Kate Cross is readying herself for the beginning of The Hundred after starring for England
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One of the difficulties with discussing women’s sport is that it is often a conversation framed in very binary terms. There is either equal pay or there is not. Women are either as good as the men or they are not. They either attract big crowds, right here, right now, or they do not. And, on the eve of one of the biggest developments in women’s cricket in this country, it is a conversation that Manchester Originals’ Kate Cross has had many times before.
"I’d say that The Hundred is the most equal competition that I have played a part in so far in my cricket career," says the England bowler, without hesitation. "There are obviously a few things that probably still need working on. But I think the word ‘progression’ is the right word to use because we’re not going to expect this to be 100 per cent equal overnight. We’ve not even been a professional sport for ten years; we don’t expect to be where the guys are in that space of time."
The headline conversations have been around equal prize money but unequal pay; group games on terrestrial television but only one in ten of those a women’s game; equal promotion but unequal time slots. There is a lot, for any advocate of women’s sport, to be both pleased and frustrated about. But what of the players?
"There’s no frustration," asserts Cross. "Frustration is not being able to train at the best grounds or having gym access. What would frustrate me is if I came into this tournament and had been told, ‘Actually, we’re training at Guildford [an outground] today.’ But no, we’re at The Oval, and we’ve had three nets and it’s been one of the best, most professional training environments that I’ve been in so far. And this is our first day.
"If it is going to be like this the rest of the tournament, then that’s great for all of us as athletes because we’re going to not only get to play in front of crowds, and on Sky and BBC and all that, but we’re also going to get to improve as cricketers because of the training facilities that we’re going to get."
"Don’t get me wrong, I still think there’s a way to go until we’re at a complete level footing with the guys. The fact that all our games are before the men, not in the primetime 6:30pm slot – everyone’s aware of that. But I was frustrated five years ago when we get told that we’re fully professional but the environment wasn’t fully professional but now, now we’ve actually got a professional environment."
Any female athlete, in any sport, encounters this difficult proposition: how to balance celebrating the progress with still striving for change. It’s also mentally draining. The last thing Cross, or any of her team-mates, really want to be doing two days out from one of the biggest games of cricket of their lives, is to talk about off-field issues.
"Sometimes we can get caught up in it, yes," nods Cross. "Because it draws our attention to things that we don’t necessarily need to know, or worry, about. The biggest thing for me on Wednesday is going out and showing our skill."
Kate Cross will represent the Manchester Originals when The Hundred gets underway this week
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Something that Cross is very keen on is for The Hundred to change things which can’t always be encapsulated in neat, tangible numbers: the attitudes of men’s professional cricketers to the women’s game. This is something which the men’s Big Bash League, and its women’s equivalent the WBBL, did successfully in Australia, where Cross played for two seasons.
"It really, genuinely felt over there that it was like one team," says Cross. "And hopefully that’s something that we can create with this tournament. I certainly think that the intent is there. The thing that I found in Australia was that, naturally, the way that the guys treated the girls over there was a lot different."
A lot has been said about what having a men’s and women’s tournament launch on the same platform can do for the women’s game. But in Australia, Cross found there was a wider appreciation for what the women’s game could bring to the growth of cricket, for both genders.
"I hope that the lads see it from that point of view as well," adds Cross. "I hope they don’t see it as like a task that they have to complete or whatever, to look good. I hope that we can start changing that mentality around how women’s cricket is perceived."
Past social-media posts from England’s men’s players suggest their view of women’s cricket is not a flattering one. But recently, things appear to be changing. Many of England’s men do watch the women, and have privately messaged their encouragement, too. But public appreciation? There remains a stigma around it, a dressing room culture that persists for fear of being teased, of being too… woke?
"I think that [the change] will naturally happen," says Cross. "Because the guys will be there, watching us. If they’re watching cricket they’ll get a very different perception of the skill level and the speed of change.
"And then in a few months, weeks, a few more people will voice that support on social media, too, and then that becomes more of the norm. And not just a putting a tweet out because it looks good or they’ve been told to. You can tell when the lads have all been told to tweet about us, and there’s not actually a lot of meaning in that. And I think that’s what I’m getting at, that I’d rather know that they’re supporting us, behind closed doors, instead of publicly if it’s done in a way that they don’t mean it."