England cricketer Claire Taylor: Wisden Cricketer of the Year and the first Englishwoman to score a century at Lord's - writes exclusively about playing for MCC.
To many, mention MCC and they will conjure up an image of bacon and egg ties, lobster trousers and the first day of the Lord’s test. They might know a bit about the playing tradition of the club and you might even hear that ‘women are allowed in the Long Room these days’.
For most of the twentieth century however, MCC was a very exclusive male club where fathers nominated sons and the only woman allowed across the threshold of the Long Room was the Queen. A very nineteenth century British construct around a game grown global through colonial expansion.
Now though, things are starting to change, both on and off the field. In 1999, ten women were granted Honorary Life Membership and a small but dedicated female playing membership stretched its fledgling wings. Just over ten years later, the playing membership tops 100 and represents the club in 27 fixtures against a variety of sides from schoolgirl to international standard.
When I joined MCC in 2003 as an Out-Match member I thought it would just be a source of more cricket. What I didn’t know is that over time it would come to mean so much more. I’ve become part of a bigger cricket club, one that transcends local and regional ties, one that shares values and represents something of which I am proud.
Accepting a challenge
A long weekend at the end of July and an MCC game at Bath Cricket Club, a chance to catch up with old friends and play a good game of cricket against Premier League opposition. Captaincy fell upon my shoulders at late notice but as it’s a challenge I don’t get in other teams, I was happy to accept.
Some of the team arranged to travel west the night before the game and we stayed over at Judy Wilmot’s house (one of the stalwarts of the club). We caught up over a BBQ and a few beers. Several had been on the MCC tour to Trinidad and it was great to hear how things had gone, the highlights on and off the pitch. We talked then about the state of the women’s game and the changes that had happened over the past few years.
The match itself was tough, Bath are a strong side amongst women’s clubs and turned out a team with over half of their Premier League players. In an uncharacteristic move MCC bowled first, acknowledging the strength of the opposition but their young captain declared late and MCC hung on for a draw.
Declaration cricket is a rare contest these days; most women’s cricket is limited overs with fielding and bowling restrictions and a winner takes all approach. Playing in MCC games is a welcome break from that relentless competition.
There’s a skill to setting a total, marshalling the field to create the chase and working the game to ensure that all three results are possible in the last hour. As an international player I have a responsibility to bat in the right way to ensure a result and as a captain to set fields to challenge both bowler and batsman alike.
At the end of the game with hands shaken and umpires thanked, the MCC team enjoyed a drink together and talked of matches to come. Some were playing in the Combined Services tournament in Aldershot and others were planning a road trip north to play against two county league sides and a Worcestershire Development XI in late August.
My remaining match is on the Nursery Ground at the end of the September (rain permitting), something I’ve been looking forward to since the fixtures were released last winter.
Spirit of Cricket
Captaining an MCC team is markedly different from captaining a one day club or county side. Firstly, you need to figure out who is in your team. Do they bat or bowl? Where do they like to field? In a club side, everyone has their role and all will get opportunities throughout the season.
The MCC captain has to produce a batting order and make the right bowling changes to ensure that everyone, especially the probationers, get an opportunity to impact on the match. Players on both sides should be challenged but not so much that they feel intimidated.
The probationers are the ‘new girls’, those applying to join MCC as playing members. They will only get accepted after playing a certain number of matches and convincing the captains and the Women’s sub-committee alike that they have what it takes. And what does it take? It takes commitment to the Club, the skills of the game and the right attitude.
That attitude is captured in the phrase “spirit of cricket”; an ineffable concept which embodies all that is good about the game. MCC safeguards this notion and it is down to players and skippers alike to express it in the way they play their cricket.
When playing for MCC it’s somehow more than the standard “play hard, play fair” mantra of international cricket. It’s about playing for the love of the game, of respecting all who play it and ensuring that “cricket is the winner”.
The rewards of playing MCC cricket are great for those from all levels of the game. There are chances to play with international cricketers or against international teams as well as opportunities to help develop the game through matches against school teams.
Friendships forged through the sport are rekindled each year against different opposition and new friends are made as the membership increases.