A day to ask: where were you?
Where were you when England won the World Cup?
Where were you on Sunday morning when the queues to get into the ground, half of them women and girls, stretched along Wellington Parade almost the entire way to St John’s Wood station? Were you in the excited, buzzing throng, ignoring the touts? Who could have imagined they would ever hear the slightly seedy muttering of “Buy or sell any tickets? Buy or sell any tickets?” on their way to a women’s match?
Where was the late Baroness Rachael Heyhoe-Flint when the trophy, which many feel should bear her name, floated by balloon into the ground in the arms of a twirling and tumbling courier clad all in white, as if sent to earth from the heavens above? Even the most hardened atheist would wish for an afterlife if they knew Heyhoe-Flint could look down and see the Home of Cricket – a place where she fought so tenaciously for female recognition – jammed with jubilant mothers and fathers and sons and daughters, made over for a wholehearted celebration of the women’s game.
Where was Charlotte Edwards when Tammy Beaumont creamed back to back boundaries off Shikha Pandey with the most delicious pair of cover drives? She wanted to be in the middle, she wanted this to be her swansong. But the darling of England cricket made way for the new generation. She has played a bigger part than most in this sport. And she was still at Lord’s, barely able to move through the crowd for fans wanting autographs and selfies. “You ate one of my brownies once at a match!” calls out one delighted fan. Lottie nods and beams and shakes a sea of hands before joining an overwhelmingly female commentary line up: Mel Jones, Lisa Sthalekar, Lydia Greenway, Isa Guha, Ebony Rainford-Brent – legends all – have also played their part in this momentous day and the game’s journey towards it.
Where was the Bharat Army when Jhulan Goswami turned the match on its head with back-to-back wickets in a two-over spell of ferocity and guile? There they were, banging out Bhangra beats on a dhol, surely the first to be allowed in a prim and proper Lord’s. They were there waving Indian flags, competing for air space with those bearing the Cross of St George. Flags? At Lord’s? Draped on the balcony outside the Indian dressing room? Of course they were, this was a day when everything seemed possible; when conventions made way for joyful expression.
Where was John Etheridge, the Sun‘s veteran cricket reporter, during the 1993 Women’s World Cup Final at Lord’s? He was in the old press box at the top of what is now the revamped Warner stand, watching England’s 67-run victory over New Zealand in front of a few thousand fans. He would write of the match: “The charm of the game was its femininity. They dressed like girls and played like girls. And Kirsty Bond, the Kiwis’ No 3, had the striking beauty to catch any selector’s eye.”
And here was Etheridge on the edge of his seat in the new Lord’s press box, as the game reached its crescendo, writing about the thrilling climax, not the dress, at his second Women’s World Cup final, the scene unrecognizable from the one he witnessed 24 years earlier.
A few seats along in a full media centre, containing more female journalists than anyone there could remember seeing in a press box, sat Mike Atherton, his appreciative cry of “Shot!” carrying over the tapping of fingers on keys as Veda Krishnamurthy threaded a perfect cover drive to the boundary. Twenty-four years earlier, as the newly installed England Men’s captain he’d sent a telegram to his female counterpart, Karen Smithies, on the eve of the final to wish her good luck. Now he was one of several high profile newspaper writers – Vic Marks, Lawrence Booth, Scyld Berry among them – biting their nails and craning at replays, completely absorbed in the breathtaking contest.
Where were you when Punam Raut threatened a rout of England’s bowling? When Mithali Raj couldn’t make her ground? When Sarah Taylor missed a stumping? When catches were dropped and rash shots were played? Were you screaming at the television at home, at work, listening on the radio along with millions of others? Were you Hassam on the M2 motorway? Were you Dharmesh or Anil or Vigay in the Republic of Congo? Or Kinshuk in the Netherlands? Were you Sabbah watching in a tiny village, 7500 feet up in Himalayan Kashmir? Or maybe Aishwaryaa in the rural Tamil Nadu district of Dindigul. James in Taiwan, Dhaval in Bergen, Shiwe in Harfield, Cape Town? Or perhaps you were Oni, sitting on bench number 3, platform number 2, at the Bhatinda Punjab railway station. Sitting by a swimming pool in Crete, like Beni. Sharang in Phoenix, Arizona. Prague, Hyderabad, Shanghai, Darwin, Dallas, Hong Kong. All tweeting with hope and fear and pride and trepidation.
Where was 12-year-old Kirin? She was sitting at the back of the Warner stand, cheering loudly with her family. After travelling to Derby and witnessing India beat England in the opening match of the tournament she told her mother she wanted to play for England. The following week she asked her teachers at school if she could start playing cricket. No, they told her. It’s not available for girls. She is now playing rounders.
Here, a pause. There is still much work to be done.
Where was Anya Shrubsole in 2001? She was in the stands of an empty Lord’s, a ten-year-old girl gazing around the ground while her father, Ian, snapped photos. In one of them, posted on Twitter on the eve of the final, she turns back to the camera and smiles. “What a place!” the caption reads. “I’d like to play here… for England… in a World Cup final.”
And there was Shrubsole at a sold out Lord’s playing for England in a World Cup final, arms spread wide after she bowled Smriti Mandhana through the gate, the ball smashing into the stumps. And there was Shrubsole again at the death, with India closing in on the target and the crowd screaming behind her as she shattered the stumps again. This time it was Goswami, this time it was the inswinging yorker that has always been her stock and trade in big moments. And there she was hurling the ball at the stumps. And at the end, roaring with delight as the final wicket fell. How many ten-year-olds roared along with her in a Lord’s as full with the dreams of little girls as it was with physical bodies? Which one of them will stand in the middle sometime in the future, winning a World Cup for their country, while their father tweets pictures of them from this wonderful, glorious day?
Where was Raj, for so long the backbone of India, when the dream ended? She was there, comforting her young charges, knowing this was her last World Cup appearance, then she was facing the media with all the class and intelligence she has always shown. Raj and her team-mates may have lost the final but they have won over the world. And most importantly they have awakened India. Seven television stations broadcast the final in that cricket-hungry country in three different languages. And where were senior BCCI officials, rarely seen at women’s matches? They were at Lord’s, they were awarding bonuses worth more than three times an annual contract, they were looking out over a heaving, rocking crowd. They must now surely realize there is an audience for this.
And where was Heather Knight? Where was Mark Robinson? Where was England?
They were leaping on a podium with the trophy that was flown in from the heavens, showered in champagne and streamers, dripping in laughter and tears and joyful relief.
Where were you when England won the World Cup?
You were everywhere. And you were here.