Women who’ve shaped the game – in England and beyond – over the last 250 years.
You may already know that women ‘invented’ overarm bowling and had the good sense to stage a World Cup two years before the men got round to it. You may even know that the first Twenty20 international took place between two women’s teams. But there will be names from times gone by with which you are not familiar, women who put life and soul into the game for little or no reward. Here are some of those women.
The first recorded women’s cricket match may have got a write-up in the Reading Mercury on July 26, 1745 (for the record, Hambleton 127 notches, Bramley 119 notches – “the girls batted, ran and catched as well as most men could do in that game”) but it was not until nigh-on a century and a half later that cricket became a reasonably regular pastime for women, as their emancipation gathered speed.
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The renown of the family Grace, along with the increased ease of communication through daily newspapers, certainly helped the popularity of the women’s game, and WG’s mother Martha, is our first heroine of cricket.
Mother of WG, his four brothers and three sisters, Martha and husband Henry were both cricket lovers. Martha was her children’s coach, teaching them the rudiments in their orchard where father Henry had felled a few trees to create a pitch. She got to every game she could and was occasionally to be heard admonishing WG – “Willie, Willie, haven’t I told you over and over again how to play that ball?” When she died on July 25, 1884, play was abandoned between Lancashire and Gloucestershire at Old Trafford as a mark of respect.
Three years after Martha’s death, the first women’s cricket club, White Heather, was founded at Nun Appleton in Yorkshire. Its members were ladies of independent means and within three years, its numbers had swelled to 50. The club, which only folded in 1951, counted among its number our next heroine, Lucy Ridsdale.
Lucy Ridsdale was not only a founder member of White Heather but averaged 62 in 1892, the year she became engaged to future prime minister Stanley Baldwin. Three things to note – during the General Strike of 1926, she held a General Meeting of the White Heather Club at 10 Downing Street; she didn’t miss a Varsity match at Lord’s for 40 years; and she wrote this to the editor of Women’s Cricket in 1930: “The crack of bat against ball amid the humming and buzzing of summer sounds is still to me a note of pure joy that raises haunting memories of friends and happy days. The one game in the world for me.” Well said.
1890 saw the birth of the Original English Lady Cricketers, two professional teams raised by the English Cricket and Athletic Association to tour the country, playing matches either between themselves or against amateur sides. The ladies were coached by county players, accompanied by a matron, and were not allowed to use their real names. Their first game, in Liverpool, saw a crowd of 15,000 attend, with the Liverpool Post observing: “They came to scoff but stayed to praise.” Matches were played on many county grounds but after two years, in somewhat mysterious circumstances and claims that the (male) organisers had run off with the money, the side disbanded.
Over the next couple of decades, more and more women’s clubs sprung up and cricket became a regular part of life at the larger girls’ public schools, such as Roedean and Clifton Ladies. In 1926, as a natural consequence of the increased interest, the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) came into being, after a group of hockey-, lacrosse- and netball-playing women had a ‘cricket holiday’, playing games at Cheltenham Ladies College and Malvern Boys College. So successful was it that the tourists decided to found an association to enable organised women’s cricket to take place. In the first year, 10 clubs were formed along with 28 schools affiliating. The following year, a cricket week in Malvern was initiated that still goes on to this day.
Things moved pretty quickly from there, the first organised match in front of a public audience taking place in 1929, the first (unofficial) county match (Leicestershire v Notts) in 1930 and the first England team selection in 1933. A tour to Australia and New Zealand was organised (the team selected far enough in advance for those chosen to be able to start saving – the estimated cost was £80).
The touring party featured our next three heroines.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Snowball, a Lancashire-born Scot who was coached by Learie Constantine, opened the batting on tour and scored 189 against New Zealand. Her wicketkeeping showed the way for the art in women’s cricket, four stumpings in the second Test at Sydney being the highlight of her tour. Snowball also played lacrosse and squash for Scotland.
Maclagan’s name is synonymous with women’s cricket. She opened the batting and the bowling, taking 7-10 in the first Test at Brisbane with her off-spin as Australia were skittled for 47 in 49 overs, and then scoring 72 in England’s reply. In the second Test she scored the first hundred in women’s Test cricket (she would go on to score the first Test hundred in England as well). She played her last game, for Combined Services against Australia, in 1963, scoring an unbeaten 81.
