Storming cricket's bastion

Jenny Thompson looks back to the day in August 1976 when women were finally allowed to play at Lord's

Rachael Heyhoe-Flint leads England onto the field © Cricinfo
Overarm bowling may have been invented by a woman, Christine Willes, way back in 1805, but it took another 171 years before the male stronghold of Lord's agreed to host its first women's match when England met Australia in a 60-over clash in 1976.

The battle for women to play at Lord's started in 1971, spearheaded by Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, the then England captain, who had gone as far as threatening to bring the case in front of the Equal Opportunities Commission. But once the match had been agreed, the Women's Cricket Association, in an effort to appease the male authorities, hastily issued a statement refuting the suggestion that any legal action had ever been intended.

Heyhoe-Flint had battled tirelessly and her efforts, coupled with England's success in the first-ever cricket World Cup of 1973 (which was the brainchild of Heyhoe-Flint and Wolverhampton businessman Sir Jack Hayward), eventually earned the women the invitation to play at St John's Wood. Speaking in 1973, Aidan Crawley, the MCC's president, told England after they lifted the World Cup: "You have done enough to deserve a game at cricket's headquarters."

However, it was still a full three years before the match was scheduled, and even then the fixture hinged on Middlesex's progress in the Gillette Cup. If they had reached the quarter-finals and had been drawn at home, the women's international would have been switched to Sunbury CC, the reserve ground. Fortunately for England, Middlesex lost to Lancashire in the second round - the match was watched by some of the female players eager to find out their fate first hand. They soon realised, to their delight, that they would finally play at the home of cricket.

And when women finally stepped out at Lord's, on Wednesday, August 4, the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Women's Cricket Association, Heyhoe-Flint's relief was palpable: "I've got those old butterflies," she said. "It's so exciting to be here at last."

But while Flint may have won over the establishment, some members of the 4000 crowd were still to be convinced of the merits of women playing at Lord's. The Daily Mail reported "some resentment from the elder gentlemen", while the Evening News confirmed "there was some shaking of heads when members learned the ladies were allowed into the male-only pavilion."

The scorecard from the famous match (click for enlargement) © Cricinfo
The women players were granted permission to change in the main changing rooms, and they were also allowed to enter the Long Room. And in a departure from the norm, red roses were placed in the dressing room, although all other facilities provided were the same as for the men. But the players were the exception - female supporters were still banned from the pavilion, and no women were allowed unaccompanied into the Warner and Tavern Stands.

Heyhoe-Flint won the toss and chose to field, and she led her team out on a gloriously sunny day through the Long Room amid enthusiastic applauding from all. "It was a really emotional moment for me," she said. But her usual team-related tactics gave way to a more personal motivation on this occasion: she admitted, years later, that England fielded first so she, as captain, would be the first ever woman to take to the pitch at Lord's. As it was, inserting Australia, who were understandably daunted by the surroundings, would prove to be another of her sound captaincy decisions.

The pressure told as Australia's star batsman Lorraine Hill fell to the second ball of the first over. Hill had scored more than 1000 runs on the tour, including five centuries, but she fell for 0 as she edged a loose one to Shirley Hodges down the leg side off medium-pacer June Stephenson's.

Wickets continued to tumble steadily, and Australia - who had won the first game of the three-match series at Canterbury - soon found themselves in trouble on 41 for 5. Sharon Tredea and Wendy Hills staged a partial recovery, with Tredea contributing 54, but Australia were eventually bundled out to leave England chasing a more than manageable 162. "I think we were nervous," Anne Gordon admitted in the Daily Express after the match. "The occasion was just too much."

In contrast to a fidgety Australian innings, England's reply started in assured fashion as Enid Bakewell, the vice-captain, put on 81 runs with Lynne Thomas for the first wicket. A typically composed Bakewell would recall later: "I wasn't really nervous going out to bat". Their stand came to an end when Thomas holed out for 30 with a soft looping shot to mid-off, but England lost only one more wicket - Bakewell was run out on 50 - as they went on to complete a comfortable eight-wicket victory. Heyhoe-Flint (17) and Chris Watmough, with a classy, unbeaten 50, steered them home with four overs to spare.

'The dear old colonel's memory has finally gone ... he wants to know who the young Man is going out to bat!' © The Daily Express
Heyhoe-Flint later commented, smiling, that just as she had contrived to lead England on to the field, so she was determined to lead them off it - and as a result she had dropped herself down the batting order. But, in truth, Flint was genuinely proud of her team's achievement - and the allround success of the day, after her administrative toil, was made all the sweeter for her as she had found the crowd to be receptive to the match: "There has been no patronising," she said.

But some of the MCC members, despite having witnessed what was generally agreed to have been a fine display, were still less than impressed. The Daily Mail reported 31-year-old MCC member Peter Curtis as saying after the match: "I was praying for rain. I couldn't believe this would happen in my lifetime." Brian Wijerane, a member for ten years, added: "I was quite shocked when I saw the women playing. Cricket is a game where concentration is very important and women are the greatest distraction a man can have around."

Still, the day was deemed a great success. Bakewell was later to recall: "It was great to walk out at Lord's. I felt that we had really made it. It was a place in history." But it didn't open the floodgates - it was to be another 11 years before England played there again, and more than two decades before women spectators were finally allowed to watch matches from the pavilion.

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