Maxine Blythin and the curious case of women’s cricket

Kent’s women’s team player of the year for 2019 is Maxine Blythin, a dashing 6ft tall stroke maker who notched four centuries at a Don Bradman-surpassing average of 124. Aged just 24, Blythin would appear to be a star in the making, destined to do great things in the expanding and increasingly popular women’s game.

Women’s cricket is growing in popularity the world over – how far should it accept men identifying as women playing as women? It’s a complex issue that strikes at the integrity of women’s cricket and women’s sport

There is, however, a catch. Blythin is a self-identifying woman, possessed as she is with male genitalia. In old school biological currency, she’s a man, man.

I’ll briefly outline my own stance on the transgender debate, although the debate is far more engaging and important than I can do it justice to here: That Blythin wishes to identify as female is fine by me. Society isn’t binary and we’re separated out into sub-cultures that we identify ourselves with. Cricket is one such example, since the chances are, not all of your friends, associates and colleagues are quite as enthusiastic about the sport as you are. They roll their eyes when you start talking about the issues with England’s top order Test batting and they don’t care that you’re absolutely convinced that Dom Sibley is the answer. They are, quite simply, not the same as you. And so it is for sexuality and self-identity.

Whilst society should be accommodating of such nuances, unfortunately sport is entirely binary. Teams and competitors win or lose. In some cases, they play for five days and it ends in a draw, no one wins, and that’s a major reason most of your friends, associates and colleagues are disinterested in cricket – they just don’t get it. How can something last for five days and not produce what we accept from a contest, a winner and a loser? Crazy.

Similarly, the biological construct of the human body is a binary concept, despite what a lot of madness in the world tries to suggest. Yes, men might feel like women, but they’ll never be able to have children, for example. And yes, some women might feel like men, but they’ll never be able to have children, for example. And yes, we really have reached a point where this needs pointing out. It’s just the way things are, like playing a game for five days and it producing no winner. I didn’t make the rules, okay?

There are cases that go against this, such as Caster Semenya, the female South African athlete whose gender cannot be simply assigned, but such cases are incredibly rare and merit careful individual and scientific consideration.

What makes cases such as Blythin’s stand out is that she has chosen to be a woman. She was not born a woman, she does not have female genitalia. Mentally, she is female; physically, she is a man.

So, where does this leave women’s sport? Should it be tolerant of athletes such as Blythin? Who really wins?

Well, only men, really. English domestic women’s cricket does not conduct any testing on its participants and relies on a system of social inclusion. Blythin says she’s a woman, therefore she’s a woman, in much the same way she is/should be accepted in society.

Her male characteristics, however, are and advantage. Let’s look at some basic numbers. The Australian cricketer Elyse Perry, arguably (although not really arguably) the best female cricketer on the planet, bowls at around 77mph and is one of the fastest bowlers to have graced the women’s game. In the recent men’s Ashes series, Joffra Archer was regularly clocked bowling at 96mph. Shoaib Akhtar, a former star of the Pakistan men’s bowling attack, was once clocked bowling at over 100mph. That’s a massive difference.

Then we get to batting. Women use lighter bats, smaller boundaries and smaller balls than their male counterparts, to account for the physical differences between men and women. Again, having a male biological setup is an advantage to any woman (yes, you have read that correctly) owing to a larger frame and being a bit stronger.

Imagine, if you will, that Chris Gayle, the West Indies men’s opening batsman, suddenly decides to identify as a woman. It would be bizarre, not least because of Chris’s position on a few issues. Once those had been reconciled, Chris turns up at Kent. He’s a spent force in the men’s game and now, identifying as Christina Gayle, wishes to play cricket for a women’s team. No smaller bat for Chris though, she walks in with her railway sleeper and, having been used to facing, on a regular basis, 90+mph bowling, proceeds to bludgeon women’s attacks with joyous abandon, much in the same way she used to bludgeon elite men’s bowling attacks. Should we celebrate this?

The losers (for there is no draw to be salvaged here) are women. The level, binary playing field afforded to us all by sport is eroded. And it’s happening in other sports, too. This excellent article by Ben Dirs covers the topic with far more insight, real-world examples and science than I can (he didn’t need to hypothetically gender reassign Chris Gayle, for example). It’s happening in weightlifting, rugby and cycling. Now it’s happening in cricket.

It’s a very simple question – should we accept men playing as women in women’s sport? Should we then be impressed when they succeed and break women’s records? Is Blythin’s 2019 season at Kent something worth celebrating? Are we simply moving further towards a cynical, win-at-all-costs sporting culture? And finally, would you want your daughter/sister/niece/friend competing on an unlevel playing field?

It’s a question of sporting integrity for women. As the popularity of women’s cricket grows exponentially, it will be interesting to see how the England & Wales Cricket Board approach this issue, because there will be other Blythins just around the corner.

By Miles Reucroft

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