The England captain Heather Knight has welcomed the shattering of one of cricket’s glass ceilings after the news that her side will play a five-day Ashes Test at Trent Bridge next summer.
The England and Wales Cricket Board and Cricket Australia have agreed to break the longstanding convention that has restricted the women’s Test matches to four-day affairs when they meet again in 2023. Just six women’s Tests have taken place worldwide in the last five years, all finishing in draws after time ran out, but now the marquee event of the multi-format series will have three additional sessions to reach a more fitting conclusion. More importantly, it brings parity with a men’s Ashes programme that was jointly announced on Wednesday morning.
The women’s Test begins on 22 June, two days after the conclusion of the men’s Edgbaston opener against Australia, and represents a first in England. Knight, whose side will also play T20s at the Oval, Edgbaston and Lord’s for the first time, offered a ringing endorsement. “I’m so happy, I feel like I’ve been banging the drum for five days for a long time, so it’s a special moment,” she said. “It feels like the right time, for five days, for bigger grounds, and it feels like it’s been a long time coming.
“Last year’s South Africa Test was set up nicely but withered out because of rain and it wasn’t given the chance to finish, so this is a really good step by the boards. I probably spent most of my career being grateful for what you’re given. When I started out anything was a bonus, you were just happy to be playing the sport you love for England and not even getting paid, but my eyes have opened a bit more. You see the inequalities you’ve gone through and and not really realised. Moving forward on an equal footing is a logical progression.”
Greg Barclay, chair of the International Cricket Council, said during a trip to Lord’s in June that he did not believe Tests formed “part of the landscape” in the women’s game and could not see the format “evolving”. Those sentiments did not go unnoticed and Knight says her side are committed to proving the opposite.
“After those comments we talked about trying to save the format for women, to do everything we can to move the game forward, to keep Test matches going and make them appealing,” she said. “We want to do everything we can to move it forward, to take more risks, to make it exciting to watch. Hopefully being at a massive ground like Trent Bridge will attract loads of people and it could be a really lovely occasion.”
England’s men begin their 2023 summer schedule with a four-day Test against Ireland at Lord’s on 1 June before attempting to regain the urn from Australia in a five-match series that begins on 16 June and ends less than seven weeks later on 31 July, with games at Edgbaston, Lord’s, Headingley, Old Trafford and the Oval.
Joe Root, the former England captain, is enthusiastic about what lies ahead for both teams. “Both teams want the Ashes back. With both series on at the same time there’ll hopefully be an Ashes buzz that both teams can tap into and benefit from. We’ll be doing our best over five Tests and the women’s team will be trying to come out on top in the multi-format series. I think it works well and their IT20s at Lord’s, Edgbaston and the Oval will be big occasions.
“It’s a really important step for the women’s game. You want as many people as possible to be able to watch and we saw in The Hundred that when the games are played at major venues a lot of people are there to support. There are few feelings better in cricket than getting over the line and winning a tight Test match, and it can be frustrating when a draw becomes the only option, so it’s sensible to try and get a result over five days and I don’t see why it should be any different from men’s cricket.”