This article was first published on Wisden India in 2015. It is being re posted in light of ESPN Cricinfo officially adopting the term ‘batter’.

When I heard that Star would be broadcasting the women’s series between India and New Zealand, I was ecstatic! I thoroughly enjoyed watching the series, which India won 3-2, but one aspect of the broadcast kept sticking out like a tall poppy: on a number of occasions the commentators would catch themselves halfway through the word batsman, and then correct themselves and say batter. This was especially true of the male commentators, who were understandably unused to commentary at women’s games, seeing as so few women’s games have been broadcast in India. While their effort to use the more gender neutral term of batter was admirable, is it really necessary?

Cricket has some inexplicably strange nomenclature. We say batsman, but not bowlsman. Or fieldsman. Wicket can be used to describe the pitch, the stump, and the object of a batsmen’s survival. And don’t get me started on fielding positions! I remember trying to teach my U-16 teammates the names of the various fielding positions while we were off for a tournament.  Mid-off and mid-on were pretty easy; by why point wasn’t called square-off was beyond my 16 year old capacity to explain.  

The term ‘batter’ though, is historically not part of cricket’s traditional lexicon. Borrowed from cricket’s distant American relative baseball in the 1990s, it was initially used in cricket only rarely as a convenient short form. Now, with reference to the women’s game, it has offered cricket a gender neutral option to the tongue twisting term ‘batswoman’. 

Is it truly gender neutral though? Ask yourself, have you ever heard the term batter being used in a men’s game? How many times have you seen it in print describing a men’s cricket match? My guess is very rarely, or even not at all. But in women’s cricket? Quite often I bet. You certainly would have if you watched this India – New Zealand series. The term ‘batter’ is quickly becoming quite commonplace in women’s cricket, but not in the men’s game by any stretch of the imagination. By attempting to be gender neutral by using ‘batter’, it is ironically having the opposite effect, of being gender specific, as it is being used almost exclusively for the women’s game. 

Should we let the players decide which terms should be used? It is after all, them we are describing. As a player, I can tell you from my personal experience, I’ve been called a batsman all my life, I’ve called all my team mates batsmen, and I’ve called all my opponents batsmen, and nobody, not once in 12 years of representing my state, has anyone come up to me and told me that it’s a problem.  All women cricketers I spoke to in the lead up to writing this article told me the same thing too. And if somebody called us a batter, that was fine too. It may be presumptuous of me to say so, but the players in general don’t mind either way. 

However, considering that the fans and spectators are the biggest stakeholders in any sport, an outsider perspective also needs to be taken into account. While women cricketers I spoke to had no issues with either term, outsiders seem to find ‘batsman’ strange. Most non-cricket friends I spoke to said that ‘batsman’ sounded wrong while describing women’s cricket. My brother recounted an episode wherein he hesitated to ask a teammate of mine whether she was a batsman, worried that it might not be appropriate. The media too often take the safer and more politically correct term of ‘batter’ when they describe women’s cricket. This is probably due to the global shift towards more gender neutral terminology. In that sense, the word batsman may seem like an anachronism, and cricket one of the many sports that has not embraced a gender neutral vocabulary across the board. 

Already in most professions, the use of a gender specific term to denote female professionals is widely perceived as sexist and has been set aside in favour of the gender neutral term. Who was the author of the Harry Potter books? Joanne K Rowling. Note she’s the author, not authoress. Which actor played the lead role in ‘Juno’? Ellen Page. And what do you call a female practitioner of the medical profession? Same as you would a male, i.e. a doctor (though I hope the common Indian practice of including Mrs. or Ms. In parenthesis along with Dr. outgrows itself by the time our kids grow up! That’s more explaining that I wouldn’t want to do.) 

But why all this fuss over semantics in the first place? What’s in a name, or a word? Dr. Maya Angelou said “Words are things. Words get in your walls, into your rugs, and finally into you. You must be careful about the words you use.’’ British sanitary towel brand ‘Always’ released research along with their hugely popular #LikeAGirl campaign, showing ‘’words cut deep and affect girls’ behaviour from a young age – forcing them to behave “like a girl”, or at least as girls are expected to behave.’’ We need to consider this when we use gender specific terms in cricket.

 Are we sending a message to young girls that cricket is a ‘’ (Bats)Men only ’’ domain? I know the word didn’t affect cricket crazy 10 year old me, but is there a huge demographic on whose minds this word is playing? Geoff Lemon’s hard hitting article pointed that, ‘’ in so many ways over so many years women are implicitly or explicitly told they’re not welcome.’’ Could this be one of those ways that we have just missed so far, intentionally or unintentionally?

The matter begs some serious consideration. In the long run, discarding the term ‘batsman’ all together in favour of the gender neutral ‘batter’(also congruent with bowler and fielder) is the solution in my opinion.  But this adoption of new terminology must happen across the board, in men’s as well as women’s cricket, in all age groups and countries. The ICC vision states ‘’Cricket will captivate and inspire people of every age, gender, background and ability.’’ In order for that to truly happen, cricket needs to set a few things straight. The ICC would do well to take the initiative in providing the women’s game the respect it deserves, on every level: Player participation, grass roots development, live broadcasts, and definitions. 

Until then, should we keep using the term ‘batter’ while reporting a women’s cricket match? Like a wolf in sheep’s skin, it just creates a new gender specific word in the guise of a gender neutral one. But we must, for unless the women’s game adopts the word and pushes for its use in all forms of cricket, the rest of the cricket world will never follow suit. So let’s add ‘batter’ to cricket’s dictionary, and move to remove ‘batsman’ altogether. 

Cricket has evolved more in the last fifteen years alone than in the last century or so. The terminology tussle may resurface soon, in the women’s Ashes, every ball of which will be broadcast live. The WBBL too will hit television screens later this year. With women’s cricket getting more professional and about to take global steps into the big leagues, perhaps it’s time for cricket terminology to evolve with it. 

Betty bought some batter, and it turned the bitter batter better. 

With Inputs from cricket historian Raf Nicholson