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Lord's Varsity matches under scrutiny in gender equality row

Pressure on Oxford and Cambridge to agree to T20 double-header or lose historic fixture

George Dobell
George Dobell
Lord's pavilion in the sunshine, July 5, 2018

MCC is open to the notion of two T20 Varsity figures on a single day of the calendar  •  Getty Images

Marylebone Cricket Club has been asked to "step in" to find an "equitable solution" to a disagreement about gender parity in university cricket.
While the men's Varsity Match - the game between Oxford and Cambridge universities - has been played on the main square at Lord's for nearly 200 years, the women's match has never progressed beyond the Nursery Ground. For many years, including 2021, it has not even made it that far.
Now a former Oxford University captain has written to key figures at MCC and requested they intervene to correct the situation.
Vanessa Picker, who was captain between 2017-20 and has founded the #StumpOutSexism campaign, contacted the MCC CEO, President and President-elect (Guy Lavender, Kumar Sangakkara and Clare Connor respectively) suggesting that "denying the women's Blues access to Lord's, while allowing our male counterparts to maintain exclusive access, reinforces damaging narratives about the inferiority of female cricketers."
She went on to say: "In 2021, I strongly believe that the universities and the MCC should be taking steps to support men and women equally."
Picker's campaign actually stems back two-and-a-half years. But despite making numerous requests to the authorities at Oxford and Cambridge, correspondence seen by ESPNcricinfo shows that she has struggled to obtain the equal standards for which she has been aiming. For that reason, she has asked MCC to intervene to help persuade the universities to treat the men's and women's games equally.
While Lavender has declined the request for 2021 - he only received it on May 12 and the Varsity match is scheduled for May 23 - he did say MCC would be "very happy to accommodate a men's and women's T20 double header on the same day next year."
Lavender pointed out that MCC were using the match on May 23 as a "test event" in a bid to approve a license ahead of the New Zealand Test at the start of June, and suggested the dispute was "primarily a matter for [the] respective universities".
The complication there is that the university cricket clubs have shown little inclination to make such an accommodation. The men's game on May 23 is a 50-over-a-side affair and they appear reluctant to swap that for a T20 fixture instead even if that enables their female colleagues to enjoy the same experiences. MCC have made it clear they cannot offer an extra day in an already congested fixture list.
Behind the scenes, however, it is likely MCC will apply considerable pressure to the universities. Connor, the club's first female president, is sure to be sympathetic to Picker's cause, and the club's executive is already sensitive to what they feel is an out-dated reputation towards gender equality.
Even in recent days, the club has been in the news after some members - including Robert Griffiths QC, a former chairman of Lord's development committee - expressed their antipathy towards a permanent memorial to Rachael Heyhoe Flint.
The club will not want the Varsity fixture to become a symbol of regressive views. As a result, there seems every chance that, unless the universities agree to the move, they will lose the fixture at Lord's entirely.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo