Presenting Rachel Heyhoe Flint with the 1973 World Cup trophy
The sphere of women’s cricket has seen an exponential surge in popularity.
Top teams across the globe are now full-time professional squads, and franchise cricket is booming worldwide, with the recently concluded Women’s Premier League offering substantial paychecks to its star players.
However, the scenario was not always so promising.
The trailblazers of today’s women’s cricket, including those who participated in the inaugural World Cup of 1973 – two years prior to the men’s first World Cup, deserve the gratitude of the current generation.
“Going back to our regular jobs after committing so much was challenging,” reminisces England’s World Cup-winning wicketkeeper Shirley Hodges.
She recounts an incident of a participant from the tournament who was so exhausted that she fell asleep while driving and woke up only after colliding with the crash barrier, an episode that underscores the demanding nature of the competition.
She goes on to say, “It was incredibly draining. I recall being asked to play for Sussex in Eastbourne against Trinidad and Tobago the day after a game in Bradford.”
That meant a drive of over five hours post 120 overs on the field.
The story of personal sacrifice is shared by all those who made the event possible. In the days of amateur cricket, players had to resort to innovative ways to support their passion.
“We weren’t handed anything on a silver platter,” Trinidad and Tobago’s captain Louise Browne remarked. “We had to come up with our own fundraising activities, like barbeques and curry-ques, to afford cricket.”
“We went to great lengths,” echoes England’s Enid Bakewell. “I used to sell potatoes cheaper than the opposite grocery store right from my driveway. When my stock ran out, ironically, I had to replenish it from the same grocery store.”
While fundraising was crucial, it was equally important to have supportive employers.
England’s Chris Watmough recalls, “I was fortunate to have a supportive headteacher at the school where I was teaching physical education.”
On the other hand, England’s legendary captain Rachael Heyhoe Flint, later known as Baroness Heyhoe Flint, not only bore the responsibility of team management but also carried the tournament’s weight on her shoulders.
“Rachael Heyhoe Flint is synonymous with women’s cricket,” says Browne. “She was a pioneer and has made a significant mark on women’s cricket history.”
After all, the World Cup was her brainchild…
The seed of an idea
The first Women’s World Cup owes much to the concerted efforts of former Wolverhampton Wanderers owner Sir Jack Hayward and Rachel Heyhoe Flint.
When Heyhoe Flint was looking for sponsors for an unofficial tour of Jamaica, she reached out to Wolverhampton-born millionaire Charles Hayward in a desperate plea for funds. Fortunately, her letter caught the eye of Hayward’s sports-enthusiast son, Jack, who provided Heyhoe Flint with £1,700 to support the first of two West Indies tours.
In 1971, over a brandy and a lively evening conversation, the pair conceptualized the idea of a World Cup.
Hayward famously exclaimed, “I love cricket, I love women, why shouldn’t I sponsor women’s cricket?”.
However, before they could proceed with their World Cup plans, Heyhoe Flint and Hayward needed approval from the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA), the organization in charge of England’s women’s cricket from 1926 to 1998.
Hayward proposed a whopping £40,000 to WCA chairperson Sylvia Swinburne, an offer too enticing to decline.
“The tournament definitely put women’s cricket in the spotlight,” says Megan Lear, “though the media coverage was lacking.”
Only articles submitted by those associated with women’s cricket or who worked in the media made it to national print, as mainstream media overlooked the games.
Audrey Disbury secured 21 club and 1st XI grounds from Exmouth to York for the tournament.
The matches were predominantly played on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 20 June to 28 July, following a round-robin format.
In a script that couldn’t have been written better, the final was set as England versus Australia, with the winner of this last match to be crowned the inaugural World Cup champions. As if by design, the de facto final took place at Edgbaston, the hometown of both Heyhoe Flint and Hayward.
All players were amateurs, over four decades before the first professional contracts were awarded to England’s women cricketers in 2014.
Invitations were extended to teams part of the International Women’s Cricket Council, with Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand, and Trinidad and Tobago accepting. South Africa, amidst apartheid, was not invited.
Additionally, an International XI and a Young England team were included.
England outperformed with the bat on the pitch, scoring 1,055 runs across the competition – more than 300 ahead of Australia, which came second.
Enid Bakewell (264 runs), Lynne Thomas (263), and Heyhoe Flint (256) were the top three batsmen.
Australia, on the other hand, shone with its formidable bowling lineup of Tina Macpherson, Sharon Tredrea, and Raelee Thompson.
“Facing the Australians was a good initiation,” recalls Young England’s Megan Lear.
England’s wicketkeeper Shirley Hodges made the most dismissals, and her crowning moment came during the final match when she dismissed Australia’s Thompson with an impressive catch.
Players from all teams were invited to a reception with Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath at 10 Downing Street on 28 June.
The last scheduled match between England and Australia decided the first-ever Women’s World Cup champion.
“It felt like we were chasing the ball all day,” laughs Australia’s Thompson. “Enid scored many runs, and they taught us how to play limited-overs cricket.”
The player of the match, Bakewell, distinguished herself with both bat and ball, scoring 118 and taking two wickets.
Heyhoe Flint added 64 runs and Watmough contributed a swift 32, helping England to a total of 279-3 in 60 overs.
In response, Australia fell short by 92 runs. England thus became the inaugural World Cup champions, with Her Royal Highness Princess Anne presenting the Georgian chalice to captain Heyhoe Flint before a packed grandstand.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about First Women’s Cricket World Cup
Who won the first Women’s Cricket World Cup?
The England team won the first Women’s Cricket World Cup in 1973.
Who organized the first Women’s Cricket World Cup?
The first Women’s Cricket World Cup was organized by Rachel Heyhoe Flint, in collaboration with Sir Jack Hayward.
When did the first Women’s Cricket World Cup take place?
The first Women’s Cricket World Cup took place in 1973, two years before the inaugural men’s World Cup.
Which teams participated in the first Women’s Cricket World Cup?
The teams that participated in the first Women’s Cricket World Cup were England, Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, an International XI, and a Young England side.
Who was the top-scoring batter in the first Women’s Cricket World Cup?
The top-scoring batter in the first Women’s Cricket World Cup was England’s Enid Bakewell, who scored 264 runs in the tournament.
How did players fund their participation in the first Women’s Cricket World Cup?
In the amateur era, players had to fund their cricket. They organized fundraising events such as barbeques and curry-ques, and also relied on support from understanding employers.
Who was the main driving force behind the first Women’s Cricket World Cup?
Former Wolverhampton Wanderers owner Sir Jack Hayward and Rachel Heyhoe Flint were the main driving forces behind the first Women’s World Cup.