1973 March 26, 2005

When the women set the agenda

A casual after-dinner chat over a spot of sherry between two sporting stalwarts spawned the first World Cup - and it was played by women

Rachael Heyhoe-Flint receives the World Cup from Princess Anne © Cricinfo
A casual after-dinner chat over a spot of sherry between two sporting stalwarts spawned cricket's first World Cup - and it was played by women. The 60-over tournament, held in England over the course of six weeks in 1973, was to predate the men's competition by two years.

Football fans will know Sir Jack Hayward as the unrelenting benefactor of Wolves, but less well known is his explosive contribution to the cricket world when, in 1971, during a conversation with England's inspirational and tireless captain Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, he suggested staging a World Cup.

Hayward had already raided his own coffers to give thousands of pounds to a typically underfunded England women's team, financing them on two tours to the West Indies in 1969-70 and 1970-71, after Heyhoe-Flint, a tireless fundraiser and publicist of the women's game, had written asking for sponsorship.

So impressed was Hayward by the standard of cricket on those two tours that he pitched his idea of a World Cup to Sylvia Swinburne, the president of the Women's Cricket Association. Without hesitation, the WCA agreed - and Hayward promptly stumped up £40,000 towards the costs.

Such magnanimity, born of a genuine desire to improve sport, is rare. Hayward, known as Union Jack because of his passion for all things English, was asked somewhat scathingly why he would want to pour so much money into what was seen as a commercially unattractive game. "It's quite simple," he replied, "I love women, and I love cricket - and what could be better than to have the two rolled together?"

The seven participating teams were certainly grateful for Hayward's contribution. Indeed, women's cricket would continued to struggle until 1997, when the ECB merged with the WCA. The first men's World Cup was a different story: Prudential handed them £100,000 to start with.

The women's competition was held on a league basis, with the top two teams contesting the final, and comprised Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, England, Young England and an International XI, which included cast-offs from all the other competing countries.

Paulette Lynch at Lord's - the 6'3" Jamaican played for the International XI © Cricinfo
While their financial worries were soothed, political ones were brought to the boil. South Africa had five players lined up to feature in the International XI, but the Caribbean countries threatened to withdraw if any South Africans took part. The West Indies got their way, and the International team fielded a weakened side of players omitted from their own country's team.

Nevertheless, the International team came a remarkable third, with three wins from six matches. Could they have done even better with the South Africans? In the event, it was England's squad of amateurs comprising "four housewives, nine teachers and one secretary" who were to line up against a similar side from Australia for the final match.

Through the World Cup the women's game sprinted forward, and yet another sporting legend got involved: Dr Roger Bannister opened the tournament on a baking hot day in June at the Civil Service Ground in Chiswick. The cup was held across the country from Bletchley to Bradford, Sittingbourne to Swansea.

Despite a rainy start to the competition the weather held fair, gloriously so for the final match between England and Australia at Edgbaston. Lady Luck played ball, too: it was little more than good fortune that the 21st and final match proved the decisive tie as cricket's old firm battled it out for supremacy.

The prolific Enid Bakewell led England's assault, rattling up 118 as they romped to 273 for 3. This towering total proved far too daunting for Australia, who slumped to defeat by 92 runs. Heyhoe-Flint allowed herself the honour of bowling the last over, and as she later recalled to Cricinfo: "I paced out my run, turned to bowl and found that every one of my England team had placed themselves at least 70 yards out on the boundary edge - including wicketkeeper Shirley Hodges!"

The competition was given the royal seal of approval as Princess Anne handed England the trophy even if, as Heyhoe-Flint - never one to mince her words - said later that: "I rather thought she was being rather gracious and diplomatic [in turning up]".

The victorious England side were then invited to play a match against an Old England Men's XI at the Oval, which included Len Hutton and was captained by Denis Compton.

Enid Bakewell pads up ahead of England's pre-tournament training camp at Crystal Palace. She scored a hundred in the final match © Getty Images
But after the celebrations came the hangover, as concerns kicked in that the first World Cup might also be the last. They need not have worried: India came to the party and announced that they would hold the competition in 1978.

By the time this announcement had been made, Hayward had accepted the WCA's invitation to be their patron - and the rest would have been history. But suddenly Flint, having toiled so hard to help stage the first World Cup, wasn't even a contender for the second - she was dropped from the entire squad for the tour of India in 1977. The official line was that the team was chosen "with youth in mind for the future", although seven of the squad were in their 30s Mary Pilling was installed as captain; she wasn't even considered in the original line-up.

A seething Hayward severed his ties with the organization and withdrew from sponsoring the India tour, such was his disgust at the amateurish way Flint had been treated. Women's cricket had slain its golden geese: the publicity-generating Flint and the financially generous Hayward. As Flint observed: "People like Jack Hayward don't grow on trees". But at least before the WCA did the damage the legacy had been set - with the founding of the World Cup.

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Fair Play - the story of women's cricket Rachael Heyhoe-Flint and Netta Rheinberg (Angus and Robertson, 1976)
Heyhoe! The autobiography of Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Rachael Heyhoe-Flint (Pelham Books, 1978)
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1974
The Cricketer magazine June - September 1973