Women’s Cricket – Rules Based Only on Gender Stereotypes Need to Go: Surabhi Shukla

This is a guest post by SURABHI SHUKLA

Playing for the Oxford University Women’s team and the Oxford Cricket Club, I have noticed three different rules for women’s cricket. These may be observed in other countries as well. I argue that these rules are based only on gender stereotypes about women’s inferior sporting abilities and even if were once instituted to encourage them to join the game, have now outlived their utility. 1. The women’s match ball is lighter than the men’s ball (also true at the international level). 2. The women’s match boundary is smaller than the men’s and; 3. One of my coaches here told me that the men’s bat is different from the women’s. This is incorrect, and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) website states that both men and women are entitled to use Type A bats for one-day internationals. However, I include this point in my analysis because regardless of a rule, these kinds of statements from a coach translate into the lived experience of a female cricketer, and act as a rule for them. 

Equality Test

When a difference in treatment is based prima facie only on sex, the burden shifts on the other side to show that there is: 1. An intelligible differentia/objectively justifiable reason for this difference; 2. Necessitating a difference in treatment; 3. Proportionate to the difference; and 4. To achieve a legitimate aim. Undoubtedly, the difference in rules here is prima facie because of sex. These different rules apply only to women’s cricket.

Equality Analysis

Right off the bat, none of the constituent documents of the university team, the local club, or indeed the ECB or BCCI, the regulatory bodies of cricket in two major cricketing nations (also nations in which I have played cricket), identify a reason for the difference in treatment. It is believed that biologically, men have superior athletic abilities. The Court of Arbitration for Sports (panel), in the famed Duttee Chand case in 2015, reviewed the science related to sports and provided some settled positions.[1] The panel found that the difference in lean body mass (LBM) of men puberty onwards contributes to increased power, stamina, muscle definition, cardiovascular capacity, and ultimately, better athletic performance of the order of 10-12%.[2] However, did does not mean that the LBM is the intelligible differentia as the panel qualified its assertion regarding LBM immediately, and in two contradictory ways.

No Intelligible Differentia

It stated: 1. “That the medical and scientific basis for difference in LBM has not been established”[3]; and contradicted itself by stating: 2. Difference in testosterone[4] post puberty is the main marker for the difference in LBM.[5] If the medical and scientific basis of LBM has not been established and more work needs to be done to, “understand how the metabolism of males and females post puberty results in differences in LBM”[6] then that itself rings the death knell for LBM as the intelligible differentia. The court noted that LBM depended on age, discipline, and other factors. If the properties of LBM are yet unknown and we do not know how it contributes to the different sporting abilities of men and women in cricket, then it cannot be the intelligible differentia separating men’s cricket from women’s cricket.

Not Necessary and Proportionate

If the panel is stating that the medical and scientific basis of LBM is unknown then how can it in the same breath suggest that it is, in fact, testosterone that is the material reason for the difference in LBM? This is a clear contradiction. However, let us for the sake of argument assume that it is in fact differences in post-puberty testosterone production that leads to differences in LBM. In legal terms then, testosterone becomes the intelligible differentia. The next step would then be to establish that the adjustment in rules is necessary because of this difference in testosterone. In other words, the rulemaking bodies must show that lower levels of testosterone necessitate a smaller boundary and a lighter ball and failing these adjustments, the rules of cricket would theoretically be “harder” for women as opposed to men. In sum, the adjustment levels the playing field. There is no evidence of this. Neither is there any evidence that the adjustment of rules is proportionate to the difference in testosterone.

Illegitimate Aims and Consequent Harms

Not being objectively justifiable, different rules serve the illegitimate aim of entrenching negative stereotypes about women and sports. This harms female cricketers in at least three ways: 1. It casts women’s cricket as “easier” than “normal” cricket hitting at the pride women and society can feel in playing and watching women’s cricket. This would negatively impact the time and resources that women and organizers would consider investing in women’s cricket; 2. It leads to an automatic refusal for a woman cricketer to play on the men’s team and curtails opportunities for them when there is no women’s team or when the women’s team does not play at a high level because owing to socialization not a lot of women have played the game before. It’s a whole different matter when both teams play at the same level. Even so, a woman may decide to play for the men’s team as things are positioned today, if only to take advantage of better cricketing exposure and better material benefits. These choices are foreclosed to them currently. 3. Most crucially, these rules hit at the self- belief of women as cricketers and lead to the internalization of the belief that women are “less than” men in cricket; the very belief that these rules perhaps wanted to address.

The reader will note that although I have conducted a legal analysis, I have not identified a legal basis for the challenge. That is a deliberate move. All matters needn’t necessarily take recourse to the courtroom in the first instance. A “powerful” cricketer is one who demonstrates technique, talent, timing and placement, and not mere brute force. These attributes are not sex specific.  Having played cricket all my life with both men and women, I can testify that formidable foes do not come predetermined by sex. One set of rules—whether its men’s, or women’s, or something new, should dominate cricket. Differentiating rules need to go.

