SHAPING WOMEN’S CRICKET : BARONESS RACHAEL HEYHOE FLINT

If not for the blessed soul of Rachael Heyhoe Flint, the mere existence of women’s cricket would be in question, and we perhaps wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. A true pioneer who managed to captain the English team for 12 years, she was someone who changed the face of the female sport.

Born in Wolverhampton, the young girl was a natural at all sports she took part in. Fast forward to a few years later, Heyhoe made her Test Debut at Port Elizabeth in 1960, and three years later, at the Oval, became the first female to hit a six in Test cricket. Only eight tests later, she was adorned with captaincy, and has a record of four unbeaten series under her belt as captain. She also ended her Test career of 22 matches without a single loss.

In the 1970s, female cricket experienced a plummet like no other. There was withering interest and little to no support from the MCC, which probably brought it to a standstill. However there was one gentleman called Sir Jack Hayward within whom the idea of revolutionizing women’s cricket started burning. A dear friend of Rachael and a benefactor at the Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, he had funded two tours before with little to no funding, and was thoroughly impressed with the performances by the females.

He presented the idea of the Inaugural Women’s World Cup to the President of the Women’s cricket association in 1971, and donated a large sum of money towards the tournament. Rachael played an instrumental part in the coming together of the tournament, and it culminated into the sport’s oldest world championship in 1973.

Interestingly enough, the tournament was played in round robin format without a final. In the last match however, held at Edgbaston, England women won the trophy which was handed to Heyhoe by Princess Anne, who represented the Royal Family of England.

After the win in the World Cup came a landmark declaration. The MCC President lauded the English team and said they deserved to play a match at Lord’s, the home of cricket. This ensued in disgruntled and nasty reactions from senior members at the headquarters who found it ridiculous for women to be playing cricket, but on August 4, 1976, there was a ripple of change, and England managed to beat Australia at cricket’s home ground.

Playing her final international match at 43, Flint was a fighter. Tirelessly working to bring a change, she was appointed as the Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1972, and was one of the first women to be granted admission into the MCC, as an honorary life member. She was also the first female player to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame.

Baroness Rachael Heynoe Flint left for heavenly abode in January 2017, days before she could she come alive before her eyes the fruit of her contributions. The final between England and India in the Women’s World Cup 2017, which was televised globally and watched enthusiastically by thousands of spectators at the Lord’s.

The same cricket ground where she had played 41 years ago, a time where females except the players were not even allowed to step foot into the pavilion.

We thank such a trailblazer, a person who brought such a wind of change, and we express our heartfelt gratitude to her as she transformed women’s cricket into what it is today.

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