Barely two hours after Joe Root had taken five wickets in the third Test at Ahmedabad with his holiday-season off-breaks, the cricketer Alex Hartley tapped out a tweet meant to highlight the women’s match against New Zealand that evening. “Nice of the England boys to get this test match finished just before England Women play tonight,” she wrote, followed by four hand clapping emojis. “Catch them on @btsportcricket.”
Of course, England’s men were then bowled out for 81 in the second innings and lost by 10 wickets in a Test that catapulted to an end within two days. And Hartley? She got death threats.
What had been a jokey attempt to advertise the game on which she was commentating later that night for BT Sport, which is covering the women’s series, turned into something quite else when the England opener Rory Burns picked up on it and retweeted it to his 25k followers, commenting: “Very disappointing attitude considering all the ‘boys’ do to support the women’s game.”
The question of what the men do to support the women’s game was not the main topic for discussion that followed, as the tweet was liked by Ben Stokes and Jimmy Anderson, among others, before being deleted, and a digital firestorm descended on Hartley.
“I’ve described my tweet on my podcast [No Balls, with Hartley’s best friend, the England bowler Kate Cross] as ‘clumsy’, and I can see that an England player seeing it would be really annoyed as it seems like I was celebrating their loss. I wasn’t, and before Rory’s tweet it had gone down really well with lots of people saying ‘we’ll watch the women now’. The onslaught I got after Rory retweeted it I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
“I was really disappointed in the fact that England players, county players, England management, staff liked the tweet from Rory. I just think it highlights a lot of other issues in and around women’s sport that I really didn’t want to bring up and talk about, but have to now. I don’t think we’re supported enough by the men and it was a real shame that they believe they do support us. I think I even had Samit Patel writing, ‘Why would you tweet about women’s cricket?’, which is such a shame. I just hope some good can come of it and it will start conversations behind closed doors.
“I think Rory’s just not understood what could come of him belittling me. All it would have taken was a private message saying I think this is bang out of order, to which I’d have messaged back saying: ‘I’m so sorry, it was just a joke.’”
Burns and Hartley received a slap on the wrist from the England and Wales Cricket Board, but Hartley has not received apologies from any of the players involved. But two members of the ECB have rung more than once to say that things are being dealt with behind closed doors.
The incident comes on the back of the social media abuse the rugby reporter Sonja McLaughlan received after England’s defeat against Wales in the Six Nations, but it has not put Hartley off tweeting or the successful media career she is building alongside her cricket. “If you want to give me death threats you’re the one with issues,” she says. “I just think they’re sad individuals.
“I really don’t think I deserve to have people telling me to die [in a hole] and that I’m a really bad role model and women’s sport is rubbish and not worth watching. And I genuinely believe people only jumped on the back of my tweet because I’m a female, which is another issue.”
The left-arm spinner lost her central contract at the end of the 2019 season, but in her time with England there was never any crossover between the men’s and women’s teams. “We never came across the men, never spoke about the men, never had a relationship with them. I think Australia have it good because they’ve got two players who are married and Mitchell Starc will get the boys to rally around the girls and rightly so.
“Things aren’t going to change overnight, misogyny in sport can’t change overnight. It’s about educating players and moving forward.”
Something that might have a chance of success with the Hundred, which opens in July with a women’s game between Hartley’s Manchester Originals and the Oval Invincibles and then moves into men’s and women’s double headers. “I can’t wait,” says Hartley, who agrees that it might be a chance for the male and female players to bond. “We’ve got to start somewhere.”
BT Sport will celebrate the sportswomen, broadcasters and production team who enrich its shows on International Women’s Day.