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Not cricket

Women’s cricket should be for women, and only women

Artillery Row

There are two primary requirements for becoming an international cricketer: skill and skeleton. The women have the former by the bucketload. Whether it’s Elysse Perry hitting a sumptuous cover drive or Sophie Ecclestone spinning one out the rough to take off stump, the women’s game has plenty of skill and spectacle. Deep down in their bones, however, the women will always trail their male counterparts when it comes to speed, size and strength.

So far, so obvious — but it’s worth looking at how these physical differences manifest themselves on the field of play. The fastest woman bowler in the world clocked in at 81mph; the quickest delivery by a man was a whisker over 100mph. In the last (women’s) T20 World Cup, the biggest six was 81m; in the men’s edition, Junaid Siddique sent the ball sailing some 109m.

These figures demonstrate what we’ve forever known to be true, even if some people pretend they never believed it at all: that the best men have an innate physical advantage over the best women. These differences are exhibited most obviously in the arena of elite sport. Then why, when many of the world’s pre-eminent sporting authorities are reaffirming their commitment to sex-separated competition, does cricket continue to swim against the tide?

Earlier this week the International Cricket Council (ICC) ruled that the male Canadian cricketer Danielle McGahey can play for his country’s Women’s T20 team. McGahey’s eligibility is based on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) standard for testosterone levels, with male players allowed to compete if they maintain a concentration of testosterone of less than 5 nmol/L1 continuously for a period of at least 12 months.

The ICC faces practically no outrage over male cricketers in the women’s game

There is much to say about this arbitrary and discredited yardstick, but the best argument against it is simply to watch a game of cricket. This autumn’s (men’s) ODI World Cup will see commentators wax lyrical about Jos Butler’s “long levers” (his arms, that is) as he crashes the opposition attack into the stands. These natural attributes have nothing to do with the testosterone coursing through his bloodstream; they are down to the effects the hormone had two decades ago, during puberty. These include bigger heart and lung capacity, more muscle mass, stronger bones and — yes — longer levers.

Helpfully, in its coverage of the McGahey saga, the BBC provides a list of sports governing bodies that have officially recognised this fact. It should come as no surprise that World Rugby — responsible not just for fairness but for the safety and survival of its players — was the first explicitly to exclude trans-identified men from the women’s game. This was followed by other bodies including FINA, World Athletics and, earlier this month, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Why not cricket?

Unlike governing councils in other sports, the ICC faces practically no outrage or opposition to male cricketers in the women’s game. That may be down to the fact that in cricket the disparity between the sexes is not so immediately apparent as it is in other sports like swimming. In the 2022 Ivy League Women’s Championships, male swimmer Lia Thomas made international headlines after winning the 500 freestyle race by seven seconds, in a sport usually decided by fractions of one.

It’s different on the cricket field. There, you can take a prize wicket with guile and disguise, rather than beating the batter on pace. You can amass a century without once hoiking the ball over the boundary fence.

In other words, you don’t have to be a giant to dominate. In a game that’s often a matter of millimetres, though, power is an incredible substitute for skill. Hitting the ball 25 per cent harder means shots that would have gone for a single, or no run, suddenly turn into fours. One of the little tragedies of this story — far less significant than the cricketer whose place he has stolen — is that neither McGahey, nor his team mates, nor his opponents will ever know whether his runs and wickets are down to his skill … or his skeleton.

One of the most tiresome, time-consuming and (admittedly) successful tactics of gender ideologues has been to force people to defend things that any toddler knows to be true, including the fact that male puberty confers a host of physical advantages, from height to strength to speed. The greatest victory of transgender activism, in sport at least, has been to enshrine current testosterone levels as the IOC’s criterion entitling men to participate in women’s sports, rather than male puberty itself.

No bones about it: as long as the Olympics retains this farcical, nonsensical standard, other sports will feel emboldened to allow men to steal women’s places, smash their records and endanger their safety. As female athletes from gymnastics to martial arts can attest, it’s not just cricket.

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