At the age of eight, I became fascinated with cricket when Courtney Walsh, Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Keith Arthurton, Curtly Ambrose, Jimmy Adams were among the last of the region’s cricketing giants.
I often imitated them when playing cricket with my cousin, Nkosi.
When Brian Lara broke Sir Garfield Sobers record of 365 not out; I worked harder at perfecting my batting, imagining one day I might play for the Windies. I even adopted the name Brenda Lara.
But with my mother’s constant reminders that girls do not play sports, the general lack of information about the game and the absence of a female role model, my dream died.
Today the region stands ready to commit to memory another great West Indian cricket team and even another great cricketing era as the women’s cricket team battles the Australian team in the semi-final of the prestigious ICC World T20 Tournament in Sri Lanka.
One of the women behind the success of the current West Indies team is Customs Officer Ann Browne-John. Although this former T&T and West Indies Women captain is no longer actively playing, Browne-John is now an administrator—the women’s cricket co-ordinator for the International Cricket Council (ICC) Americas.
In an interview with the T&T Guardian, Browne-John recalled the starting point of her illustrious cricketing career.
She said: “I was born into cricket. My mother started a cricket club, Mary Girls’ Cricket Club and therefore there were eight girls and four boys and all the girls played cricket. After school, we would all go down to the Queen’s Park Savannah where my mother and the elder ones played cricket.”
Browne-John’s professional cricketing career began in 1970 when cricket was introduced to St Francois’ Girl College and she has seen the evolution of female cricket in the Caribbean over the years. She recalled when men would harass women as they played in the Queen’s Park Savannah, often telling them to go home and cook or wash.
Although much development has taken place there is still a long way to go. T&T Guardian learned that there is great disparity in payment between men and women. Often, the women play for free.
Browne-John said today’s historic game augurs well for the future of the sport. She said earlier on in the sport, publicity was given more to the men’s team (although the women have been playing the sport since the early 1900s). Publicity is essential for sponsorship, which is a major problem the women face. Although the sport has become one of fastest growing in the world among women, sponsors have not been as forth coming. She said there are some sponsors who have readily contributed to women’s cricket both in T&T and the region while there are others (a major telecommunications company) who, when asked, said no to the team’s request for sponsorship.
Another worrying factor, she said, is the lack of a space for women’s cricket. Browne-John said although the national team was promised a space, they are yet to receive one and are constantly made to ask the men’s clubs for use of their facilities. This is something she believes desperately needs to change. The sport, Browne-John, noted has also dwindled in Tobago where, she said, much talent resides.
Some of Browne-John’s sentiments are shared by Marjorie Thomas, coach of the national women’s cricket team. Thomas was encouraged to play cricket at 11 by her mother, Delores who played for Queensland Cricket Club. Growing up in Tobago, Thomas said, men were always around to support the women’s teams in the various districts. That has since changed and causes Thomas great worry. Thomas stopped playing cricket competitively at 21.
Thomas found interest in the sport again, when in an attempt to revive the once vibrant women’s cricket league, the WICB introduced a junior coaching programme for teachers from different schools. When she participated in the programe, Thomas was a PE teacher at Barataria Senior Comprehensive (now known as Barataria South Secondary).
Thomas she believes many women are afraid of the sport because of the hard ball (a cork ball is used to play the sport). On the issue of sponsorship, Thomas thinks the lack of sponsorship is a result of low visibility of women’s cricket.
“Women’s cricket has come a long way and it is accepted. You now have the West Indies women’s team playing in the same country as the men.”
The West Indies men are playing against Australia in the semi-final of the World T20 competition today in Sri Lanka and Thomas believes that having the women play in a parallel tournament in the same country at the same time is a move that would help support women’s cricket.
I wonder how different life would have been if I met Ann Browne-John or Marjorie Thomas when I was younger? Brenda Lara might have actually become a reality.