The Cricketer
James Coyne James Coyne

SPIRIT OF '73

JAMES COYNE RECALLS WHEN RACHAEL HEYHOE FLINT AND SIR JACK HAYWARD LAUNCHED CRICKET'S FIRST WORLD CUP

In 1973, a squad of nine teachers, four housewives and one secretary were the first winners of the Women’s World Cup. They did so two years before Clive Lloyd’s West Indies lifted the Prudential Cup at Lord’s for the first men’s global event.

The 1973 tournament bears little relation to the corporate ICC Women’s World Cup that will be broadcast all over the world this summer. Even the trophy handed by Princess Anne to the winning captain, England’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint – a 12-inch-high “solid silver Georgian chalice” plucked from the London Silver Vaults on Chancery Lane by the renowned businessman Sir Jack Hayward – speaks of old-world philanthropy. The ICC have since replaced it with their own.

The event was two years in the making. Hayward, like Heyhoe Flint, was born in Wolverhampton, and a devotee of the town’s football club. Having made his fortune in the Freeport of the Bahamas, he financed two England tours to the West Indies, led by Heyhoe Flint, in 1969/70 and 1970/71. Cricket had been played by females in the Caribbean for generations, but it lacked money and inter-island organisation; it is no exaggeration to say that Hayward’s sponsorship helped launch West Indies women’s cricket towards the World T20-winning power they became in 2016.

During a women’s tournament at Eastbourne in summer 1971, Hayward sat up one evening drinking sherry with Heyhoe Flint, and said he would be prepared to sponsor a Women’s World Cup. The wheels were set in motion, and invitations extended to Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. The Women’s Cricket Association had initially hoped to include six South African players in an International XI, but the authorities in the Caribbean made it clear they would withdraw their players if they did. (The ICC, though still 35 years away from administering women’s cricket, had imposed a ban on its member boards playing South Africa in 1970.) With the Asian countries not yet in a position to send teams, an International XI (those who missed out on their national squads) and Young England (of Under-25 players) completed the seven participants. The International XI recorded a team song while on the road, fronted by a bandleader playing a ukulele, although the ditty was never released. 

 

Hayward threw £40,000 behind the event – a weighty sum for the times. There was an evening reception at the Hurlingham Club; an opening ceremony at the Civil Service Ground in Chiswick, where Roger Bannister formally opened the tournament; and an audience at Downing Street with Edward Heath. The Conservative prime minister recounted the story of how Stanley Baldwin’s wife, Lucy, had been a passionate cricketer, and a member of the country’s first women’s cricket club, at Nun Appleton Priory, North Yorkshire.

Fast-forward to 2017, and counties have bid for the right to stage World Cup games, carefully arranged into two geographical bases – the West Country (Bristol and Taunton) and the East Midlands (Derby and Leicester) – feeding to a final at Lord’s. The 1973 competition was a more disparate affair, ranging as far as Liverpool, Dartford and Exmouth; Heyhoe Flint estimated the England players travelled 4,000 miles in six weeks. The 20 venues were established first-class and minor county outgrounds, although it is noticeable that the two visits to HQs (Hove and Edgbaston) resulted in the two totals above 250 – both by England, both with Enid Bakewell scoring a century. Lord’s declined to stage a match, and would not host England women until 1976. 

The tournament’s round-robin format closed with England v Australia – the two strongest teams – at Edgbaston. The organisers were fortunate that rain had arrived during the game at Swansea, when Australia had the International XI 5 for 1. Had the Aussies won, as expected, they would have held an unassailable lead over England heading to Birmingham. Instead, it was winner-takes-all.

Bakewell put on 101 for the first wicket with Lynne Thomas – their second century opening stand of the competition – and, with Heyhoe Flint adding 64, England strolled to 279 for 3. Although Bev Wilson and Jackie Potter made a good start in reply, the Australian challenge faded. As for the standard, Gerry Harrison of The Times reckoned the fielding “good, if very defensive” in terms of field-settings, and was impressed by the “genuine pace” of Australia’s Raelee Thompson and England’s Mary Pilling. England won by 92 runs, Heyhoe Flint lifted the Cup, then the champions played an exhibition match against a composite World XI the next day at the nearby Mitchells and Butlers’ ground. It is safe to assume the winners of the 2017 World Cup will get more of a lie-in.