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Why we're replacing 'batsman' with 'batter'

Every little bit helps in the movement towards gender neutrality

Sambit Bal
Sambit Bal
Kids play cricket during the Cumberland Regional School Holiday Program at Nolan's Reserve, Sydney, September 30, 2020

Hanna Lassen/Getty Images

Tradition is the biggest enforcer of subconscious biases, and the role of language here is profound. Language is a carrier of beliefs, values, cultural and political ideologies, and it reflects the perceived social order. Breaking deep-set biases is a long and arduous process, but efforts must be continuous. Every small step is significant.
Over the last few months we at ESPNcricinfo have taken a few. We abolished the use of "chinaman" as a term to describe left-arm wristpin bowling. It was a word that had been rendered innocuous, at least to the cricket world, by decades of use. There are suggestions the term was known in Yorkshire cricket down the years, but it is almost certain that it entered the international lexicon after the Old Trafford Test of 1933 between England and West Indies, when Ellis Achong, a left-arm spinner of Chinese origin, got the England batsman Walter Robins stumped off a wristspin delivery. Walking back, Robins is supposed to have said, "Fancy getting out to a bloody Chinaman."
It can be argued - and it used to be - that the term was not meant to be derogatory, and in fact, there are accounts of Achong himself using it with relish, but it took Andrew Wu, a cricket writer with the Sydney Morning Herald to call out its obviously racist nature. "Chinaman" isn't like "Englishman", "Dutchman" or "Frenchman". Just as "Paki" isn't like "Aussie" and "Kiwi". These are slurs used to denigrate certain ethnic communities.
For us, "left-arm wristspin" is the perfect way to describe what Kuldeep Yadav bowls.
Similarly "mankading". That mode of dismissal was named after Vinoo Mankad, one of Indian cricket's early greats, who ran out Bill Brown, the Australian opener, who was backing up a little too frequently during the Sydney Test on India's tour of Australia in 1947-48. Mankad used a recourse created specifically to stop batsmen from taking unfair advantage, and Don Bradman, who captained that Australia team, later described Mankad's action as "scrupulously fair". Yet Mankad was pilloried for "acting against the spirit of the game", and that dismissal has forever been considered somewhat underhanded, despite being legal. It has forever riled Mankad's family that the name of an illustrious cricketer should be seen in this light. To make a point, Sunil Gavaskar has taken to calling the dismissal "Browned".
Gender equality as an ideal is an objective that we will struggle for generations to achieve, but gender neutrality in language is easily achievable
"Run-out backing up" might sound pedantic, but "mankading" stands banished from writing on ESPNcricinfo.
It can be argued that "batsman" isn't in the same league because it's not overtly offensive, and when applied to male cricketers it is accurate and can't be described as discriminatory. It can be further argued that using "batswoman" for female cricketers is perfectly palatable, and that it doesn't tamper with the game's basic vernacular.
But the problem lies in the sovereignty of one term over another. The discrimination is in the manner the word "batsman" appropriates our very concept of batting and all the associated imagery that goes with it. Those who bat are batsmen, unless specified otherwise. The craft of batting is batsmanship. Cricket, of course, is a gentleman's game, and its Mecca, the Marylebone Cricket Club finally allowed women membership in 1998.
Words are not just about what they literally mean but about what they imply as well. A job title or a role that requires a feminine suffix when performed by women marks an assumption of male primacy. Which is why there has been a global shift towards terms that are not gender-specific: "flight attendant" over "steward" and "stewardess", "police officer" over "policeman" and "policewoman", "actor" and "author" over "actress" and "authoress", and "chairperson" or simply "chair" in place of "chairman". "Batsman" is an exception in cricket among other main playing roles. "Bowler", "fielder" and "wicketkeeper" are all gender-neutral.
Gender equality as an ideal is an objective that we will struggle for generations to achieve, but gender neutrality in language is easily achievable. We are aware there is a lot more for us to do content-wise in this regard, and a few more terms to address, but why not hit an easy ball over the ropes first?
When we discussed this among ourselves a few weeks ago, the question was, what took us so long?
So "batter" it is for us then. We switched to "Player of the Match" in scorecards years ago, but we will make that usage universal across the site now.
It will take us a while to rewire completely, for the term to be updated across all areas of the site, but we will get there. It's never too late to do the right thing.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo @sambitbal