Marylebone Cricket Club has responded to criticism from leading female cricketers, including Heather Knight, the current England captain, after a report in The Times claimed that a proposal to erect a permanent memorial to one of the sport's most pioneering figures, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, had been met with resistance from sections of the club's 18,500 male-dominated membership.
Baroness Heyhoe-Flint, who died in 2017 at the age of 77, played 22 Tests for England between 1960 and 1979, at a time when the women's game received scant attention or funding. She went on to become a leading administrator for the women's game, and in 2014 was integral in securing England's women their first tranche of ECB central contracts. In 2020, the ECB women's regional competition was named in her honour.
However, her most significant contribution to the sport came in 1973, when she devised and established the first Cricket World Cup - a women's event that preceded the first men's tournament by two years. She went on to lift the trophy herself after England beat Australia in the final, which was held at Edgbaston because women at that stage were still not permitted to play at Lord's.
Heyhoe-Flint did eventually take part in the first women's ODI at Lord's, against Australia in 1976, and is commemorated by MCC with a portrait in the pavilion - a section of the ground from which she was barred until, in 1999, she became one of the first ten female members to be accepted into the club.
However, with Clare Connor, the ECB's head of women's cricket, set to become MCC's first female president when she takes over the role later this year, the notion of a more fitting memorial to Heyhoe-Flint, in the form of a statue or gate, has been dismissed as "gesture politics" by sections of the club membership.
"I think it would be misguided to erect a statue," member and cricket author Mark Peel was quoted as saying in The Times. "It would put everything out of proportion. To compare like with like - men's and women's cricket - is plain wrong."
Connor, responding to the row via Twitter, added that discussions with MCC were "very well advanced", and that she had been unaware of any objections from within the club until reading the Times article.
MCC subsequently issued a statement confirming that plans for a memorial were in progress, and praising the contribution that Heyhoe-Flint had made, both to the wider sport and to the club itself, including her election to the Main Committee in 2004, and as a trustee.
"Rachael Heyhoe-Flint's contribution to the women's game and to MCC is unparalleled," Guy Lavender, MCC's chief executive and secretary, said. "Her portrait, commissioned by the club in 2010, is displayed above the entrance to the Long Room in the Pavilion at Lord's. Its position signifies and acknowledges the huge impact she had on cricket and the admiration in which she is held.
"The club has been considering further ways to commemorate Rachael's considerable achievements and when we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, we will be looking at how we honour Rachael's legacy as part of our wider strategy to advance women's and girls' cricket.
"I have had no sense of opposition to this intent, indeed the notion that there is a revolt at Lord's is highly misleading with no such challenge raised across our club committees, or by the broader membership who recognise Rachael's contribution to the game of cricket as a whole."
There are currently three statues with a permanent presence at Lord's - "Batsman" and "Bowler" at the Nursery End of the ground, and a bronze likeness of WG Grace, which MCC purchased from Gloucestershire after it was loaned to the ground for the 1999 World Cup. Grace, whose feats are widely credited with popularising the sport, is also commemorated with the main gates on the south side of the ground.
Among the dissenters quoted in the Times article was Robert Griffiths QC, a former chairman of Lord's development committee. "Diversity is one thing but a statue or gate has to be named on merit," he said. "As a player you wouldn't put her in the same league as Don Bradman and Garry Sobers, even within the women's game. I wouldn't want it to be thought that Rachael didn't make a huge contribution but WG Grace opened up the world of cricket to the heights it reached."
However Knight, who dedicated England women's World Cup win to Heyhoe-Flint when she lifted the trophy at Lord's in 2017, was unimpressed with such arguments.
"Come on MCC move with the times," she wrote on Twitter. "Women's cricket in England owes everything to Rachael and she invented the World Cup, without even mentioning her playing career #GetRachaelAStatue."