T20 Women’s World Cup 2023: Umpire Anna Harris on the ECB’s push towards equality

Anna Harris will umpire the first match at the T20 Women’s World Cup 2023

The start of the T20 Women’s World Cup is just a few hours away with hosts South Africa taking on Sri Lanka later today. This will be the eighth edition of the tournament and once again, Australia look like the side to beat. Meg Lanning’s side have not lost a competitive match since September 2021, and to quote Ian Smith, that defeat was by “the barest of margins” as India won by two wickets with just three balls remaining.

However, England will be hoping they can replicate the success their male counterparts managed back in November and with three convincing wins in their World Cup warm-up fixtures; Heather Knight will hope to pose a serious threat to the five-time winners.

The T20 World Cup, all of which will be available to watch on Sky Sports, gives the female stars of the game some much needed limelight and visibility ahead of a busy summer, including the return of the franchised Hundred tournament, which has provided a real boost in exposure to the women’s game.

But it’s not just the players who will get to showcase their talent and expectations. British umpire Anna Harris is hopeful that her presence at the upcoming competition will promote not just her position, but other female umpires on the world stage. A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that, for the first time in ICC history, an all-female panel would officiate the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup. Three match referees and 10 umpires will officiate the event.

Wasim Khan, the ICC General Manager reflected on the move by saying: “Women’s cricket has been growing rapidly in recent years and as part of that, we have been building the pathways to ensure more women have the opportunity to officiate at the highest level.

“This announcement is a reflection of our intent in this space and just the start of our journey where men and women enjoy the same opportunities across our sport. We are committed to continuing to support our female match officials and provide opportunities to showcase their talents on the global stage.”

Anna Harris signals during The Hundred 2021 tournamentAnna Harris signals during The Hundred 2021 tournament
Anna Harris signals during The Hundred 2021 tournament

Harris, 24, who became the youngest ever umpire to officiate in an international match at the age of 22 during the bilateral women’s ODI series between England and New Zealand in September 2021, has now been confirmed to be one of those 13 officials making history.

NationalWorld sat down with the trail-blazing umpire, who will officiate the opening World Cup match today, to talk T20 World Cup, societal attitudes and what’s next in developing the women’s game.

The excitement of the all-female panel has been a long time in the making, but this will not be the first time Harris has made history. The 24-year-old medical student stood as an umpire along with Yvonne Dolphin-Cooper in an ECB Premier League match in May 2021, representing the first time in the league two women have officiated a match.

While this was a remarkable accomplishment, Harris notes: “The main response from people when Yvonne and I were standing together was ‘well why hasn’t it happened sooner? Why are we making such a big deal out of two women standing together. It should be normal’.”

Just a few months later, Harris then became the youngest umpire to officiate an international match, and now she is looking forward to the next big step the ECB will take.

“I would love to see an all-female officiated match in the Ashes this summer as well as all female Hundred eliminators and finals,” she said, adding: “The ICC have put some ambitious aims out there of which three out of five are focused on women’s cricket so it is getting the attention it deserves.”

With an all-female officiating team at the upcoming World Cup, an all-female Ashes doesn’t seem so far-fetched as it did even just a few weeks ago.

As a female in a man’s world, Harris appreciates the challenges that surround her. She said: “Attitudes are shifting and that is the biggest step. It’s about making some brave decisions and I think we’ve got the right people in the organisation to now make some brave decisions.”

Luckily for the 24-year-old, her experiences on and off the field have remained largely positive but also revealed some less than enjoyable experiences: “There will always be someone that doesn’t like you. I was booed off by the crowd at the Ageas Bowl because the covers hadn’t been put on.”

In an Australian league match, when raising her arms to give the six signal, Harris recalls a member of the rowdy crowd reacted by shouting out ‘show us your pits’ causing much hilarity around the ground - taking it in her stride, she also quips that “Many of the interactions are too rude to repeat!”

Discusing her role as an umpire further, Harris said: “A good relationship with the captain can really make a game. It’s not about trying to butter them up or giving them compliments all the time but about mutual respect. As an umpire you’re not there to run the game, you’re there to facilitate the game. You have to put the onus back on the players.”

So, with the World Cup just a few hours away, the questions had to be asked: who is Anna looking forward to umpiring and who is likely to lift that trophy in two weeks time? “I’m excited to meet Meg Lanning. She’s been an inspiration for me and for many - she’s just all class.”

And who else to hedge your bets on other than Australia, for as Anna says: “It’s not that they’ve forgotten how to lose, but they certainly know how to win.”