England captain Rachael Heyhoe practises her batting in the nets.

First lady of Lords

The first England Cricket World Cup Champions


This article is taken from the March 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

The walk down two flights of stairs from the home dressing room at Lord’s takes you past portraits of great England cricketers. Depending on the curator’s shuffling, you might see Colin Cowdrey talking to Fred Trueman; Ian Botham puffing on a fat cigar; a rather Byronic Len Hutton; or the dastardly Douglas Jardine plotting Australia’s defeat. They are placed there to inspire the next generation to great deeds.

Rachael Heyhoe Flint had contacted the Hayward family to ask if they might sponsor a tour to the West Indies

When Eoin Morgan led his men down to begin the World Cup final in 2019, it seemed a nice touch that the last portrait selected for them to pass under before entering the Long Room and out into the crowd’s roar was the most appropriate person for the occasion. Of the nine Test cricketers who have sat in the House of Lords, this player had the highest batting average and did what no other England captain had done before that day and won the World Cup.

Her name was Rachael Heyhoe Flint (in the nets, above).

“We have nothing against man cricketers,” Heyhoe Flint once said. “Some of them are quite nice people, even though they don’t win as often as we do.” Fifty years ago this summer, she led an England team into a World Cup, two years before the first men’s tournament was held and 46 years before Captain Morgan’s team finally, by the slenderest of margins, lifted the silverware.

It had started with a bottle of brandy. Women’s cricket back then was amateur and heavily dependent on patronage. Heyhoe Flint, working as a journalist in Wolverhampton, had contacted the Hayward family, local philanthropists, to ask if they might sponsor a tour to the West Indies. Jack Hayward agreed to cough up £1,580 but insisted that Heyhoe Flint ring his wife and explain — lest she be suspicious at his chequebook showing a large sum going to a strange woman.

Two tours later, in 1971, she was spending the weekend with the Haywards in Sussex, wondering what to do next. “After supper we started having a little slurp of brandy,” she wrote, “and as the level went down the bottle, Jack suddenly said: ‘Why don’t we have a World Cup of women’s cricket?’” He put up £40,000 (about £600,000 at today’s value) and a plan began to form.

England women’s cricket team in 1934-35

The first recorded women’s match had been played on Gosden Common, near Guildford, in 1745. In 1811, the first county match was played, between Surrey and Hampshire, for a prize of 1,000 guineas. The international game, however, took much longer. It was only in 1934, 73 years after the first men’s tour to Australia, that two art students, two office workers, a lawyer, an army auxiliary, two ladies of leisure and seven teachers sailed from Tilbury docks to represent England in the first women’s Test match, in Brisbane.

Almost 40 years later, seven teams came together for the World Cup: England, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Young England and an International XI hoovering up the rest in a league competition. The Times gave Heyhoe Flint 900 words to sell women’s cricket beforehand, in which she told readers that the great W.G. Grace had first been coached by his mother, but the event was initially stymied by the weather. The first match was abandoned without a ball bowled and four of England’s first five matches were rain-affected.

Enid Bakewell of England ladies in action during a match. (Adrian Murrell/Allsport)

They won four times, however, as did Australia, to leave the last match at Edgbaston as effectively a final. It proved very one-sided. Enid Bakewell, a miner’s daughter from Nottinghamshire with a gloriously nostalgic-sounding name that conjures images of long teas and lashings of ginger beer, opened the batting and made a century, her second of the tournament, with 64 from Heyhoe Flint as the hosts reached 279 for three. Bakewell then took two wickets as Australia’s chase failed to get going. England were World Champtions by 92 runs.

Fifty years on and three of that side are dead. Jill Cruwys and Lesley Clifford did not live to see 50, while Heyhoe Flint died in 2017, aged 77, but Bakewell is still playing at 82. She toured Australia this winter with the East Anglian Veteran Ladies and was player of the match in the first game. “We played over-70s men,” she said. “They were very chivalrous but didn’t want to lose.

An invitation to play their first match at Lord’s was grudgingly extended in 1976 but it would be another 11 years before women played there again

The World Cup success brought an invitation to Downing Street, where Heyhoe Flint gave Ted Heath a cricket bat and, sensing his bemusement, told him he could use it as a paddle if there was no wind when he was sailing.

It didn’t earn the women equal respect. An invitation to play their first match at Lord’s was grudgingly extended in 1976 (subject to Middlesex not needing the ground for a Gillette Cup match), but it would be another 11 years before women played there again and a further 12 before they were allowed to be members of MCC.

Ironically, that summer of 1999 in which a few women stormed the Lord’s barricades, most politely, was one in which England’s men made a complete hash of hosting their World Cup and were knocked out before the tournament’s official song had been released.

It would be another two decades before Morgan and his men could follow Heyhoe Flint’s women — and the three England women’s teams who copied them in 1993, 2009 and 2017 — and call themselves world champions.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover