Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ceylon Women v England Women, 1st November 1948

The following was written for the Taking the Field blog. Taking the Field is a project seeking to tell the stories of grassroots cricket in both the UK and Sri Lanka through the words of the clubs themselves. See more here:

Today the Sri Lankan women's team receives excellent support from the government, but back in 1948 women's cricket in the country was practically non-existent. Despite this, the British Women's Cricket Association (WCA), while on their way, by boat, to play in official Test matches in Australia and New Zealand in 1948/9, made the decision to break their journey in Colombo, and play a women's team at the Colombo Cricket Club Ground.

During my research into the history of the women's game in the UK, I uncovered a tour diary from the tour of Australia and New Zealand (the only other countries where the women's teams had Test status, at the time). This was written by the England manager, Netta Rheinberg, and contains her private reflections on all aspects of the tour.

Rheinberg reveals that while en route to Colombo, she received a telegram stating that the Ceylon cricketing authorities had decided to put forward a men's team to play the WCA. She hastily responded that “our WCA rules forbid our playing officially against men” - something which had been the case ever since the WCA's formation in 1926. It appears, then, that in the intervening weeks a female team had to be thrown together from scratch. According to Rheinberg, the Ceylon team was made of up five European and six Sinhalese women, some of whom were schoolgirls, most of whom had picked up a cricket bat for the first time only six weeks previously. The captain was a European women – Mrs Turner – who Rheinberg knew as “the sister of Molly Leachman, who plays for Kent”.

Prior to the match, “various members of the Ceylon cricketing fraternity” took the English team sightseeing. Rheinberg's intial impressions of the island were of

lovely women in bright saris – men wearing sarongs, rickshaw boys...bullock carts...roadside bazaars selling huge bunches of bananas...mixed with marvellous American cars...Europeans in white suits, buses straight from London, and English road signs.

This was the Ceylon of 1948, newly-independent but full of colonial leftovers.

The match was not a long one. England made 168-7 dec. in 38.3 overs, with Molly Hide, England's captain and probably the best batsman of her generation, making a century. Ceylon's innings followed; they were all out for 51 in just 92 minutes. Their top scorer was “E Fernando”, one of the Sinhalese players, who made 22 runs, outperforming not just the rest of her team but the majority of the England players as well. Unfortunately little is currently known about her.

The match clearly attracted a great deal of local interest. The crowd was 8,000 strong and according to Rheinberg, “one of the most appreciative ones I've ever come across. Absolutely everything one did was watched and applauded or the reverse!” At the end of the match her anxiety about Ceylon's newly-independent status can be perceived, however. “At the end of the game”, she wrote, “the crowd rushed on to the pitch and mobbed us! I was quite anxious as I watched a sea of brown faces approaching and wondered whether to give the order to 'beat' it.”

After the match, the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Ceylon presented the England players with “a silver chip bearing an elephant and the crest of the Ceylon Cricket Board”. This was followed by a party at the Ceylon Cricket Club, before the English team left to continue their sea voyage to Australia.

Members of the British armed forces – who would remain in Ceylon until 1956 – were also watching the match, and shook hands with the English players after the game, saying the English women “had started to put English cricket back on the map”. Perhaps, though, its most important legacy was to begin to put Colombo – and Sri Lankan – women's cricket on the map. One hopes that this hastily-composed team of women continued to play the game long after England's women left the island.

(The scorecard of the above-mentioned match can be found here: )

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Woman's Hour

Yesterday morning I appeared on Radio 4's Woman's Hour in a feature about the history of women's cricket. This was sparked off by me getting in touch with the programme regarding the latest Archers storyline, which suggests:

a) There are still people out there (Alistair Lloyd in this case) who find the idea of women playing cricket surprising.

b) Women/girls may be able to practice with men, but they should never be able to play in matches with men (this appears to be the viewpoint of the new Ambridge cricket coach).

