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Women's Cricket Evolution

Posted: 6 April 2019

women have played the game for just as long as men...

Cricket has traditionally been seen as a “male” sport, despite the fact that women have played the game for just as long as men.

In 1963, England captain Len Hutton famously said during a charity match against a women’s side that women playing cricket was “absurd, like a man trying to knit” (the women went on to win the match). Views like Hutton’s were once common, which has meant that women have often been absent from official histories of the game.

This exhibition aims to help correct that absence by documenting some of the many examples of women’s contribution to cricket, and by tracking the history of their participation. In 2018, MCC acquired the archive of the Women’s Cricket Association, which has helped to inform the displays seen here.

It is impossible in one exhibition to highlight every single one of women’s achievements in cricket. There are many gaps here: the lack of non-white women is one such gap. This is obviously problematic, and reflects that women’s cricket in England has historically been a very white (and middle-class) sport, though globally there has been more diversity.

There is still a long way to go before women’s cricket can be seen to be on an equal footing with the men’s game. Women’s cricket still receives less media coverage, the England players are paid less than the England men’s team, and since ECB took over running the sport, men now hugely outnumber women in umpiring, coaching and governance roles.

However, this exhibition also celebrates that women have travelled a long way since the first recorded match in 1745. It is hoped that making the history of women’s cricket more visible will help pave the way to a brighter future for the sport.

 

Explore the Timeline

Birth of women’s cricket

eleven maids of Bramley and eleven maids of Hambledon.

Women have played cricket for centuries. The first recorded women’s match took place in 1745 in Surrey between (according to the Reading Mercury) “eleven maids of Bramley and eleven maids of Hambledon”.

Village matches became increasingly common and between 1890 and 1918 over 140 women’s clubs were formed. The foundation of the Women’s Cricket Association in 1926 marked the start of organised, national competitions in England.

“Original English Lady Cricketers”, Reds Vs. Blue, England, 1890“Original English Lady Cricketers”, Reds Vs. Blue, England, 1890

Up until 1926, women’s cricket was organised on an ad hoc basis. Early village matches tended to be one-offs, played for prizes including plum-cake or ale. These games could attract a lot of interest: one match between the women of Charlton and Westdean & Chilgrove villages in Sussex in 1747 had to be curtailed because of a pitch invasion by an overly rowdy crowd!

Before 1900 women usually played in long skirts and blouses, and sometimes wore bonnets. It is rumoured that Christina Willes, whose brother John was the first cricketer to bowl a round-arm delivery at Lord’s in 1822, invented this method because the ball was becoming entangled in her skirt when she bowled underarm.

The “Original English Lady Cricketers”, a touring band of 22 women who played a series of exhibition matches at English county grounds in 1890, were unusual in being paid to play. Most early women’s cricket was amateur, and by the late 19th century most women’s teams were made up of aristocratic ladies playing in the grounds of country houses. Girls from wealthy families also sometimes had the chance to play at the new girls’ public schools like Roedean and St Leonards, though other schools banned the sport for being “unladylike”.

Before 1914, some employers offered cricket as an activity for their female workers, including Cadburys, Rowntrees and Boots. During the First World War, some women working in munitions factories also formed cricket teams while men were away fighting at the front.

Climbing Mountains

women’s cricket has struggled to gain public acceptance.

From its earliest days, women’s cricket has struggled to gain public acceptance. Despite the occasional exhibition match, which was considered more entertainment than sport, before 1914 most women’s cricket took place behind closed doors.

For a long time, most people agreed with W.G. Grace’s assessment that it was ‘not a game for women’, and the schools, universities, physical training colleges and workplaces that did play usually did so in secret.

St Leonards School in Scotland – one of the earliest to play – criticised the ‘burlesque’ image of women’s cricket and instead used it to teach pupils ‘all those qualities supposed to be untypical of girls.’

During the First World War, the secretive nature of women’s cricket changed. The game was played in army barracks, training depots, military camps, munitions factories and workplaces, and on hospital grounds. As women’s role in public life grew after the war, so did wider acceptance of women’s cricket.

The formation of the Women’s Cricket Association in 1926 was a significant step for the sport, and was followed by further milestones including the first match on a first-class county ground, at Worcester in 1932.

Progress, however, was a hard-fought battle. The number of women and girls playing in Britain fell considerably between the mid-1950s and the late 1990s, and women only played their first game at Lord’s in 1976. In the last two decades, however, the sport has grown at an unprecedented rate.

