Women top score in one department of the ‘gentleman’s game’

Women have always outperformed men when it comes to bowling in test cricket and are narrowing the overall performance gap, but this doesn’t reflect in their pay


India’s women bowlers have had better averages and economy rates in test cricket since the 1970s, and their gap over men is the highest in the current decade. Photo: PTI
India’s women bowlers have had better averages and economy rates in test cricket since the 1970s, and their gap over men is the highest in the current decade. Photo: PTI

Mumbai: Cricket is often described as India’s passion. But most people are talking of men’s cricket. Self-proclaimed cricket enthusiasts would perhaps not have the same level of knowledge about India’s women cricket players.

Many would be tempted to say that their knowledge is a function of players’ performance and not players’ gender.

A Mint analysis of statistics using the ESPNcricinfo database shows that any such performance chaser would do well to look at women players, as women have always outperformed men when it comes to bowling in test cricket.

India’s women bowlers have had better averages and economy rates in test cricket since the 1970s, and their gap over men is the highest in the current decade.

The superior performance of women bowlers is also a global phenomenon. The analysis is based on numbers till 31 December 2016.

When it comes to batting, men have been better performers. The gender gap in median batting averages for top-order batsmen is skewed in favour of men.

The ESPNcricinfo website defines a top-order player as one who bats in any position from 1-7. Using top-order data ensures that the numbers are not skewed by low-scoring tail-enders.

Globally, the gap between male and female batsmen is now at its widest since the 1940s.

So, the gender gap in performances has been moving in opposite directions in two crucial departments of cricket. To be sure, these comparisons are not the same as comparing performance gap among men and women in individual sports such as athletics.

A 2012 article in The Atlantic noted that gender gap in sports such as running and swimming had been narrowing over time.

Whether women lag men in their performance in sports due to physiological factors is also a matter of debate among scientists.

An article in Nature discusses some of these issues.

This caveat notwithstanding, what explains this widening gender gap in both bowling and batting performances in test cricket?

Statistics suggest that women’s test cricket is a low-scoring affair. Indian men’s test match totals have been always higher than that of women’s in each decade since the 1970s.

High-scoring matches worsen men’s bowling averages. Low-scoring ones improve women’s. The same holds true for economy rates. The fewer number of women’s test matches also mean that stray performances can skew results.

Indian women played an average of 1.6 tests a year in the last decade compared to 7.2 Tests in the 1970s.

The discussion so far suggests that there cannot be an unambiguous answer to the question whether or not men are better in all departments of cricket than women.

These facts do not seem to have any influence on the huge gap in the money men and women players make in the game.

A comparison of the maximum retainer fees paid in three major cricketing countries shows that men are paid more than twelve times what women are paid on average.

The disparity is also present in team rewards. The prize money for men’s and women’s T-20 cricket teams of West Indies (both champions) was $1.1 million and $70,000 respectively in 2016, the New York Times reported.

Other sports are no exceptions. According to another New York Times report, the annual prize money paid to the top 100 earners on the WTA and ATP tennis tours roughly matches the general pay gap in American workplaces, with female tennis players earning 80 cents on each dollar men earn.

The median pay gap between a woman in the top 100 and her opposite number on the men’s tour is $120,624.

Clearly, it is not enough that a woman aces it better than men, or keeps it more in the block hole.

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