Why batter, not batsman, is a big small win for cricket

Cricinfo revealed on Twitter on Friday that they would henceforth be using the terms “batter” and “Player of the Match” in place of “batsman” and “Man of the Match”, among other changes. It’s a big small win for those of us in the media who have already been using “batter”. On more than one occasion, I’ve been met with the retort, “Batter is what you fry fish in.” It is; if you’re thinking only with your stomach.

Consider it, and you might find batter to be a better fit. Bowl-er, field-er, wicketkeep-er, and bat-ter. All the crispness, none of the subliminal messaging that suggests cricket is for men. As an aside, for those who fear the Americanising of cricket, the term “batter” appears in a 1934 book printed by Oxford University Press, “The Language of Cricket”. And not in the context of food, I might add.

That a platform like Cricinfo has made this shift is a big deal, firstly because of who they are. As the original home of cricket on the internet, and one of the largest producers of digital content, this affects a large chunk of the cricket coverage landscape. Even more significant is the decision to use batter across both men’s and women’s cricket. Many outlets have been using batter for women’s cricket but continued with batsman for men’s cricket. This defeated the purpose, something I’ve been saying since 2015. Back then, I wrote: “By attempting to be gender-neutral by using ‘batter’, it is ironically having the opposite effect, of being gender-specific, as it is being used almost exclusively for the women’s game.” So Cricinfo’s move is welcome, and I invite other outlets, including this one, to follow suit.

But I described it as a ‘big small win’ because it is truly a small matter. Especially in India. We have, pun intended, bigger fish to fry. Changing the terminology of cricket without a change in its ground realities is cosmetic. Words are wind, as George R. R. Martin likes reminding us. I’m not suggesting that words don’t matter. Enough wind in the wrong direction can whittle away the most stubborn rock, and just like that, the words we choose have an impact on those around us. Constant reinforcement of patriarchal stereotypes dents a young woman’s sense of self. It’s something I’ve struggled with myself. This is also true for boys and men, but the effect on women is deeper, lasts longer.

So I’ve endeavoured to use batter while writing and commentating because that’s my job. Speaking for the playing community, we didn’t care whether we were called a batter or a batsman. Both were perfectly fine, because our job was taking wickets and scoring runs, not worrying about a dictionary. And for those in the business of running and growing the sport, it’s their job to include new audiences and drive participation at the grassroots. Switching to batter for both men’s and women’s cricket is probably one of the easier ways of doing that; it costs nothing but says a lot. Low hanging fruit. An obvious idea with clear benefits. (Just like a Women’s IPL.)

Is nomenclature the first thing I’d like changed in women’s cricket in India? Absolutely not. It’s not even something we discussed in the “Equal Hue” report I co-authored, a document that seeks to improve understanding of women’s cricket in India and chart the way forward for the sport. Cricinfo is a global platform, and I’d speculate that the loudest voices that called for this change came from the likes of England and Australia, where significant strides have been made towards true gender equality. Australia’s women’s team is the country’s best-paid women’s sports team. Their professional domestic competition, the Women’s Big Bash, is building a bedrock of depth. England are on the brink of launching their flagship 100-ball competition, which features both men’s and women’s sides. They have recently extended professional contracts beyond the national team, to the 41 best domestic players across the country, amidst a pandemic where every other country has cut back their women’s programmes.

The discourse around gender-neutral terminology is entwined with the global rise of women’s cricket. There are more women on cricket grounds, in academies, on cricket boards, in commentary boxes, and in newspapers like this one. Perspectives that were sidelined for years — no, decades —are being gradually voiced. Some may find it inconvenient. Look through some of the replies to Cricinfo’s tweet. Something as simple as a shift in a style guide has drawn vitriol. Not surprisingly, the trolls were almost exclusively men.

The growth of women’s cricket, and our increased presence in the larger ecosystem, is an invitation to participate in an organic evolution into a more equal sport. Dialogue and discussion is welcome. But women’s cricket in India needs less talk, more action. It’s amazing how many problems solve themselves when everyone just does their jobs.

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