Ellyse Perry in the semi-final of the ICC Women's World Twenty20 between India and Australia in 2010. Photo: Getty Images
DO YOU know the name of the captain of the Australian cricket team? No, I don't either, and I'm not talking about Michael Clarke. I mean the national women's squad. And, before you jump on Google to find out, ask yourself: why does Australia even have a women's cricket team?
This is no slander on ability - quite the opposite. Perhaps the better question to ask is: why do we have a men's cricket team? With the Sydney Test about to get under way, why on earth can't the Australian team be truly representative and draw on the country's most skilful players, regardless of their sex?
Sport is one of the last arenas in our society where a gender apartheid persists with no good reason. The bar on women's participation in politics or business disappeared a long ago. A female prime minister has made it to The Lodge and women serve as chief executives; and, while plenty of battles still need to be had to see equality, it is typically accepted that women are just as capable as men in these fields of endeavour. Even the military is finally waking up to the recruitment potential of women as frontline soldiers.
But in physical sporting contests, there is the quaint notion that boys and girls should be segregated. Look around the community and you can see the effects of this discrimination: a meagre investment made in sports facilities for women when compared with the abundance of public space devoted to men.
This became obvious over the past few weeks driving across Victoria - a few hundred metres from the beach in Lorne on the Great Ocean Road, a flat disc has been carved into the hillside, the grass mowed to neat carpet to hit a cricket ball around. Another oval is kept at Neerim South, a little town in West Gippsland, and hundreds more like it are dotted around the state, mostly on public land.
Idle away the hours beyond the boundary line and you see plenty of boys and blokes making good use of such fields - but you'll be lucky to spot a girl. Women's participation in sport is much lower than it should be.
For all the talk of Australia's great sport-loving culture, town planners seem to think this applies to only half the population. Fixing this deficit is not a matter of building extra netball and tennis courts or devoting more dollars for the sports that girls and women are encouraged to play. The challenge is to ensure women feel welcome and safe at the existing venues. Obvious measures can be adopted, encouraging respectful behaviour, ensuring good lighting, that sort of thing. Yet these are only stopgaps.
What is really needed to redress the imbalance properly is finally to dissolve the divide of the sexes. That should be at the elite level as well as community games. The solution does not lie in giving women's sport more air time to match coverage of the men - just do away with the notion of ''women's teams'' and have a genuine contest.
Cricket would be an ideal sport to start with. The arguments used to justify dividing boys and girls usually centre on strength, but cricket is hardly a sport where brute force is the only attribute rewarded. Batting is far more often a matter of good timing than going the tonk and a woman spinner is just as capable of bowling a good wrong-un as a man. There may not be a woman who will hurl the ball down the pitch at 160km/h and rip middle stump out of the ground, but, let's face it, there are not many men who can do that either.
Participation need not be about filling gender quotas, affirmative action or some other social engineering. It may be that for a long time men will outnumber women in the squad, and that's OK. Yet the point is simple: the starting criterion for selection in a team should be an assessment of skill, not the equipment between someone's legs. If a disabled man can be admitted to run in the able-bodied Olympics, why not a woman to a cricket match?
Or an AFL team, for that matter, if her skills are good enough. There are plenty of reasons to imagine many women would struggle at the top level of football, but if someone has the ability, why should their gender be a bar to playing? A person's race certainly isn't. Surely the AFL is not so cynical in encouraging girls to participate with boys in junior Auskick games so as to only encourage future female fans rather than players?
At a national level there is good reason to do away with the gender divide. Australia is a minnow in population terms compared with giants like India. Tying one arm behind our backs in the selection of national teams only puts us at a further disadvantage, whether in cricket or soccer. Eventually, countries like Sri Lanka, which also have a small population to draw on, will tire at their male teams getting thrashed and will look to the other half to bolster their skills. Australia could lead the way.
Plenty of mythology surrounds sports, the ability to bridge cultural divides, bring communities together with common interest, and encourage healthy lifestyles. Sport also fosters self-esteem and leadership. The participation of girls and women in sport would certainly increase with more prominent female role models in truly national teams and measures of respect for women throughout society would also probably improve.
So, you really have to wonder. What is there to lose? Julia Gillard is expected to attend the Sydney Test. Imagine a future with a female prime minister in the stands, watching an Australian team made up of the nation's best players, men and women, taking on the world.
Daniel Flitton is senior correspondent.