recalls hearing stories of women being frustrated by only being able to support their husbands and sons.
Sonja’s idea of the social competition was for it to be a no-pressure environment, where women of all skill levels would be supported to play cricket.
“Women like to be in groups, chat and connect and that way cricket can be empowering,” she said, stressing how being involved in the sport not only helps women with physical fitness but also mental health.
While father and sons playing together is a common thing, for Sonja, seeing many sets of mothers and daughters and sisters connecting over cricket and being active together has been a big success.
YPCC has a few such pairs. Sarah’s sister Jo also plays for the club, while Jane*, who has been playing cricket for nearly 40 years, now shares the field with her daughter.
“Being a teammate is a good way to be a mother. I really want to take catches off her bowling so we can get wickets together,” Jane said.
Diversity the key to lasting success
YPCC’s President Paul Sinclair is proud of how much the women’s program has grown since the reintroduction. The women’s group at the club has not only gotten bigger, but also more diverse.
“We have players whose origins are from South Asia, from Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK. We’ve had folks from Kenya play with us, and from Zimbabwe,” Paul said.
But the diversity is not limited to the cultural background. It also extends to age and experience.
53-year-old Jane started playing cricket in primary school when she bought a bat from her savings. She made the boys include her in their games in exchange for letting them use her bat. Jane switched to playing in women’s clubs when she moved to secondary school and went on to play at the highest level of club cricket at that time.
On the other hand, 27-year-old Georgia Freer, who is captaining the club’s first team this season, only took up the sport in 2019. Georgia also plays footy, and cricket started off as being a sport to play in the off season for her. Even though friends told her she would get bored and sunburned, she decided to give it a go.
“The sunburn bit was true but I loved playing and never looked back!”
There are many other women in the club who also play other sports, hockey being the most popular.
Georgia found YPCC through a simple online search. Paul says that the club has been trying to reach out to potential players by putting up appealing content on its website and running ads on social media. But he adds that if they are able to create a good experience for players, that would encourage others to join.
“We hope to continue to be a place that’s considered welcoming no matter what your cultural, or gender identity,” he said.
Creating such an environment hasn’t come without an effort.
“Sometimes there have been little grizzles from the men that, you know, the world has changed and they have to share resources and facilities and glory with another group of people,” Paul said.
“And that requires the leadership to clearly articulate that we’re a club for all members.”
He emphasised that YPCC has worked hard to ensure that women get equitable access to the facilities and are provided a safe environment to train in.
Changing the game for the next generation
Sonja recalled that when the social competition started, the women put their foot down that they wouldn’t play in the traditional white trousers and the board had to support them. The whole point of the program was to allow women to feel comfortable and confident, she stressed.
Over the last 5 years, Sonja has seen the competition grow. As a result of that, women’s involvement in the administration of the sport has risen, with many taking up positions of presidents and secretaries of clubs.
“They are now part of conversation, they get to love the sport we all love,” she said.
The leadership some of the more senior players show goes beyond official roles. In her younger days, Jane had to change clubs quite frequently when the women’s team was dismantled.
“I moved with the women who still wanted to play to another club and, after that folded, to another club again,” she said.
“It’s only now as an adult, I realise how much work those women had to do just to get a team on the field. The women at the club looked after me and drove me to the away games that were far away.”
Jane now passes on the same support to others at YPCC.
Georgia coaches kids and finds it rewarding to see their confidence grow.
“I think community sport is all about giving some of your time to help it grow and getting a lot back in return through friendships, fun and feeling a part of something,” she said, adding that getting to meet and play with a diverse group of people is what she loves the most about playing at YPCC.
Speaking for myself, I have never felt at-home in a new environment as fast as I have at YPCC. Now that the cricket season is here, I am looking forward to making many memories with this group as the sport comes full circle for me.
*Name changed on request.