If you want to watch England women’s final preparation matches for the T20 World Cup against the West Indies, be warned – the coverage is worse than even the most low-budget county cricket stream, writes Katya Witney.
Tuning in to the first ODI between England and West Indies on Sunday was like a step back in time to the bad old days of women’s international cricket coverage. A shaky camera produced the grainy footage broadcast live on BT Sport 5, while for the first part of the match there was no scoreline on the screen. Once that was rectified, the score was incorrect or out of sync with the actual state of play, while some of the commentators were passably informed of the players they were reporting on at best. At points, they were cut off completely when the screen lapsed into a black box. While the second match was marginally better (the score was up from the start) it’s hard to take a basic requirement of a cricket broadcast as a victory.
The stream which is being broadcast by BT has been provided to them by Cricket West Indies and relies on local bandwidth to run smoothly. Connectivity problems around the stadium go some way to explain why the feed has sometimes cut out, but not the problems with the quality of the camera work or the clarity of pictures. In a statement to Wisden.com, a spokesperson for BT Sport said: “The feed is not up to the standard that we would expect and for this reason we have put it on BT Sport 5. We have flagged our concerns to West Indies Cricket.”
The only other way to stay up to date with the match in the UK was through the scorecards put out on various platforms. There was no radio coverage of either game, apart from audio on Cricket West Indies’ YouTube channel, which regularly cut out halfway through overs for several minutes, and failed to provide descriptions of each ball.
For those who have followed the previous women’s international series in the West Indies, the fuzzy pictures and indecipherable scoring are familiar sights. But, with the massive period of growth the women’s game has undergone over the past two years, it is just not good enough anymore and it most definitely should not be accepted.
In a statement to Wisden.com, Cricket West Indies said: “We are aware of and have resolved several issues for viewers of the streamed coverage during the first CG United ODI on Sunday, December 4. A scoring problem resulting from a technical problem with on-screen graphics was fixed during the first half of the coverage. Additionally, there have been moments when the picture has frozen as a result of connectivity around the stadium.
“Our aim continues to be to make coverage of West Indies cricket accessible to fans around the world through broadcast partnerships and streamed coverage.
“We are sorry to every fan following the matches whose viewing experience has been interrupted at the start of a much-anticipated series.”
The underlying cause of much of this is how late the tour scheduled, arranged at short notice, only a month in advance. This presents problems with arranging for covering the games, and makes it nigh-on impossible for any would-be travelling fans, needing to book time off work and find flights and accommodation at the last minute.
It is not a secret how we get more people playing and watching the women’s game. You have to fund it, broadcast it and market it properly. That is a tried and tested hypothesis. Selling a dodgy live stream which is reliant on adequate local bandwidth and internet to tick a box is embarrassing. So embarrassing for BT that they buried it on their fifth channel. For a series featuring the No.1 ranked ODI bowler in the world, Sophie Ecclestone and the No.1 ranked ODI all-rounder, Hayley Matthews, it is shambolic.
It is Cricket West Indies’ right to distribute coverage of their home international cricket. But when their attitude is geared towards the bare minimum, ticking a box to cover a tour but with as minimal expenditure as possible, then it is the duty of others to demand better. It is up to BT to make sure the stream which is actually broadcastable, up to the ECB to call out when their players are not being properly represented, and up to the ICC to step up its commitment to “growing the fanbase of the women’s game”. There are too many bilateral international women’s series where the coverage is either near-unwatchable or non-existent.
Cricket West Indies added to their statement: “While we aim to be able to invest in full live TV broadcast of all home West Indies Women’s matches in the medium to long term, we have invested in providing a fully produced broadcast stream, with international commentators, replays and other features to deliver an improved match viewing experience in comparison to our recent regional tournament coverage.”
England scored over 300 runs on Sunday and bowled their opposition out for 118 on Tuesday, winning both matches by 142 runs. The fact that the West Indies have twice lost so heavily is a reflection of the ongoing decline of West Indies cricket, and a lack of investment in many aspects of cricket. This is no different in the slowness it is taking to provide adequate coverage of the women’s game.
When cash-strapped boards look to cut financial corners in any way they can, they cannot be allowed to do so to the detriment of the women’s game. To their credit, the tour matches are being held in the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium or the Kensington Oval; at the same time, they are largely being watched without an audience. The lack of marketing, investment and short notice of the tour have sold it short.
People do and will watch women play cricket, both in person and on screen. The Hundred and the Commonwealth Games in England have demonstrated this. But boards do not get to bask in the self-aggrandising glow of women’s cricket when it is a shiny successful product like a franchise league or World Cup with Katy Perry singing on the stage, and sit back in silence while watching their players on a blurry screen.
There have been plenty of talking points to come out of this tour from an England perspective. Alice Capsey’s broken collarbone will leave England looking for a plan B ahead of the T20 World Cup in February. In the first ODI, Nat Sciver was back and it looked like she had never been away, as she scored 90 in 96 balls. Charlie Dean and Lauren Bell have taken their career-best figures so far, and that is not to mention it’s their first assignment under new head coach Jon Lewis.
Regardless of whether all of this was happening or not, we should be past the point of convincing cricket’s governance that women’s international cricket deserves to be seen. It should not be too much to ask to at least get the score right.