Friday, March 8, 2013

5 pioneer women cricketers (in honour of International Women's Day)

1. Molly Hide 

One of the best women's cricketers the world has ever seen - and she played the game at a time when women were starved of the best coaching and resources. She played in 15 Tests, including the first ever women's Test match between England and Australia at Brisbane in 1934, and captained England from 1937 to 1954, when she retired.

Her batting was both graceful and powerful. She made two centuries in her career, at a time when this was a rare feat in women's cricket - the first against New Zealand at Christchurch in 1935 (when she also put on 235 with Betty Snowball, in a match which New Zealand lost by an innings and 337 runs), and the second against Australia at the SCG in 1949, in which she finished on 124*, and in the wake of which her portrait was hung in the SCG's pavilion. She also hit five international 50s.

She retired with an average of 36.33 and remained involved with women's cricket, becoming President of the Women's Cricket Association in 1973.

Neville Cardus witnessed her 124* against Australia in 1949, and later wrote: " I was completely astonished. The stroke-play seemed authentic; in fact, there was a grace and freedom in Molly Hide's batting that rather improved on the congested utilitarianism of many a county professional."

Probably my favourite ever female cricketer.

2. Diana Edulji

Aside from Mithali Raj, India's best ever female cricketer, in my view. If Hide pioneered the game in England, Edulji did so in India. She began her cricket in the 1970s, at a time when the game was widely ridiculed in Indian society, and her name is probably still synonymous with women's cricket in India.

Her international career spanned the years 1976 to 1993. A left-arm spinner, she played in 20 Tests and 34 ODIs. In Tests, she took 63 wickets at an average of 25.77; in ODIs 46 wickets at an average of 16.84. In 1993, she took 4-12 in a World Cup match against England - her best ever bowling performance in ODIs, and it came against the side playing in home conditions, who went on to win the World Cup.

Her best ever performance in Tests came against Australia, the best team in the world at the time, in Delhi in 1984 - only India's fifth Test. She took 6-64, and in the process broke the record for most wickets in women's internationals. She is still the third highest ever wicket taker in women's Test matches.

In an interview in 1987 she was asked about her future, and her marriage prospects. "I am married to cricket", she replied. She has gone on to be an administrator in women's cricket, and more recently partake in one of my favourite activities - criticism of the BCCI's treatment of female cricketers.

At the height of her career, she bowled to visiting men's teams from England and the West Indies, and both Clive Lloyd and Ian Botham are on record as saying that they did not believe that a woman could bowl so well until they faced Edulji.

A true great of women's cricket.

3. Myrtle Maclagan

The first true all-rounder in women's internationals. She played in 14 Tests, including the first ever Test match in 1934 alongside Molly Hide, making a total of 1007 runs and averaging 41.95, as well as taking 60 wickets at an average of 15.58. In the first ever women's Test she took 7-10, which remained a career-best, and was instrumental in England's victory.

Her batting was truly special. She hit the first ever women's century in the second women's Test at Sydney in 1935, and hit another in the Blackpool Test against the Australians when they toured England in 1937. She also made six international 50s.

Her career can be aptly summed up by the Morning Post's assessment, published in 1935, following England's loss in the men's Ashes:

What matter that we lost, mere nervy men
Since England's women now play England's game,
Wherefore Immortal Wisden, take your pen
And write MACLAGAN on the scroll of fame.

4. Betty Wilson

Arguably the greatest Australian female cricketer of all time and certainly the leading woman cricketer of her day. She played in 11 Tests between 1948 and 1958. Her debut against New Zealand in 1948 was spectacular: she scored 90 and took 4 for 27 and 6 for 28. During the 1949 Adelaide Test against England, she made 111 and took 9 wickets.

Her best performance, though, was against England in the 1958 Melbourne Test. During this game, she became the first cricketer, male or female, to take 10 wickets and make 100 runs in the same match. This included the first ever hat-trick by a woman in a Test.

She finished her career with 862 runs at an average of 57.46, and a total of 68 wickets at an average of 11.80.

Beyond all this, though, my favourite fact about Betty Wilson is probably the fact that she refused a marriage proposal to play in Australia's tour of New Zealand in 1948. When asked why, she responded: "Why would anyone get married in preference to playing cricket for Australia?"

The Australian Under-19 Championship is named the Betty Wilson Shield in her honour and in 2005 she was awarded an honorary baggy green.

She deserved it.

5. Grace Gooder

Little is known about Grace Gooder. She only played one Test for New Zealand, against England at Auckland in 1949. (This was at a time when New Zealand were the minnows of the women's game, participating in only four Tests in the course of 20 years between 1934 and 1954.)

But in that one Test, her sole shot at international stardom, as it turned out, Gooder took 6 wickets for 42 runs in 23.2 overs. Her wickets included three of England's most dangerous batsmen - Cecilia Robinson, Mary Duggan, and Grace Morgan.

It remains the third best bowling performance by a New Zealander in women's Test matches ever - and all at  a time when New Zealand could barely draw a Test. They went on to lose this one by 185 runs.

Gooder should have played more Tests, but she never got that opportunity. I think of her as symbolic of a whole generation of women for whom that was true.

Cricket is a game where many fans have an above average knowledge of its history. Unfortunately the early internationals of the women's game are largely forgotten. Today of all days, we should take a moment to remember Hide, Edulji, Maclagan, Wilson, Gooder, and those like them - the pioneers.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Raf, I had not heard of any of these players! A huge gap in my (admittedly limited) cricketing knowledge.