1948-49 February 9, 2008

When touring cost a fortune

England women's second tour of Australia and New Zealand was another triumph - once it got underway that was

Betty Snowball proved an attraction with the gloves and with the bat © National Library of Australia
The tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1948 should have been the third or fourth for England's women, but war got in the way in 1939, although the team had already been chosen.

England women had won the first tour in 1934-35 quite easily, followed by a draw against Australia back at home two years later, so they know their hosts would be keen for revenge. But England's side - including four from the first tour 14 years earlier - was ageing, and women's cricket had all but shut down during the war years, except for the occasional charity match.

Molly Hide had been looking after a farm during the hostilities, Myrtle McLagan was a senior commander in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, Joan Wilkinson was a flight-sergeant, Barbara Wood an ambulance driver.

After each paid £200 for the passage, although some received funding, they set sail from Tilbury on a liner which normally carried 400 in tourist class but had crammed in 700 "and it feels like it" wrote to Nancy Joy. This time went via Sri Lanka, as the men usually did, where they played a team made of several Europeans and some Ceylonese women. They struggled to get the pace of the wicket in the opening match in the 98-degree heat in front of 7000 spectators, but Hide went on to get a century and Megan Lowe finished a tight game in their favour with a hat-trick.

From there they travelled to Perth, where they were greeted rapturously at Fremantle by their hosts including Dot Mummery (aka Dot Debnam, the sports writer) the secretary of the Australia Women's Cricket Council, who travelled for five days from Melbourne to meet them. Several receptions followed, including one with the mayor, at which speeches were given about the warm English which Joy believed "would do them good [to hear] in England, in a November fog, on rationed coal, with rationed food and clothes."

Western Australia weren't strong, with five struggling clubs, and the two-innings match was won easily by England, who had agreed not to enforce the follow-on to save the gate for Saturday. After the match they went to a "Trots" meeting as guests of the president of the Trotting Association. Excursions and parties were a feature of the tour, including a cruise up the Swan River and on November 15 came news of Prince Charles' birth, prompting church bells to ring out across the country.

A combined XI, with three Victorians boosting the side, then held them to a draw before they then set off for Sydney, saddened to leave their new friends behind. Their first match was against New South Wales, watched by a crowd of 4600. The home side's captain, Molly Dive, set the tourists the second-innings target of 71 in 50 minutes, and they squeaked home with three minutes to spare. A thrilling finish delighted all. On to Brisbane where rain affected the first day but England still made more than 200, and went on to win by an innings and 105 runs.

A few tour matches followed before the first Test in Adelaide in January with another healthy crowd watching Australia make 213. They went on to win by 183 runs. Overnight on the train to Melbourne for the second Test, where they found the MCG "sombre, almost forbidding". Australia batted in humid conditions and made a dominant 265. England collapsed for 118, but in the second innings held on for a draw, leaving all to play for back in Sydney which they arrived at via Canberra. That match finished in a draw too, handing Australia the series, though Hide's century received praise from Neville Cardus who likened it to a Denis Compton innings.

Joy summarised the series thus: "Australia had the edge of us in each department ... they proved the superior side, they played excellent, sporting cricket, they were well captained and they deserved to win." Fielding, including baseball-style throws, also helped, as well as Australia's greater batting depth.

England then headed then to New Zealand, which took four days by sea, and four warm-up games later they were ready for the only Test, which they won by 185 runs, a considerably smaller thrashing than that meted out in the first Test 14 years earlier.

The tourists were all broke by the end of the tour and so enterprisingly formed a gambling committee, as well as playing hymns in church. As Joy observed: "It has been a hundred times worth it, but it hasn't been cheap." And it wasn't for over half a century later that the international sides would get their travel completely funded. But they wouldn't have been anywhere without their pioneering foremothers.

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Maiden Over Nancy Joy (Sporting Handbooks, 1950)

Jenny Thompson is an assistant editor at Cricinfo