Lets use our voices to grow our game

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Venue: Incora County Ground, Derby Dates: 21, 23, 26, 28, 30 September
Coverage: Third game (26 September) live on BBC TV; Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on all games with highlights on BBC TV, live text commentary and in-play clips on BBC Sport website & app

Six months ago, I was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, along with 86,000 other people, watching the final of one of the best tournaments I have ever been a part of.

The Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia meant so much to all of us who were commentating or broadcasting on the games because it showed us how far we had come.

Ten years ago, I could not have imagined anything like the crowd we saw. I remember playing at the MCG for England in front of 20,000 and it felt as though no-one had come to watch.

That day in March gave me goosebumps. It was an incredible, emotional moment for all of us, and a massive celebration of women and women’s sport.

And then the world changed overnight.

It has been a long time coming but we will finally get to see England in action again when they take on West Indies in a five-match T20 series, which starts on Monday.

Women in sport often have to have a level of acceptance, or understanding, of OK, you are not going to get as many opportunities as the men.

I felt as though we slipped into that mindset very quickly when the pandemic first took hold. It was important there were enough voices around the world to really push for the women’s game, and make sure that they were not cast aside.

It’s been a challenging time for everyone but for the England and Wales Cricket Board to get some international women’s cricket on at the end of the season is really important.

You hear the awful news about job losses at the ECB and the money lost within the game. For them to commit to the women’s game, firstly with the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and then the West Indies series, sends an important message.

There always has to be an equality in terms of the amount of time that is spent on women’s cricket and focusing our attention towards it.

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Something I have always thought of, coming from an Asian background, is why are there not more Asian girls who progress to county and England international level?

There are different challenges in different communities. In the Asian community, for example, there could be traditional families who try and steer their daughters away from sport and focus on education.

My message has always – and will always – be that you can have both.

I know Ebony Rainford-Brent, who is director of women’s cricket as Surrey, has been surprised by how many people have turned up to her ACE programmeexternal-link, which aims to increase Afro-Caribbean representation in the game.

The interest is there. But how do we change what we are seeing by way of representation?

Initiatives like ‘Bollycricket’, which Amna Rafiq has developed, are fantastic. It is not just for youngsters; it can help change the perception of women say, for example, if they are a mother, to try and encourage their young daughter to go and play at higher honours.

How Amna Rafiq is getting more South Asian girls into cricket

Scouting programmes for BAME communities and links to counties would be hugely beneficial as well as mentors and increased representation at every level of the game, from coaches and umpires to boards.

I was fortunate to have supportive parents and fell in love with cricket as it was in my genes. I copied everything my brother did and we had a long, thin back garden, which made for the perfect cricket wicket.

It was classic back garden scenario where he would get me out quickly, and then I would proceed to bowl at him for the rest of the evening.

I was seven or eight when I went down to the local cricket club. There were not any girls teams at the time, so Mum convinced Dad it was fine for me to play in an all-boys team.

I was the only British-Indian girl in a team full of British boys and British-Pakistani boys. Because my parents did not see it as an issue, no-one else did. In fact, the only thing the boys were scared of was getting out to a girl, and I fed off that energy.

I hope by having more ambassadors for our game – the ECB has helped put 2,000 female volunteers in the South East Asian community – we can continue to grow the pathways.

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Exposure helps, too, and that is why I’m so excited about this series, and the televised game on the BBC.

Sky have made a huge impact through investment and support of the women’s game in the last decade and visibility can only enhance that – with an opportunity to broadcast to the masses so kids believe they can go on and do something similar. And that’s not just among young girls.

I have seen boys in Australia saying they want to be the next Ellyse Perry. Young lads walked away from the World Cup in 2017 wanting to be Anya Shrubsole or Sarah Taylor.

That is what we want. We will use our voices to push women’s sport to the forefront and grow the game as much as we can.

Because you cannot be what you cannot see.

Isa Guha was talking to BBC Sport’s Amy Lofthouse

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