A real pioneer, Shanghai-born Hide captained England for 17 years, doing as much as anybody to give the women’s game credibility. She put on 235 with Betty Snowball against New Zealand as the tourists won by an innings and 337 runs! During the 1948/49 tour of Australia she scored an unbeaten 124 at Sydney.
After these initial heavy defeats, Australia’s women improved dramatically over the next few years, partly thanks to leg-spinner Peggy Antonio, nicknamed ‘Girl Grimmett’ by the Aussie press. Wisden included a report on the Aussies’ tour of England in its 1938 Almanack and slowly but surely the women’s game was starting to become accepted.
Australia’s 1951 tour, marking the silver Jubilee of the WCA, showed just how far women’s cricket had come, with Australia’s superb allrounder Betty Wilson, ‘the female Bradman’ (she learned to play by hitting a ball that was wrapped in one of her mother’s stockings and hanging from a clothes line against a lamp post) leading the way with her natural athleticism and brilliant fielding. In the final Test at the Oval England levelled the series with 15 minutes to spare thanks to a spell of 5-5 from our next heroine, Mary Duggan.
Another trailblazing England captain, Duggan started out as a left-arm seamer before becoming an orthodox spinner. She is the holder of the best bowling figures against Australia, seven wickets for six runs, and hit a hundred and took seven wickets at the Oval to win the series in 1963. A year earlier she and Ruth Westbrook had become the first women to be awarded the MCC Advanced Coaching Certificate, with Duggan hitting a lofted straight drive over the bowler’s head to a target placed on a wall in the area 36 times in succession.
That 1963 series featured one Rachael Heyhoe Flint, who played for England Women from 1960 to 1982 and for many is still the most famous female cricketer of them all. Heyhoe Flint, with the financial support of Jack Hayward, was instrumental in staging the first ever cricket World Cup, for men or women, in 1973. It featured England, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Young England and an International XI and was won by the hosts at a canter, with another our heroines, Enid Bakewell, scoring a century in what turned out to be a final, as England played Australia.
RACHAEL HEYHOE FLINT
A true heroine. Heyhoe Flint, who died in January 2017, played for England from 1960 to 1982, captaining the side from 1966 to 1978, a stint which included leading her country to World Cup glory in 1973. She also hit the first six in women’s Test cricket (“a hoick to leg” in her opinion), was made an MBE in 1972, was one of the first 10 women admitted to the MCC in 1999, and then elected to its full committee in 2004. President of The Lady Taverners from 2001, she was made an OBE in 2008, and in October 2010 became the first woman to be inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame. That same year, she took her place in the House of Lords as a working peer. She is fondly remembered as the most pioneering woman cricket has ever known.
A debut Test hundred against the Aussies in 1968 set the tone for Bakewell’s career. She averaged almost 60 with the bat and 16 with the ball with her left-arm spin. She shares with Ian Botham and Betty Wilson the record of having hit a hundred (112 out of 164) and taken 10 wickets in the same Test, which turned out to be her last, against West Indies in 1979. In 2012 she was inducted into the ICC’s hall of fame. The stylish Bakewell’s last series was Jan Brittin’s first.
Brittin’s career coincided with an era when one-day cricket took over as the more usual form of the game for women. She played 27 Tests and 63 ODIs (36 of them in World Cups, at two of which she finished as leading run-scorer), hitting 10 hundreds in total. Claire Taylor says of her: “An amazing person. A classically fantastic player and a humble character as well.”
Connor began her career playing in the men’s side at Brighton College and made her England debut in 1995. She took a hat-trick against India in 1999, and became captain the following year, finishing her six-year stint with a high-profile Ashes success, England’s first for 42 years, and doing much to mould England into the force they are today. During the last eight years of her playing career she also worked as an English teacher and head of PR at Brighton College. Connor had stints as a commentator and journalist before taking on her current role as ECB director of women’s cricket, in which capacity she has overseen the introduction of professional contracts, standalone sponsorship, coaching restructures and the Women’s Super League.
An international since the age of 16, Edwards has been at the heart of the development of women’s cricket over the last decade. Captain of England from 2006 until 2016, and the leading ODI runscorer of all time, Edwards lifted the World Cup, the World Twenty20 and the Ashes in her time as leader of the national side. She has a claim to be one of the finest ever England cricket captains and one of the most successful sports people of her generation. Just as significantly, Edwards combined her job as England captain with a coaching ambassador role for cricket charity Chance to Shine, where she helped to spread the power of the game amongst young people, and girls in particular.