The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games has landed in our living rooms during a week in which a record crowd of 87,192 people, joined a record-breaking television viewership in the multimillions, to watch England’s Lionesses defeat Germany 2-1 in a thrilling extra-time encounter at the Euro 2022 final.
It was a momentous moment not only in women’s sport, but in sport generally. So is the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games – especially for women.
The Games, with a viewership of 1.5 billion worldwide, is putting women’s sport first. The competition schedule proudly features more medal events for women than men for the first time in Commonwealth Games history – something for which the Organising Committee, the region and, most importantly, each recipient can all be incredibly proud.
Women’s sport is at centre stage this summer, captivating the world and proving that we are in a new era for equality, visibility and professionalism. It has never been more popular and Birmingham 2022 is going a long way in fuelling this.
And, it is perhaps Cricket, most of all, which has embodied the strength of women’s sport at the Games. The hottest ticket in town on these balmy Birmingham afternoons, with over 150,000 of them having been sold so far – already a new record number for the sport – as fans descend on the Midlands.
Those attending, and those tuning in at home, are witness to history as the women’s T20 cricket marks its triumphant debut at the Games – the first ever T20 Cricket internationals to be played in the competition. It is but the latest milestone for the storied women’s game – the origins of which can be traced back to 1745 and a report in The Reading Mercury, where “eleven maids of Bramley and eleven maids of Hambledon, all dressed in white” took to the wicket on Gosford Common, Surrey.
Nearly three centuries later, the very best female cricketing stars from across the Commonwealth have gathered 100 miles north (via the world), at Birmingham’s iconic Edgbaston Stadium. In so doing they continue the legacy of their female cricketing forebears and emulate the history of more recent predecessors – who played the first ever T20 international in 2004.
On Wednesday 3 August, it was the turn of the medal-hopefuls of India and Cricket West Indies powerhouse Barbados to take the field under the Commonwealth lights. The last Group A game, with a spot in the semi-finals to play for. Fans were out in force as the masses congregated in the sunshine, lining the streets around Edgbaston expectantly.
A party atmosphere, it wasn’t long before the stadium was awash with a carnival of colours. The famous Eric Hollies stand – on T20 nights usually decked in the Navy of Birmingham’s Bears – was swathed in the orange, white and green of India, surging among a sea of Barbadian blue. The very best of Birmingham were in attendance as two of the region’s largest and most passionate communities came together to cheer on their heroines.
Truly a sport for everyone, faces young and old were in attendance, ready to take in the action and support both nations. With the music blaring, the crowd was as fired up as the pitch-side cannons burning high into the South Birmingham skyline.
The city, and the Commonwealth, were ready – and so were the players! As the smoke from the opening fireworks drifted out towards Birmingham’s Cannon Hill Park, Barbados opener Shamilia Connell charged up to the crease with the first ball to India’s Smriti Mandhana. Game on!
Going blow for blow all evening, it was India’s Shafali Verma that would take the plaudits on the night – no stranger to the Edgbaston wicket, or the West Midlands, following sensational displays in The Hundred competition for Birmingham Phoenix. A cool, calm and collected performance, as she sprayed boundary-hitting shots to chalk up 43 runs from just 26 balls – the India fans were in raptures!
With only 120 balls each, the T20 format was also a winner. One of the fastest and most exciting in cricket, it was perfect for the occasion, as the women swung for the boundary and bowled with menacing pace and technical skill. Spectators were promised “bold batting, stunning sixes and classic catches” and both teams didn’t fail to deliver, showcasing the women’s game to the fullest! The play perhaps mirrored that of the Surrey maids of 1745 who “bowled, batted, ran, and caught as well as men could do”.
A thrilling and captivating evening of Commonwealth Games sport, in which India ran out the winners by 100 runs, but where both teams did their home nations proud as they put on a terrific display. And still, it was the fans that felt the winners – lucky enough to witness sporting greatness, so much of which has been enjoyed during the Games.
Beyond the evening’s result however, and results of the prior week, it is clear that it is women’s cricket and women’s sport generally, that is coming out the victor at the Commonwealth Games. Now, and certainly long after Birmingham 2022 has left its Midlands home.
Legacy is ultimately at the very fore of the Games. And it’s clear that the women of the Commonwealth have made their mark this week and have inspired, and will continue to inspire, the next generations. Their role throughout the Games is carving pathways for change, opening up opportunities for the female athletes of the future, and driving forward women’s sport to its rightful place.
As a spectator, you couldn’t help but look around and wonder if the next cohort of cricketing and sporting greats were present. Or how the millions of others watching on TV might equally be inspired. And, whether we might see them grace the Commonwealth and world stage in the years to come? I’m sure we will – and the 22 players of India and Barbados will have played their part.
What is definite though, is that the T20 cricket, and women’s sport at the Games, has hit a six over the boundaries of the past, and declared (not out!) that it is the winner at the Commonwealth Games!