4th August 1976 was a red-letter day for Women’s cricket and gender equality. Women’s Test matches were being played since the 1930s with England and Australia being the prime teams. They also had featured in the first Women’s World Cup in 1973, two years before the men’s inaugural tournament. But still, they did not have the widespread popularity and acceptance. One of the biggest indicators was the fact that till then there was no women’s cricket match staged at the Home of Cricket, Lord’s.
Lord’s being the MCC head-quarters is a place of great tradition and history. But those traditions also dictated few actions which certainly were not correct. One of the biggest and most controversial decisions from MCC was not to allow any woman except the Queen to watch the game from Lord’s pavilion. Similarly, most of the MCC members could not even think of a women’s match at Lord’s or women players using the men’s pavilion or the long room.
But then they had to face a strong individual, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint. Her cricketing records are exceptional. She had a Test batting average of 45.54 and an ODI batting average of 58.45 and led England to many laurels including the first Women’s World Cup title. But her contributions to bring women’s cricket to the big stage were unparallel. Rachael Heyhoe-Flint was a big supporter of women’s match at Lord’s. She faced vehement opposition from the MCC members but it could not lower her spirits and she kept herself engaged with various parties to make this a reality. She even threatened to take matters to the Equal Opportunity Commission.
Finally, MCC had to give in. They agreed to host a women’s one day match during Australian Women’s tour of England in 1976. It was conditional permission depending on the result of the county match between Lancashire and Middlesex and luckily the result went in favor of the ladies. The match got a green signal.
It was a brilliant and significant moment for the players as they were allowed to use the men’s dressing room which was decorated with red roses to mark the special day. Rachael Heyhoe-Flint finally brought her team through the long room to field as Australian captain Anne Gordon won the toss and decided to bat.
In such a momentous occasion the match result was not always of extreme priority but Rachael and co. did everything to make this day memorable. After a heavy defeat in the previous match, the English bowlers made a good comeback and restricted Australia to 161. Enid Bakewell after taking two wickets scored a fifty. But once she reached her fifty, with 70 runs to go she sacrificed her wicket so that Rachael Heyhoe-Flint could come to bat in her dream occasion and as luck would have it Heyhoe-Flint was at the crease when England completed a convincing eight-wicket victory.
Since then, slowly but surely women’s cricket has crossed a long distance. The next Women’s ODI at Lord’s took place in 1987. However, now it is a more frequent occurrence including the two Women’s World Cup finals in 1993 and 2017, both of which were won by England.
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