England v India, 1st ODI, Lord's

Lord's welcomes home the ladies

Jenny Thompson at Lord's

August 14, 2006

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Claire Taylor produced an outstanding display at Lord's as she hit an unbeaten 156 © Will Luke
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This match was not so much about the result. England won, and convincingly, to launch their one-day series in style, but principally this was about the occasion. It was India's first match at Lord's, and only England's eighth. It was about proving a point; that women's cricket deserves to grace this stage.

England have had to keep on proving that very same point for three decades now - once they'd finally stormed cricket's ultimate bastion, that is, back in 1976. Only when they had won the World Cup in 1975 were they granted the privilege, or right, to step onto Lord's hallowed turf.

Even then it needed some arm-twisting from the vocal and tireless Rachael Heyhoe-Flint. For the record, they went on to beat Australia and were given the same treatment as the men, although roses were put in their dressing room.

Thirty years on, almost to the day, and the flowers have long gone: England are blooming in their own right. But are they accepted? True, the ECB and the MCC were very happy that they played here, but there is the constant need for England to do well in order to earn more matches in future.

"There's a weight of expectation," Claire Taylor admitted - and promptly struck 156 to help the cause. "There were a lot of very influential people there today, a lot of MCC members and high-up people at the ECB. It was important to show them how far we've come." That they did - and how.

England looked right at home at Lord's, the first time they've been here in five years. Both teams had feared their players may be overwhelmed by the ground but in fact both sides merely rose to the occasion with apparent ease.

"Everyone has been complimentary of the way we played," Taylor added. She herself was the very epitome of style, making a typically classy hundred, the first England player to do so at Lord's, and only the second female international after Australia's Lisa Keightley. Taylor has a liking for this ground all right: she made fifty in her first outing here in 2001.

And the crowds, made up of county players, families, Indian supporters, and cricket fans in general, certainly appreciated their trip. Of course there was a boisterous atmosphere: this is a one-dayer. There was even the odd horn that had been sneaked in; that won't please the locals.

But the delight and joy at following the international was unusually palpable with the crowd cheering, well, pretty much everything. No amount of rain could dampen the mood, the two-hour delay before the start was borne smilingly by the 2000-plus crowd, taking advantage of the free entry. If you'd have closed your eyes you could have been forgiven for thinking that was actually 20,000.

A further 600 enjoyed paid-for hospitality. Even a lap of the pitch - when the players finally came out for a warm-up - was greeted rapturously.

During the delay some of the England players came out to meet their fans. As they hopped into the packed Grand Stand they were greeted by screams and promptly mobbed for photos and autographs. "It's just like being back in India," Rosalie Birch said, turning for a quick word while scribbling her signature for a throng.

"I hadn't expected this," said William, who was here for his first women's match. Bob, an ardent fan, did: he was here the last time the women played at Lord's, five years ago. He had to think for a moment who they were playing, was it Pakistan, no, it was Australia. "They were the business," he smiled, the memories of flooding back of Keightley hitting out and Cathryn Fitzpatrick flinging them down.

But while Lord's may be the home of cricket, for the women the ground is really rather something more of a plush holiday home where they're allowed for the occasional jolly. One of the team, Caroline Atkins, has the luxury of training here daily as a member of the MCC ground staff. She's here for two years only - after which she must leave; she doesn't have the option, like the men, to push for a first-class contract. The women's game may have evolved, but some of the musty jackets of traditionalism still hang in the corridors of the MCC.

Speaking of which, Robin "Girls! It's absolutely outrageous!" Marlar wasn't available for comment about whether he'd enjoyed the match, but doubtless he would have something to say about the fact that two of Brighton College's first XI (about whom he made the original comments) were playing. Clare Connor may have given up playing but through Sarah Taylor and Holly Colvin, her pupils at the school, her legacy lives on.

And the official home of women's cricket isn't Lord's either, as they'd perhaps like it to be - they certainly want to play more games there - rather it's going to be in the far-flung outpost of Taunton. As unlikely a venue as that seems, women's cricket in Somerset is well-supported - by the crowds, and by the county, too.

Somerset has already fully integrated its women's section into the club - they have the use of the team bus and they get the full kit. There's even talk of erecting a women's honours board for international matches. The launch of Taunton as the official home will be at the end of August, at the start of the second and final Test.

But today, both teams were made very welcome at their temporary shelter, albeit a very luxurious one. And both did the women's game proud.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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