The messages I wanted to get across in the interview were that given the long history of women playing cricket in this country (dating back to at least 1745), the first viewpoint is utterly outdated, and that given the massive raising of standards since the Women's Cricket Association was formed in 1926, the idea that no woman would ever be able to reach the standard required for a men's side is utterly ridiculous.

See if I succeeded here: (podcast for 13th April)

I was incredibly nervous as this was my first experience of trying to communicate my research to the media, and it was also live - no second chances!

However, in retrospect and now that it's all over, I can safely say that it was an amazing experience. I had a long conversation with one of the show's researchers the day before going on air, and then yesterday morning found myself in a tiny studio in London surrounded by a ton of technical equipment and scared to touch anything!

As I was initially alone in the studio, I used the opportunity to take some sneaky photos of my surroundings (see above). Later I was joined by the lady who was on air right after I was, talking about red nail varnish (it's certainly an eclectic show!) We were both listening to the whole show through headphones and about 15 minutes in there was a soundcheck from Salford, so I simultaneously had Woman's Hour playing and the sound engineer speaking into my headphones...a little bit disorienting!

Then Jenni Murray started interviewing me and I was suddenly, despite not being able to see her, quite starstruck! Given that I listen to Woman's Hour most days it was a very strange and surreal experience.

Afterwards, when I came out of the studio, I had that shaky feeling you get after an incredibly nerve-racking experience, where it's difficult to walk effectively.

Communicating with the media about academic research makes giving a paper at an academic conference feel like child's play. But I think it's an incredibly important part of what we as academics should be doing. I'm so grateful that, even though I didn't perform perfectly, and even though I've been outed on national radio as someone who listens to The Archers, so many more people will now be aware of the long history of women's cricket in this country, and some of the issues surrounding this. I don't want my eventual PhD thesis to sit on the shelf, gathering dust in a musty library somewhere. I plan to seize the opportunities, like yesterday's, which will enable me to avoid this. Other academics should be doing the same.

(Many are. See as an excellent example.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

All Rounders

Suzie Bates, an all-rounder, was last month appointed New Zealand women's captain. She also represented New Zealand at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, at basketball, which struck me as interesting. As she said in an interview with the New Zealand Herald recently:

I've been balancing the two [sports] for the last eight years and I've been very fortunate to be able to have done both. Obviously captaining New Zealand in cricket is something that is not easy to turn down and it does mean that basketball's in the backseat but I still love both games and, at the moment, the cricket's at the forefront and I'm still committed to that. But it doesn't mean basketball won't still get a chance later down the track.


As women's cricket becomes increasingly professionalised, and therefore more time-consuming, it becomes harder for women like Bates to develop their talent in multiple sports. This is a choice which men have been having to make themselves for many years - it's reasonably well-known, for example, that Phil Neville played cricket with Andrew Flintoff in his younger days, before making the choice to turn professional at football.

I've found it interesting to note that girls and women who have been talented at cricket have often also been interested in other sports. The Women's Cricket Association itself was founded in 1926 by a group of female hockey players who apparently wanted a team game to play in the summer (as an alternative to tennis). And Women's Cricket magazine is littered with references to alternative leisure interests, with players often listing sports such as table tennis, lacrosse, golf, tennis and of course hockey, under their "Interests". In 1935, for example, Colwall CC reported that: “We have six hockey goalkeepers in our club, can anyone else beat that?"

It's probably not only recently that players like Bates have had to make the difficult choice between sports. Pollard herself never played cricket for England, though she was a spectacular hockey player and represented her country at that level. Perhaps too much time devoted to one sport was a problem even back then.

It does seem that this cross-over of interest created a female sporting community in which players were interested in and celebrated not merely their own achievements, but those of their fellow sportswomen. A 1948 editorial of Women's Cricket suggested that
cricket players will want to congratulate the England Womens' Hockey XI on their great achievement of 1947-8 [in which the team had beaten Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Denmark and Holland].

As women's cricket, and other women's sports, become more professionalised, inevitably much of this sense of a unified cross-sporting community is lost. Just one of the trade-offs for the access to resources and finance that professionalisation provides.