Players and supporters have had to climb steep mountains in search of recognition and acceptance, but today women cricketers no longer have to hide from the public. Most of these mountains have been metaphorical, but occasionally have been physical too, as was the case when Heather Knight led a group of international cricketers up Mount Kilimanjaro in 2014 and set a world record for the highest-ever cricket match played.

Heather Knight, Kilimanjaro, 2014
Heather Knight, Kilimanjaro, 2014

The Pioneers

The history of Women's cricket is full of players who changed and shaped the game that is loved today. 

Betty Archdale, 1935Helen Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Archdale was the first woman to captain England during the 1934-35 tour of Australia and New Zealand. A member of the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) she was the leading ambassador for the emerging sport, her confident, measured leadership in the face of scrutiny was a key reason for the success of the tour, which helped heal the divisions caused by the 1932-33 Bodyline series and did much to raise the profile of women’s cricket.

She was a woman who broke all conventions. She was educated at Bedales and St. Leonards schools where she was taught to challenge society’s expectations of her gender. She enthusiastically absorbed this message, training as one of the first woman barristers in Britain.

Her mother, Helen Archdale, was a prominent suffragette and Betty had visited her in Holloway prison from a young age, while being raised in close proximity to leading feminists. Infused with her mother’s rebellious spirit, she also departed on her own unconventional political journey that saw her work for Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson, take part in the famous Jarrow Crusade (1936), lobby the League of Nations for gender equality and campaign against fascism.

For Betty, cricket helped reinforce her mother’s message that she could pursue activities ‘regardless of sex.’ She assisted the WCA with legal documents, coached schoolgirls, wrote articles in Women’s Cricket and helped produce a promotional film for schoolgirls. During the Second World War, she continued to play cricket as an officer in the Women’s Royal Navy Service, and after the war settled in Australia where she established herself as a public intellectual and educational reformer. In 1999, she became one of the first ten women to be appointed an honorary Member of MCC.

Mary Edith Hide, known as Molly, captained England between 1937 and 1954, including in the first ever women’s Test series played in England in 1937.

She drew huge crowds to watch her stylish batting, including 10,000 to Mitcham Green for Surrey against Australia in 1951.

Hide was born in Shanghai, China, on 24 October 1913, and came to Surrey with her family when she was 4 years old. The daughter of a farmer, she grew up on the family estate in Haslemere. She learned cricket from a young age and went on to attend Wycombe Abbey School, known as being one of the leading cricketing girls’ schools.

By the time she was 21 she had already represented England at both lacrosse and cricket. She played in the first ever women’s Test, against Australia at Brisbane in December 1934. Across her England career Hide scored 872 runs at an average of 36.33, including two centuries.

After retiring from cricket in 1958, she remained heavily involved in the sport until the end of her life, firstly as manager on England’s 1959 tour to Holland, and then as a selector for Surrey and England. She was President of the Women’s Cricket Association in 1973 when England won the first ever World Cup.

Enid BakewellFor most of the twentieth century, nearly all English women cricketers were educated at a small number of fee-paying schools. Enid Bakewell was a notable exception to this trend. The Women’s Cricket Association was an overwhelmingly upper-middle class organisation, but Enid hailed from a working-class Nottinghamshire coalmining village and learned the game by playing with the neighbourhood boys and joining her local club.

Enid played for England in 12 Tests and 23 One-Day Internationals from 1968 to 1982 including two World Cups, in 1973 and 1982. She was arguably the greatest all-round woman player of all time.

She was picked for the 1968-69 tour of Australia and New Zealand at the age of 28, but married and a mother with a small daughter she had to fund the trip herself by, among other things, selling potatoes from her father’s allotment. Her daughter stayed with her mother. Enid scored over 1,000 runs and took [say ‘more than’ instead of repeating ‘over’?] 100 wickets on that tour.

From then on, she was an England regular. A career interrupted only by the birth of two more children, she played her last international at 42 but was still in the running at 50, and continued playing cricket into her seventies.

Long after Enid’s international days ended came belated recognition, MCC membership and induction to the ICC Hall of Fame in 2012.

Janette BrittinJanette Brittin played for England for 19 years, between 1979 and 1998, and her record of 1,935 Test runs remains unbeaten to this day. A naturally talented sportswoman, she achieved the rare feat of becoming a triple international, also representing England at both indoor hockey and indoor cricket.

Brittin grew up in Chessington, Surrey, and represented the county between 1977 and 1998. Playing as an amateur for the whole of her career, at a time when there was very little money at any level of the women’s game, she juggled cricket with firstly her studies at Chelsea PE College, and then with her work as a teacher and as a manager for British Airways.

