Batting for the women

As India take on the West Indies this afternoon in Mumbai in the inaugural match of the Women's World Cup, perspective on the women's game may be gained by adopting two bookends. One, women first played a one-day world cup in 1973, two years before men's cricket adopted the format. Two, a debate on women's place in cricket was ignited in England this month when it was reported that the England wicket-keeper, Sarah Taylor, was in talks with Sussex to play men's second XI county cricket. Together, they could help us understand the backdrop against which the women's ODI champions will be decided in coming days and highlight the still uncertain trajectory of women's team sport, especially cricket.

The history of sport can be read in many ways, but perhaps there is no neater way to run a thread linearly through the decades than by tracking the inclusion of women in deciding a discipline's highest honours. It is a work still in progress, and you only have to look at the Summer Olympics to see how.

No women participated in the inaugural modern Games on 1896. They were allowed on the track for the first time at Amsterdam, in 1928 ó but when some competitors collapsed in the 800m event, the International Association of Athletics Federation barred them from competition in races longer than 200m, and this ban held for 32 years. Even thereafter, it took an inordinately long time for women to access the possibilities open to male athletes: they ran the marathon at the Olympics in 1984, the 10,000m in 1988, the 5,000m in 1996. In other sports, women got to compete for a medal in weightlifting only in 2000, in wrestling in 2004, and in boxing finally in 2012, the last bringing Mary Kom something like her due, given that it allowed her a place on sport's greatest stage so late in her career.

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