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Date: 26th April 2012
This article featured in the Lancashire Telegraph.
It is probably just as well that Lancashire cricketer Jennifer Laycock isn't fussed about being in a minority of one. When she first played for a Read junior team, not only was she the only girl playing the game at the club, she was the sole female player in the whole of the Ribblesdale League.
Now 24, Laycock has proved that her interest in cricket is a deeply rooted professional commitment and not in any way a passing fad. She captains the county side, plays for Rishton "men's" second team, and last January was appointed the Lancashire Cricket Board's first Women and Girls' Cricket Development Officer. Memories of her early struggles to be accepted as a cricketer have merely fired her sense of mission to increase the popularity of the women's game.
"There was a lot of resistance," recalled the Lancashire off-spinner. "I had to fight for my place in the junior team twice as hard as the boys and Read had six age-group county cricketers at that time.
"But I'd always played sports and my dad gave me all the help he could. I used to go and sit with the "top bankers" at Read's Whalley Road ground and ask them about the game. I spoke to everybody I could and kept asking if I could play.
"Eventually I got into the Read Under 13 team and took a wicket with the first ball I bowled, but the PE teacher at my school still told me that 'girls don't play cricket'. By then, I knew so much that I was asked to select the school team even though I couldn't be in it."
Before long, Laycock's expertise was being put to greater use by the LCB's forward-thinking officials. She captained Lancashire's Girls team at Under 13, Under 15 and Under 17 levels, and having taken up coaching at 16, she was appointed the Cricket Development Coach for the Fylde region.
Four years ago she helped to set up the county's Under 11 girls' side and she is now head coach of the Under 13 team, who were national champions in 2011. She oversees coaching for Lancashire's five girls' teams.
"People are embracing women's cricket in a big way at the moment," she said. "Internationally it's taken off and counties are taking it seriously. Some of the England women are ambassadors for the Chance to Shine initiative and my appointment as Women and Girls' Cricket Development Officer is also a big step. Only two other counties have women in similar posts at the moment."
Women's cricket will be in the spotlight once again in September when the Twenty20 international against the West Indies will be followed by the England men's short-form game against South Africa at Old Trafford. Typically, however, Laycock has her eyes firmly fixed on the next objective.
"We need to get senior women's cricket going at club level," she declared. "Lancashire will have an 11-team midweek league under way in July and August this summer, but ground availability is a big problem as men's cricket always takes priority. While the number of female cricketers is growing, the number of places where we can play is limited."
Nevertheless, as Laycock reflects on her packed schedule of coaching and playing, she knows that things have moved on from the days when "girls don't play cricket" was a stock response.
"When I took up cricket I told my mum I wanted to play for England as a full-time job," she said. "That couldn't be a reality for me but it certainly is for talented 11- or 12-year-old girls now."
Written by: Paul Edwards
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