She was a prolific batsman who hit five Test centuries, including a highest score of 167 against Australia in 1998. In 1993 she was part of the England team who won the World Cup at home, hitting two centuries in the group stages and 48 in the final at Lord’s against New Zealand, and taking the winning catch.

In October 1984 she became the first female cricketer ever to appear on the front cover of The Cricketer magazine.

Claire TaylorSamantha Claire Taylor played for England representing her country in 15 Tests, 126 one-day internationals and 27 Twenty20s in her 14 year international career.  She received an MBE for her achievements in cricket and was the first women to be named one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year.  Her unbeaten 156 against India in 2006 is the record for the highest ODI score at Lord's by a man or woman.

Shubhangi KulkarniShubhangi was a leg spinner and a middle order batswoman having played 19 Tests and 27 ODIs in a career spanning fifteen years from 1976 until 1991 that included the 1978 and 1982 World Cups. Shubhangi captained India in three Test Matches, and one ODI.

After her retirement from cricket she became an administrator serving women’s cricket at the highest level; first as the secretary of the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) and then continuously in leading roles at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Asian Cricket Council (ACC) and the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Under her stewardship at the WCAI, the Indian women in 2005 reached the final of the Women’s World Cup in South Africa.  In 2006, as Secretary of the WCAI, Shubhangi successfully engineered and completed the merger of women’s cricket with the BCCI that helped women cricketers get access to world class infrastructure and facilities which up until then were only accessible to the men.

In 1985 Shubhangi was the third woman cricketer to be given the Arjuna award, the highest sporting honour and award in India, in recognition of her outstanding achievement and excellence in sport.

International tours

the first opportunity for a global women’s cricket tour.

In 1931 the formation of the Australian Women’s Cricket Council (AWCC) created the first opportunity for a global women’s cricket tour.

After the Secretary of the English Association Vera Cox met with a member of the AWCC while on holiday in Australia, the AWCC wrote to the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) in Spring 1934 inviting them to visit that same year. The English team set sail for Australia on 19 October 1934.

Deck cricket, England on board SS Cathay, first tour to Australia, 1934 (WCA Archive)
Deck cricket, England on board SS Cathay, first tour to Australia, 1934 (WCA Archive)

The players on the 1934-35 tour had to pay for their Osome tewn boat tickets to Australia, which cost £94 and 10 shillings (about £4,800 in today’s money). This first England team was not, therefore, selected on merit: the WCA sought applications from any member who felt she could afford to travel.

Nonetheless England won two of the three Tests against Australia, as well as their one Test against New Zealand. The Test matches attracted huge crowds, including 9,000 at Brisbane, 9,600 at Sydney and 13,000 at Melbourne.

While abroad, players were treated like VIPs: England’s Myrtle Maclagan wrote that “everywhere we went we were recognized”. The Morning Post newspaper even published the following poem:

What matter that we lost, mere nervy men
Since England's women now play England's game,
Wherefore Immortal Wisden, take your pen
And write MACLAGAN on the scroll of fame

 
- (Morning post)

Despite this success, tours were expensive to arrange, so only happened very infrequently: England next visited Australia and New Zealand in 1948-49, 1957-58 and 1968-69. In 1958 the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) was formed to oversee the touring schedule. The first ever IWCC meeting took place in Melbourne in February 1958 with women from England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Netherlands in attendance.

By the 1970s, women cricketers had also formed associations in India and West Indies. England’s first tour of India was in 1978 for the second World Cup, while West Indies first visited England in 1979.

World Cups

The first ever Cricket World Cup was played by women.

The first ever Cricket World Cup was played by women, in the summer of 1973 - two years before the men’s version. In 1971, England captain Rachael Heyhoe Flint had been staying with Wolverhampton businessman Jack Hayward, when he turned to her and asked: “Why couldn't we bring every national women's team to England for a World Cup competition?”

The 1973 tournament was bankrolled by Hayward: he stumped up £40,000 to fund the costs of bringing teams to England. The teams competing were England, Australia, New Zealand, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Young England and an International XI.

England beat Australia by 92 runs in the tournament’s final match at Edgbaston - Enid Bakewell hitting a century - which meant that, fittingly, it was Heyhoe Flint who lifted the inaugural trophy. Afterwards, Prime Minister Edward Heath hosted the team at 10 Downing Street to celebrate their achievement.

The experiment was such a success that the ICC decided the men should also have a World Cup, with the first men’s tournament held in 1975.

“the doubting Thomas's can be forgotten, for the ability and prowess of the international players who took part earned the respect of all who saw them in action.”

