Weekend Interview: Women’s cricket has to cash in on World Cup win – Mark Robinson

England's Anya Shrubsole celebrates the wicket of India's Rajeshwari Gayakwad during the ICC Women's World Cup Final at Lord's, London. (Picture: John Walton/PA Wire.)
England's Anya Shrubsole celebrates the wicket of India's Rajeshwari Gayakwad during the ICC Women's World Cup Final at Lord's, London. (Picture: John Walton/PA Wire.)
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WHEN The Times devotes half its front page to the story of England winning the World Cup, as it did last Monday, it can be stated with some degree of certainty that women’s cricket has never had it so good.

“England women win thrilling World Cup final” proclaimed the newspaper’s headline after the nine-run win against India at Lord’s, above which sat a photograph of the Somerset medium-pace bowler Anya Shrubsole, arms outstretched, head held back to the heavens in triumph, after her match-winning return of 6-46, including the last five wickets in 19 balls.

Mark Robinson, the ECB Women's Head Coach during a press conference to announce the new England Women's Head Coach at Lord's Cricket Ground, London.

Mark Robinson, the ECB Women's Head Coach during a press conference to announce the new England Women's Head Coach at Lord's Cricket Ground, London.

While Shrubsole and her superlative team-mates – including the Yorkshire Diamonds’ stars Katherine Brunt, Jenny Gunn and Lauren Winfield – can look forward to increasing demands for endorsements, sponsorship deals and TV appearances, along with a lasting place in the nation’s affections, the stock of another Yorkshire representative has also risen sharply.

Mark Robinson, the former Yorkshire pace bowler, born in Hull and an ardent Hull City supporter, is the head coach who helped mastermind an achievement that has put women’s cricket firmly on the map.

“It’s key now that we capture this moment,” says Robinson, the former Sussex and England Lions coach. “The ICC (International Cricket Council) invested in the World Cup, and you hope that countries now continue to invest. You hope that India, with their board, will properly get behind women’s cricket, and the more close games that we have like Sunday, the more people are going to want to watch.

“There needs to be investment at domestic level and a lot of the English counties are waking up to supporting women’s cricket, which is brilliant, and we need clubs and outlets for girls who want to play.”

It’s key now that we capture this moment. There needs to be investment at domestic level and a lot of the English counties are waking up to supporting women’s cricket, which is brilliant, and we need clubs and outlets for girls who want to play.

Mark Robinson

Amid talk of a potential women’s Indian Premier League, which would further transform the sport’s reach and earning power, the world is the oyster for the women’s game. In this country, the Kia Super League is about to start up for its second season, with Yorkshire Diamonds one of six sides taking part in that T20 competition.

The World Cup final, which saw England snatch victory from the jaws of defeat after India needed 38 runs from the last 44 balls with seven wickets left, was watched by 1.1m on satellite TV – the highest viewing figures in this country for any women’s cricket match, and a larger average audience than for a Premier League football game.

The scope for capitalising on the success is obvious but, for now, with the champagne barely dry on the post-match celebrations, it is appropriate to primarily reflect on the great job done by Robinson and his players.

“Sunday was a special day and as much about the past and those players who had played for nothing and in front of nobody as it was about the future,” says Robinson, who took 218 wickets in 90 first-class games for Yorkshire between 1991 and 1995.

England's Anya Shrubsole celebrates the wicket of India's Rajeshwari Gayakwad during the ICC Women's World Cup Final at Lord's, London. (Picture: John Walton/PA Wire)

England's Anya Shrubsole celebrates the wicket of India's Rajeshwari Gayakwad during the ICC Women's World Cup Final at Lord's, London. (Picture: John Walton/PA Wire)

“It was seeing the emotion in so many people and all the past players. Personally, I found it very humbling, and it was incredible to see so many young girls and families in the 27,000 crowd.

“To see young girls with Tammy Beaumont’s name on their backs, and with Heather Knight masks, was lovely to witness, and the whole thing was up there with anything I’ve been involved with in the game.”

While the girls rightly garnered the immediate post-match acclaim, becoming the cynosure of all journalists’ dictaphones and photographers’ lenses, no considered assessment of England’s World Cup triumph can possibly overlook Robinson’s immense contribution.

One of cricket’s most likeable characters, he has the steely underbelly required of a successful coach and is unafraid to take tough decisions in the interests of the collective.

When he was appointed in November 2015, admitting that he was “surprised how much there was to do”, Robinson wasted little time in exerting his influence.

After England’s semi-final exit at the T20 World Cup soon afterwards, he publicly criticised the side’s fitness levels, took the bold step of removing veteran captain Charlotte Edwards – who was replaced in the role by Heather Knight – and ushered in a much more professional approach.

“I was surprised how much there was to do, to be honest, and I didn’t think we’d have to attack fitness like we did,” he recalls.

“There was a naivety, too, in terms of cricket knowledge, and I brought in a lot of my contacts and we seconded a lot of coaches for short periods to help with things like skills, tactics and how to manage games. We’ve used people like Tom Smith, James Kirtley, Michael Yardy, Carl Hopkinson, and the former Yorkshire bowling coach, Steve Oldham.

“Nobody’s got a better record than Steve of spotting talent and nurturing fast bowlers, and it was about trying to get people with a greater knowledge around the girls.”

Robinson, 50, whose next goal is to win the Ashes Down Under later this year, is grateful for the work of all his colleagues, who include director of England women’s cricket, Clare Connor, and his assistant coach, Alastair Maiden. However, he believes that nothing would have been possible without the unstinting efforts of the players themselves.

“When we got back after the World T20, the majority of the girls said the same things about fitness and that we had to be more resilient, etc, so we had a mandate from them,” he says.

“I think the work we’ve done in those areas really showed in this tournament because, when the games got tougher, we were able to stand up and absorb pressure, which we arguably hadn’t done previously, and our fitness stood up really well.

“We’ve been brilliantly led by Heather Knight, a young captain who’s a great role model and who leads by example. The other thing is that the girls are all lovely people; they play for the pleasure and the love of the game, and it’s been endearing how much they smiled throughout the tournament.”

Thanks to Robinson et al, it is women’s cricket that is smiling the most, with the World Cup proving a great success on generally good pitches that encouraged quick scoring with plenty of boundaries.

Robinson would still like more international games, so that his side can consistently test themselves against better opposition, but is understandably relishing his role and has received many congratulatory messages since Sunday – not least from his native Yorkshire.

“I still go back to Hull on a reasonably regular basis, and any chance I get to see Hull City I still try and do that,” he says. “At the end of the day, Yorkshire is my roots and it’s where my heart is, and a Yorkshireman’s bond to his county is a special one.”