[Surabhi Shukla has played cricket for the State of Jharkhand in the past and currently plays for the University of Oxford Women’s team and the Oxford Cricket Club. This article is for her parents who never told her that girls do not play cricket.]

[1] These position may change when the court looks at the science again in July 2017 in the continuation to this case.

[2] Duttee Chand v. Athletics Federation of India and the International Association for Athletics Federations CAS 2014/A/3759; para 533.

[3] Duttee Chand v. Athletics Federation of India and the International Association for Athletics Federations CAS 2014/A/3759; para 497.

[4] All references to testosterone in this Article refer to endogenous testosterone. The panel accepted that exogenous testosterone increased athletic performance in both males and females; Duttee Chand v. Athletics Federation of India and the International Association for Athletics Federations CAS 2014/A/3759; para 528.

[5] Duttee Chand v. Athletics Federation of India and the International Association for Athletics Federations CAS 2014/A/3759; para 533.

[6] Duttee Chand v. Athletics Federation of India and the International Association for Athletics Federations CAS 2014/A/3759; para 497.

11 thoughts on “Women’s Cricket – Rules Based Only on Gender Stereotypes Need to Go: Surabhi Shukla”

  1. While I agree with the shorter boundaries for women being based on a perceived weakness of our gender, the smaller ball is actually based on the logic that women have smaller hands than men do so the smaller ball is actually easier to grip for us. Having played age group level cricket at various levels, I personally thought that the rule for the smaller ball actually helped us. I remember growing up I found it a bit harder to grip the ball while learning to bowl. The smaller ball helped. As for the different bats, to each their own. I have always preferred the lighter bats and I actually liked the fact that due to the prevalence of the women’s game, bat makers started to make smaller and lighter bats keeping our needs in mind. The regular sized “men’s bats” were always too big and too heavy for my 5’3″ frame.

    But yes, the shorter boundaries never made sense to me, unlike the other two differences.

    Ps- there was a Surabhi shukla in my school who also played cricket. I’m wondering if you are the same :)


    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Would love to confirm if I am the same Surabhi but can’t given that you are anonymous ;-)
      On the other two points:
      1. My point is about lighter balls, not smaller balls. I agree with your small ball analysis. Smaller balls can also have the same weight as bigger balls.
      2. I agree with the bat analysis of to each her own but my point is about someone telling you that you can’t bat with a particular bat because it is a men’s bat. My point is that there is no such thing as a men’s bat or a women’s bat according to the rules of cricket. There are smaller bats, larger bats, heavier ones and lighter ones. Lighter bats have been doing the rounds before women’s cricket became popular; even with men’s cricket, some prefer lighter bats, some heavier.

      In any case, hope you are still playing :)


      1. Hello Surabhi. Are you from Jamshedpur by any chance?

        Regarding the lighter ball, I always imagined it was lighter as a side effect of making it smaller? Is that not the case? Then you would be right. As for the men’s bats and women’s bats that truly is a strange dichotomy. Where I practiced they just gave me a “youth size” bat and never called it such. This must be a new thing they started doing now that the women’s game is more prevalent otherwise growing up there were only “men’s bats”. I can only speak for myself though. Might be i was lucky enough to be sheltered by all this unnecessary gender differentiation if only by accident.


      2. haha you ARE the very same surabhi shukla! Well hello there! I highly doubt there are two surabhi shuklas who both played for jharkhand. I don’t think you know me. I must have been in fifth grade when you were in 10th. And then I think you didn’t play for a bit. But this a really pleasant coincident. :)

        “this article is for her parents who never told her that girls do not play cricket.”- Sometimes I feel like all the parents who thought this way happened to send their daughters to the same school :)


  2. shit. i never looked at it this way. i played cricket at univ level. there were girls who broke records, But the boys’ authority was always unquestionable. The idea of a woman playing alongside men is still unbelievable. The society, the whole society will have to work towards a more egalitarian nourishment, care and exposure, for generations for there to be a level playing field. i will be glad to be proven wrong someday that girls are biologically disadvantaged. Personally, this piece is just a beginning. Thanks


  3. Also, the question of remuneration may be debated. As with all other jobs, women cricketers are under- paid. The discrimination should be abolished. Whil mens cricket is hyped and media projects every detail including selections and board committees, the administration as well as selection of women cricketers is rarely discussed. Though women cricket started much earlier in nineteenth century, the discriminations are continuing still. The game is being viewed more as mens game sadly


