Women may not have invented cricket itself - nobody can be quite sure of its origins - but many believe that a female invented overarm bowling. Englishwoman Christina Willes was apparently so fed up with tangling her arm in her skirt when bowling underarm to her brother John, a Kent player, that she whizzed the ball round past her head. Other theories point to the development of overarm bowling as an evolutionary experiment, but either way it was John Willes who championed the style. On July 15, 1822, he bowled round-arm for Kent against MCC at Lord's and was no-balled. In protest, he mounted his horse and rode away. It was the end of his career. By 1864, bowlers could officially do anything other than throw.
While today's women are slowly gaining increasing respect and media attention for their craft, in 1973 people barely knew that women played cricket. They soon learned of its existence, however, when publicity-savvy Rachael Heyhoe-Flint and businessman Jack Hayward concocted the first World Cup. The media asked Hayward scornfully why he would want to waste £40,000 of his own money funding the tournament. "It's quite simple," he replied, "I love women and I love cricket - and what could be better than to have the two rolled together?" The concept soon grabbed positive attention, particularly when graced with royalty for the final at Edgbaston. Princess Anne watched Heyhoe-Flint, the England captain, strike a fifty and take the match for the hosts against Australia. It gained political approval, too, with Prime Minister Edward Heath hosting a reception at 10 Downing Street. Within two years the men had not only jumped on the bandwagon, but were driving it for themselves as if it were their idea in the first place.
Since they organised the first World Cup, women got to score the first two centuries as well. Enid Bakewell and Lynne Thomas, making their international debuts for England, scored unbeaten hundreds against an International XI in Brighton, putting on a then-record opening stand of 246, which stood for 25 years. Even before achieving this distinction, Bakewell had been profiled in Wisden in 1970, where she was described as: "Slight of build and small in stature […]diminutive and a tiny blonde. Although she is small, she is athletically built and gives an impression of freshness, alertness and quickwittedness, following many previous cricketers of less than average build in nimbleness of footwork and quick reflex action."
Trophies have been given out for competitions for centuries, but what about the first - and most famous - trophy in international cricket? The Ashes urn came about courtesy a group of women in Melbourne, who presented the trophy to the victorious England captain Ivo Bligh following the first Ashes series in 1882-83. The trophy came into being following a now-legendary mock obituary in Australia's Sporting Times newspaper bemoaning the death of English cricket after Australia won the first series easily at The Oval in 1882. The ashes, it said, would be cremated and sent back to Australia. Little did the paper realise that the Melburnian women would take it at its word. It was also a woman, Florence Murphy, who presented the urn to Lord's following the death of Bligh, her husband.
This is one for trivia enthusiasts. Australian Betty Wilson managed the feat more than two years before the first man - her compatriot Alan Davidson - got there in 1960. It was Wilson's final series and Australia went into the second Test against England at the MCG aiming to take the lead after the first was abandoned without a ball being bowled. Australia were bowled out for 38 (Mary Duggan took 7 for 6) but still got a three-run first-innings lead after Wilson took 7 for 7. She then prevented another batting collapse with a century in 166 minutes to set England a target of 206. The match went down to the wire, with England needing two wickets when the stumps were drawn. Wilson remembers it as the best year of her career. "England put us in to bat and we were all out for 38 and I was the top scorer with 12. England were killing themselves laughing. But they were all out for 35." In 1985, Australia's Under-21 National Women's Cricket Championship was renamed the Betty Wilson Shield.
White balls just aren't cutting it in cricket and authorities want results, now. Pink balls may be the answer - and it was two women's teams who happily turned guinea pigs in 2008: Queensland and Western Australia in an exhibition Twenty20 at the Gabba. Queensland's Jude Coleman said it played better than the white ball and was a bit harder but didn't discolour. Many years ago, it was thought that blue balls might solve another problem. Male authorities were so concerned that women using a red ball would possibly faint at the sight of it that a blue one was introduced. Either it was particularly cloudy that year or nobody had considered the colour of the sky. Funnily enough, the idea didn't last, although there are a few examples still remaining, including one at Lord's.
Women cannot claim to have invented Twenty20 per se, but they were the first sides to contest an international, when England hosted New Zealand at Hove in 2004. Clare Connor, the England captain then, remembers: "Domestically Twenty20 had gone crazy and it was all over the press that it was the future of the game, that it would revolutionise the sport, heighten players' skill levels, bring in new fans, etc. It was televised, so the stage was set. Although we lost by nine runs, the whole experience was fantastic." Her opposing captain, Haidee Tiffen, adds: "There was so much buzz around this new format of the game and we were very keen to play it internationally. I think by memory we won that game, which I suppose makes it even more special." Twenty20 has allowed the women to introduce the game to a whole new audience. The litmus test will come in June when the women share the billing with the men for the semis and final of the World Twenty20.
New Zealand hosted their first World Cup in 1982 and the hosts opened the tournament with a tie against England - who went on to the final. Debbie Hockley, who made her one-day debut in the game, rescued New Zealand from a pathetic 14 for 3 with a score of 44, which took them to 147. England began just a tad better, losing their first three wickets for 49, but they pulled ahead with Rachael Heyhoe-Flint's 76. However, crucial wickets (Vicki Burtt dismissed Heyhoe-Flint and Jan Allen, took a catch, and helped effect a a run-out) brought New Zealand right back in, and a wicket off the final ball tied the game. The second tied ODI was also in the same tournament - between Australia and England.
The men had to wait seven years to get a record in this category, after New Zealand's Sarah Illingworth pouched it in the 1993 World Cup. She took four catches and effected two stumpings as Australia were bowled out for 77. New Zealand reached the target without losing any wickets. India's Venkatacher Kalpana equalled the record on the same day with five stumpings and a catch against Denmark. Adam Gilchrist was the first male to equal the record, with six catches against South Africa in Cape Town in 2000.
Women can't hit the ball hard enough but they sure can churn out the runs. Belinda Clark, the former Australian captain, scored an unbeaten 229 in the 1997 World Cup, in a minnow-bashing feat where Denmark were at the receiving end. Only 88 of her runs came off boundaries but even so she got her score in just 155 balls, at a strike-rate of 147.74, to take Australia to 412 - the first ODI total above 400. In naming her Cricketer of the Year in 1998, Wisden Australia said she was Australia's "finest batswoman to date" with her "her free-flowing, classical style, technical brilliance and aggressive attitude to scoring runs".
Hasan Raza's compatriot, Sajjida Shah, beat him to the title of the youngest ODI and Test debutant when she turned out for Pakistan in July 2000 against Ireland four months after her 12th birthday. She has now spent eight years in the side and played 59 ODIs.
Jenny Roesler is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo. Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer