England wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor believes her own game will benefit enormously from her experience of playing men’s cricket in Australia.
The 26-year-old is due to play her 100th one-day international during the upcoming tour of South Africa.
Taylor made history in October by becoming the first woman to play Australian first-grade cricket, playing two matches for Adelaide’s Northern Districts – nicknamed ‘The Jets’ – under the captaincy of Australia international Mark Cosgrove, who also skippers Leicestershire in the County Championship.
Taylor told BBC Sport: “It was intense, probably one of the best experiences of my life, and the hardest.
“The guys were absolutely brilliant. I have to thank Mark Cosgrove and the Jets for everything they did. It was the hardest thing I’ve done on a cricket field, but equally as rewarding.”
‘He didn’t even realise I was a girl’
Looking back at her historic debut, Taylor reflected: “I thought there were going to be some negatives, a bit of banter thrown around but there was absolutely none of it.
“It was purely ‘she’s been picked on merit’, even the guys said in the changing room ‘she’s good enough to be here and we want the best XI on the field’.
“They didn’t care that I was a woman, you should have heard some of the language I had to listen to – they honestly did not care that I was there!
”There was an old guy who was watching on the side and when I came off he said he didn’t even realise I was a girl. I think that for me was the best sentence I heard for the entire time. All he saw was my keeping and he had no idea I was a girl, he thought I was just another keeper.”
From the Big Bash back to England duty
Taylor was also one of several England players to take part in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League in Australia – a tournament which she feels ‘blew expectations’ – although her Adelaide Strikers side just failed to make the semi-finals.
She explained: “Cricket Australia was expecting TV audiences of 40,000-50,000, but one of our games got quarter of a million I think, they moved it to a different channel.”
Her focus now returns to England, with the squad touring South Africa in February before the Women’s World Twenty20 takes place in India in March.
“We’ve had a big break from each other as a team. With Mark Robinson, the new England coach, and some new faces we obviously want to hit the ground running,” she said.
“South Africa’s standard hasn’t exactly been up there with ours, but they made the semi-finals of the last World T20 so they’re not a team to assume you’re going to win against. They’ve got some serious players, three or four of their girls have played in the Women’s Big Bash and they’ve done very well.”
Gayle backlash shows ‘progress’ in women’s sport
Taylor was in Australia when West Indies star Chris Gayle was fined for asking a female TV reporter for a date in a live interview during a game.
But Taylor believes the general reaction to his remarks are a reflection of the progress which has been made in women’s sport.
She said: “I didn’t agree with what he did, but there was complete support for women in their jobs. That just shows where it’s going and where it’s come from.
“From a sporting perspective I know there is a lot more respect for women’s sport, and that’s down to a lot of hard work. The effort that everyone’s put in behind the scenes has built towards that. It can still get better, but I think it’s brilliant where it is now.”
Super League set for lift-off
Taylor and the other centrally contracted England players will now be allocated to one of the six newly created teams for the first Women’s Cricket Super League (WCSL) in England this summer, for which the hosts were announced last week.
The WCSL aims to attract the top female players from around the world, and Taylor believes that an equal spread of star players around the new franchises will be crucial to the league’s success.
But asked if it would be feasible for her to play more men’s cricket, either in England or Australia, Taylor said: ‘If the opportunity arose I’d grab it with open arms I think, especially to play for the Jets again, that standard of cricket.
“In my games I didn’t really get much of a bat so that would be nice, just to see if I can do it. You just want to test yourself. The idea of playing for a team like the Jets was to test my limits and see how far I could go as a cricketer.”