  4. I’m interested in your recognising that these rules were introduced to encourage participation of women in a traditionally male dominated sport even as you argue for a change. I agree with the former, and also believe this is necessary precisely due to the fact that one cannot expect someone who has not been socialised into athletic pursuits (girls/women) to be able to suddenly compete at the same intensity as those who have been socialised to believe in their athletic ability and develop it (boys/ men). I’m interested in your views on the impact that changing the rules to make them “equal” (which according to your article, equates to “same”) will have. Women are used to playing with a certain ball and boundary length. Changing the rules at the top level may cause women to be judged as being inferior to men- as it is likely that an athlete (male or female) trained within certain parameters (such as ball weight, boundary length etc) will take time to adapt to changes in these parameters. If the rules are changed abruptly at the top, female athletes would run the risk of being judged unfairly, their shortcomings attributed to their gender rather than to a perfectly valid process of adaptation. I had a similar discussion with a relative a few years ago who was complaining that women’s tennis is less strenuous (due to having fewer sets), therefore women’s grand slam finals should have a lower cash prize than men’s finals, and that if they want the same prize, they should play an equal number of sets. This switch would be hard for any tennis pro – male or female- to make suddenly. It would be akin to asking Nadal to play 9 sets. Unfortunately for women, our inability to do something is seen as an intrinsic trait rather than attributed to circumstances. Misogyny and patriarchy are still rampant, and those who wish to put women down will do so either way. If this proposed change towards equality is implemented, it should be at the earliest levels of training so that girls can also have the advantage of years of training that boys usually have before playing at larger grounds or with heavier balls. Until there is also equality in training and opportunity, equality in the form of ‘same rules’ runs the risk of translating to inequality on the ground.


  5. Hi Professor Shukla,
    I am so glad that this was the first thing I read this morning. Its a beautifully written article and it reminds me of our in class discussions on the Dutte Chand case. I hope you keep writing brilliantly.

    Good luck.


  6. Interesting article this; as a cricket lover with no competitive experience whatsoever, let me offer my two cents.

    Having different cricket balls for the women’s game really is about size and not weight. Women have smaller hands; the smaller ball size allows for better grip and therefore better ball control and variation. Since they are made of the same cork material, their weight will be a function of their smaller size. I really don’t see the point of reducing ball size but keeping the same weight – all this talk about ball weight is a complete red herring.

    The smaller boundaries in the women’s game is to encourage more six-hitting and therefore more TV-friendly gameplay. Most cricket grounds are sized keeping in mind the men’s game. And while men are able to achieve more distance in six-hitting, women are not able to clear the fence often enough. A cursory viewing of highlights reels for the ongoing ICC WWC will prove my point – 90% of the sixes land just beyond the shortened boundaries and do not clear the fence. Most of these aerial shots would be caught in the deep if the game was played will full boundaries.

    You will appreciate, this has implications not just for run-scoring, but also for how batters understand risk. If you can’t clear the fence, you might as well play along the ground.

    Consider the following data. In 2009, England played host to the Men’s T20 WC and the inaugural Women’s T20 WC. The Men’s edition had 156 sixes in 27 games (2.88 per inning). Played with FULL boundaries, the Women’s edition had 23 sixes in 15 games (0.76 per inning). In 2017, England plays host to the Men’s Champions Trophy and the ongoing Women’s World Cup. The Men’s tournament had 113 sixes in 15 games (3.77 per inning). Played with SHORTENED boundaries, the Women’s tournament has yet seen 91 sixes in 12 games (3.79 per inning).

    From the limited data sets given above, we can make two observations. One, that shortened boundaries encourage more exciting, risk-taking batting, and consequentially higher scores in the women’s game. And two, more interestingly, that with the shortened boundaries, the women are hitting sixes at exactly the same rate as men! This suggests to me that the extent of boundaries reduction is not arbitrary, but very proportional to a data-driven understanding of the lesser distances that women hit the ball.

    My assessment is that the decision to shorten boundaries for the women’s game is an attempt to allow the women’s game keep pace with the scoring, risk-taking, strategy, and viewer expectations of the men’s game. I don’t know if that is in itself a good thing.

    About cricket bats, you have already addressed the point. I don’t see any official distinctions being made between men’s and women’s bats. It’s possible that having shorter/lighter bats, or narrower handles may help some women. But you are correct in suggesting that this is a very individual preference. In IPL 2011, the burly big-hitting Matty Hayden used a ‘mongoose bat’ which has a 33% shorter blade and a 43% longer handle! What gender should we make of that?

    On the matter of Lean Body Mass as Intelligible Differentia, I don’t see the contradictions that you do. The literature suggests that post-puberty, men and women show differences in LBM. While the causes for this divergence are not completely known, these differences in LBM exist nonetheless. Testosterone is never understood to be a cause, but merely a a marker/measure for higher LBM. And this divergence is certainly driven largely by gender biology and not merely by socialization or opportunity. Are you suggesting otherwise?

    All other factors being equal, boys (on average) will have an advantage over girls (on average) in any competitive sport that requires physicality or athletic ability. Such sport will continue to be gender-separated, although rare exceptions will shine through. In sport (and other disciples) that are depend only on skill, there will be gender parity. In such disciplines, we should move towards gender-blind competition.

    Overall, I don’t see any stereotyping in the minor differences you cite. Again, I think these are merely an attempt to allow the women’s game keep pace with the scoring, risk-taking, strategy, and viewer expectations of the men’s game. Maybe that’s the real problem.. maybe we should let the women’s game evolve in it’s own way.


    1. I agree. Sure enough, there is a risk of totally snuffing out women’s game if not for these differences. But will these differences work as a stepping stone towards an equally game, any time in future?


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