Clare Connor has experienced one of the best days of her life – and is hoping she can help ensure for years to come that women’s cricket makes the most of England’s thrilling World Cup triumph.
Connor, director of England women’s cricket, described victory for Heather Knight’s team over India in front of a 27,000 Lord’s sell-out crowd on Sunday as “ecstatically overwhelming”.
As a former national captain herself, she revelled in the moment as Anya Shrubsole’s match-winning spell turned near certain defeat into glory.
Her brief, though, is to maximise the potential not just of the England team but her sport in this country – and a fourth World Cup trophy presents the golden opportunity to do both.
Global broadcast audiences are being estimated at more than 100 million, while participation levels in England and Wales continue to rise – from just 90 clubs with women’s sections 10 years ago to 700 this summer.
There is no time to rest for the England and Wales Cricket Board, and Connor especially, with the second edition of the Kia Super League coming next month – having attracted many of the world’s best who helped England stars such as Nat Sciver, Sarah Taylor and player-of-the-tournament Tammy Beaumont light up the World Cup.
Few can have taken greater pleasure in England’s win than Connor – both as a driving-force administrator and a former player, ranking the experience alongside her own most memorable achievement of regaining the Ashes in 2005 after 42 years of Australian supremacy
“I’m normally quite composed, and I found myself welling up on TMS between innings,” she said.
After Shrubsole was recalled to the attack, the match turned.
“Those last nine overs, I was able to watch with my family and friends – which was very special,” added Connor.
“You really want to share those moments, whether you are in my role or not, with those closest to you.
“I was either leaping up off my seat punching the air... or crying.
“It is very, very special when you have been privileged enough to have played for your country and then see that happening in front of you... as special, if not more so, than the day we regained the Ashes in 2005.
“Certainly, it was up there with the best days of my life.”
Connor is hugely optimistic that, with good sense and hard graft, the future is bright too.
All the right bases will be covered by the KSL, the ECB’s All Stars programme to nurture participation, women’s softball festivals and the Chance to Shine charitable initiative.
She continued: “The foundations are there already.
“Everyone talks about a watershed and game-changing moment, and this does feel like that.
“We knew it was going to be a huge opportunity, and of course it’s vitally important we make sure this success inspires and connects with talented girls and boys.”
As of 2020, women’s cricket will have the added oxygen of free-to-air coverage thanks to the ECB’s recently-announced new broadcast deal.
Conspicuously, that was not the case following the historically overdue victory of England’s men’s team in the 2005 Ashes.
Connor sees that wider audience as an important element rather than the one key factor which will determine success or failure.
“I don’t think we should obsess about free-to-air... we know people are consuming their news and sport in many different ways.”
Before then, her congratulations are very much in order for a squad many thought may not yet be sufficiently mature at the start of a new era under Hull-born former Yorkshire bowler Mark Robinson as coach and Knight as captain following the retirement last year of her long-serving predecessor Charlotte Edwards.
“It has surpassed my expectations in many ways,” added Connor. “There was a sense it was perhaps a year too soon for this team... but also an incredible opportunity.
“The resilience the team has shown was one of the things we were not certain was there yet, and it has been wonderful to see it throughout.
“Of course we must enjoy the moment, but we must make sure we continue to make the most of it as well.”
Shrubsole, who took 6-46, including five in 19 balls to grab an extraordinary nine-run victory, sais: “I think it’s a watershed moment for women’s cricket.
“The final was a really fitting tribute to the whole tournament, which has been brilliant from start to finish.
“We obviously set out to win, but we also want to inspire women and girls to play cricket and hopefully our win, and the way we have played, has done that.”
England looked out of it with India, chasing a modest target of 229, cruising along at 191-3 but Shrubsole snared Poonam Raut for 86, and the chaos began.
She added: “It’s something that will take a couple of days to really sink in, but what an amazing day.We fought until the end and it came off.”