 

- WCA official report, 1973

The second World Cup was held in India in 1978, and since 2005 it has taken place every four years. England have hosted on two subsequent occasions: 1993 and 2017. Both times the final was played at Lord’s and was won by England.

The 2017 World Cup final was the first to be played in front of a sell-out crowd. Anya Shrubsole’s 6-46 against India on that day remain the best figures by any player in a One-Day International at Lord’s.

atherine Brunt of England poses for a selfie with team-mates after winning the ICC Women's World Cup 2017 Fina
Katherine Brunt poses for a selfie with team-mates after winning the ICC Women's World Cup 2017 Final

From the BFI Film archive

Rachael Heyhoe Flint
Watch Now

WCA to ECB

A central association for women’s cricket.

On 4 October 1926, a meeting took place near Victoria Station in London. One of those present, a Miss Kathleen Doman, proposed the formation of a “central association for women’s cricket”. The resolution was carried by 14 votes to 2, and so the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) was born. The Association remained the governing body of women’s cricket in England until 1998.

At the first meeting of the WCA two aims were declared: “To encourage the foundation of cricket clubs throughout the country” and “to provide facilities for and bring together ... those women and girls who previously have had little opportunity of playing cricket after leaving school and college”. By 1938 105 clubs, 18 colleges and 85 schools were affiliated to the Association, and 18 County Associations had been formed.

"bring together those women and girls who previously have had little opportunity"

In 1931, the WCA agreed that female cricketers would adopt the laws of cricket as issued by MCC, with the exception that a smaller ball would be used. However, the Association also introduced some of their own rules for women’s cricket. They were particularly strict about clothing.

A “divided skirt” (or Mayfield shorts) was introduced as the official uniform for the 1934-35 tour to Australia and New Zealand. International players continued to play in skirts until 1997.

Janette Brittin’s last and Charlotte Edward’s debut Test England Vs. New Zealand, Guildford 1996
Janette Brittin’s last and Charlotte Edward’s debut Test England Vs. New Zealand, Guildford 1996

By the late 1990s, the WCA was experiencing financial problems due to the expense of hosting the 1993 World Cup. The UK Sports Council was also keen for them to establish closer links with those running men’s cricket. On 29 March 1998 at an Extraordinary General Meeting, the WCA voted to dissolve itself and hand over control of women’s cricket to the England and Wales Cricket Board.

In 2005, the International Cricket Council also took over the running of global women’s cricket from the International Women’s Cricket Council.

Ladies and Lord’s

It took 47 years of asking.

Trying to find places to play has always been a challenge for female cricketers, due to the fact that cricket grounds are generally owned by men. It took 47 years of asking before MCC finally allowed the England team to play at Lord’s, in 1976.

In January 1929 the WCA wrote to MCC requesting use of Lord’s, but the Committee refused. In reply, the WCA sent MCC the following poem:

'Fair' plays a jewel, as you should discover,
You cruel men who've bowled a 'Maiden' over.
Think of the debt you owe us, which when paid is,
Will raise you from the 'AsheS' Lords and LAdies

Although women were allowed to practice at Lord’s firstly during the Australian tour in 1951, it was the success of the first World Cup in 1973 which convinced MCC to finally permit a women’s match at Lord’s. The match, a One-Day International against Australia, was played on 4 August 1976 and won by England by 8 wickets.

England play their first ODI at Lord's, 1976
England play their first ODI at Lord's, 1976

Since then, England have played 16 matches at the Ground - most recently the World Cup final in 2017. In April 2018, Middlesex Women played their first ever match here.

Lord’s was also the site for the official creation of the “Women’s Ashes”. On 20 July 1998, England and Australia gathered to watch a miniature bat, signed by both sides, being burned in an MCC-supplied wok in the Harris Garden, alongside a constitution from the recently-dissolved WCA. The “ashes” were placed in a trophy commissioned by the last WCA President, Norma Izard.

Women were barred from becoming members of the MCC until 1998. A campaign sparked off by Rachael Heyhoe-Flint’s application for membership in 1991 led to fierce debates amongst existing members.

“I think it's a good thing that there is still somewhere where males can be without females. Women can be a little irritating, it's the female temperament: it leads to irritation.”

 

- MCC Member

However, such views were not representative of the membership as a whole and in 1996 the newly-elected Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie launched his presidency by stating that he supported admitting women. Heyhoe-Flint’s campaign was eventually successful in September 1998 and in 1999 the first ten women were granted honorary life membership of the club.

MCC v Middlesex WomenMCC v Middlesex Women, 2018

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