On a crisp autumn morning in Port Melbourne, fifteen young women drawn from across Victoria are training under the watchful eye of their head coach, former Victorian leg spinner Bryce McGain.
“Keep it going, and call the name of the person you’re throwing to.”
The Cricket Without Borders 2016 squad is preparing for a tour to Samoa in July, where they’ll play against three national women’s teams. Half the girls have experienced a previous tour – to Fiji, Japan, Darwin or Indonesia; the rest are eager to undertake their first.
Without exception, the young women are all here because they believe wholeheartedly in the organisation’s philosophy: “Be bold; show sportsmanship; have fun; make friends”. Clare Cannon, Founder and Chair of the organisation, explains that there’s much more to being part of the Cricket Without Borders squad than what happens on the field.
“We choose the girls who tour with us for their character,” says Clare. “We can improve their cricket skills, but commitment to the way we play comes first.”
Established in 2010, Cricket Without Borders is a not-for-profit organisation providing opportunity for young women through sport. Its genesis was Clare wanting to provide equity for her cricket-playing daughters, who had no option to tour with school and play against teams in different places like her son.
Its role and focus has grown since the early days to encompass much more than the annual tour. Cricket camps have been run in regional Victoria. The organisation hosted a visit to the Melbourne Cricket Ground by the Queen Mother of Bhutan in 2014 and currently sponsors the education of two young girls in that country. A community partnership with Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision has recently been established to help raise awareness of bone marrow failure, which is most common in 15-25 year olds, and help raise funds for research to find new treatments.
“Not only does it provide opportunity for young girls with their sport, but Cricket Without Borders is also about life experiences,” Clare explains. “When we tour, a different player is nominated as Captain for each match, or to make presentations throughout the tour. So they learn about leadership and speaking in public. They also learn about different cultures, and share their love of the game with others to help it grow in the places we visit.”
The squad’s match commitments on previous tours have gone hand in hand with delivering school or community cricket activities, and finding other ways to help female cricket development in those countries. Last year when they visited Fiji, two bags full of sporting equipment were presented to the Fijian women’s team; at the time the women didn’t have bails for their stumps. They also introduced 160 primary school children – girls and boys from varied cultural backgrounds, including some with disabilities – to the joy of playing cricket. Helping young girls, in particular, to understand that cricket is just as much for them as for the boys is an aim that sits very close to their heart.
Even within Australia this aim is still important, and the organisation is collecting runs on the board in this respect. Cricket Without Borders players Alana King and Kirsty Lamb have professional contracts with the Victorian women’s team “Vic Spirit” and both featured in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League competition last summer. For Mikayla Haddow, a three time CWOB player, her role as team manager for the Samoa trip is a welcome addition to her CV.
In Samoa, Cricket Without Borders will become the fourth team balancing out a triangular tournament that will determine which national team from the region will go to the next stage of qualifying for the 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup. The CWOB girls will play Twenty20 matches against whichever of the three teams has a bye each day. They will face stiff competition; Samoa won the gold medal at last year’s Pacific Games, PNG is ranked number 13 in the world, and Japan is on the rise. Away from the on-field competition, the squad will be undertaking school visits organised by Samoa international Cricket Association and visiting a local village to demonstrate the benefits of cricket to young girls and women.
The opportunity to undertake the tour came about after an invitation from the International Cricket Council, with which CWOB has liaised closely since their 2014 tour to Japan where they competed at a similar tournament, again to round out an odd number of teams. Development Officer Jane Livesey from the ICC’s East Asia-Pacific office explains that the synergies between the aims of the two organisations makes working together a great benefit to both sides.
“What Cricket Without Borders is trying to do in terms of women’s leadership and working with those young girls fits nicely too for us. Our region has almost 50/50 male to female participation in cricket. But when you take New Zealand and Australia out, it has the lowest rate of political participation by women in the world, around 6.7%. So that gender equality message is quite important for us as well.”
Samoa is, however, leading the way in the region on this front. In March of this year, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa was elected the first female Deputy Prime Minister of the country. A number of national sporting organisations feature women in key roles. Cricket in Samoa has flourished over the past three years with Salā Stella Siale-Vaea Tangitau at the helm as General Manager. Coming from a business background, Stella has overseen a significant turn around in the governance and growth of Samoan cricket. It now enjoys the highest growth of participation in junior cricket across the whole region.
“Having this women’s tournament in Samoa, where gender equality is a lot more progressed than some other places in the Pacific, is a good opportunity for the girls to come as a Cricket Without Borders team to see a whole different place, way of living and approach to life really,” said Ms Livesey.
Senior Cricket Without Borders squad member Chelsea Moscript will be taking a different path to Samoa than the rest of the squad, with her participation in the tour marking the mid-point of an internship with Cricket Japan.
“It’s going to be really different for me I suppose – everyone else is heading from Melbourne to Samoa, so they’ll have the whole plane trip getting to know each other. I’m travelling with the Japanese girls, one of the teams we’re playing against! But I’ll get to know them really well too.”
The internship is one part of a Memorandum of Understanding between Cricket Without Borders and Cricket Japan. Funded through a grant from the Australia-Japan Foundation, the placement will see Chelsea promoting the game through the Twenty20 Blast program in schools, helping with the social media profile of Cricket Japan, and training with the National Women’s Team.
“They’re working hard to make cricket a big thing over there, which is really exciting,” says Chelsea. “So to actually be helping out with that is something I’m looking forward to.”
In return, CWOB facilitated Prahran Cricket Club to host a player from Japan, Mai Yanagida, who joined their Women’s First XI team for two months during the 2014-15 season. The cricket and cultural development the exchange provided proved to be a huge success, and Cricket Japan hopes to repeat it in the future.
The increasing vision for Cricket Without Borders as part of a sports diplomacy program within the Pacific region is an exciting direction now actively pursued.
“It’s about what cricket can do as a sport to bring people from different backgrounds and cultures together,” says Clare. Subject to funding, they’re keen to do more in the Asia Pacific region.
You only need to watch a short video made by the ICC about Cricket Without Borders when they toured Japan in 2014 to see that diplomacy in action. Every match ends with both teams joining forces for a shared celebration – a hurrah, a joint photo, or even a shared song. They’re experiences these young women won’t forget in a hurry, and will go a long way to forging the next generation of leading women in sport, and in life.