Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
“What matter we lost, mere nervy men
Since England’s women now play England’s game
Wherefore Immortal Wisden, take your pen
And write MACLAGAN on the scroll of fame.”
By: Morning Post, end-December 1933.
In the previous episode we have read about women’s cricket in England and the foundation of Women’s Cricket Association in 1926 and its subsequent rise.
As WCA and associations under it flourished, they planned an international tour of Australia and New Zealand for the winter. A one-day trial was played at Old Trafford on July 14, where WCA enforced a ban on “bare legs”, making stockings compulsory. One must remember that there was still no well-defined attire for female cricketers.
After bowling out The Rest for 93, England Women batted till 219/1 when time ran out. Myrtle Maclagan (100*) and Betty Snowball (77), the Scotswomen mentioned in the previous part, added 140 for the opening wicket (yes, they were eligible for the England side, as was teammate Betty Archdale).
The squad set sail for Australia and New Zealand in October 1934 on SS Cathay months after England had conceded The Ashes at home. There were embargoes on smoking, drinking, gambling, and male company, but they were too motivated to be perturbed by such inconveniences. They indulged in deck games, and – as one would expect, at the cost of sounding sexist, posing for photographs.
They were led by Archdale, formidable on and off field. Her mother Helen had been a renowned Scottish suffragette, feminist, and journalist who had served a sentence for breaking a window at Whitehall. Wisden noted that the toddler Betty had collected some of these stones…
“The general membership of the WCA,” however, was not happy with this appointment. They preferred Molly Hide, a superior cricketer and captain. To quote Roy Case from The Pebble in the Shoe, she admitted that “her appointment as captain was not based upon her experience or cricketing ability, but that her law degree would be beneficial when called upon to prepare or deliver speeches.”
Hide’s batting was something else. To quote Wisden, she “had a strength as well as a style that astonished sceptical male spectators, many of whom in her era thought that women’s cricket was like a dog on its hind legs.”
Marjorie Pollard, the redoubtable editor of Women’s Cricket, explained the selection of Archdale with caution: “She is an experienced and travelled person. Sane, sensible, level headed and broad minded. A good bat, a willing field and an enthusiast.” One wonders how many of these attributes were not applicable to her teammates.
Vice-captain Snowball had been coached by Learie Constantine. She later admitted how Constantine had instilled “aggressive inspiration” in her.
And besides being an excellent batter, Maclagan bowled fastish off-breaks. Coached by “Tich” Freeman, she had once taken five wickets in five balls against Cheltenham Ladies College.
Unfortunately, the cricketers did not represent all strata of the society, for neither Australia nor New Zealand agreed to bear the travel expenses. WCA then announced that a tour fee of £80 had to be borne by each player, virtually ruling out those who could not afford.
Maclagan told Frank Keating in an interview with The Guardian that every member was below 25. There were seven teachers or future teachers, two secretaries, an art student, a lawyer, a nurse, and three “ladies of leisure”. Maclagan herself was employed by the Army.
Her memory turned out to be impeccable. Snowball (at St Swithun’s School), player-manager Betty Green (Northwood College), and Joy Partridge (Wycombe Abbey) were the teachers; Marjorie Richards worked at Dublin University; Hide studied agriculture at Reading (and had also represented England at lacrosse); Mary Burleston was also a student; and Mary Spear had just finished her training.
Archdale was the lawyer; Grace Morgan, the nurse; Joy Liebert, the art student; and Mary Taylor and Doris Turner were both secretaries at London Business Houses. Mollie Child and Carol Valentine (sister of Kent captain and future England cricketer Bryan) were, then, the “leisure ladies”.
Maclagan’s reference to herself as the third “leisure lady” of the side was probably some brand of Scottish humour.
What were their roles? We have already seen Pollard’s words on Archdale. Let me quote her for others as well:
Snowball and Maclagan: A perfect opening pair of batsmen.
Green: Keen, beautiful field and a steady bat.
Partridge: Sound, careful bat and a brilliant field, and a slow bowler whom one is apt to treat too lightly.
Hide: Thinks she is doing badly if she cannot get a four in every over; a beautiful field and a good bowler.
Valentine: Fast off the pitch, with a ball that swings in from the leg side and then straightens out – a nightmare to play if it comes early in an innings.
Spear: Keeps a line and length and bowls accurately for long spells.
Richards: Fielding is superb and her batting careful and correct.
Child: Forcing bat, always a joy to watch. Has a beautiful straight drive.
Taylor: The fast bowler of the side, and on hard wickets she should make the ball “talk”.
Turner: Bowler, determined and persevering; a batsman who has improved enormously this season.
Morgan: Wicketkeeper of class. Batting, if not forceful, is accurate and neat, and good for 50 any day.
Liebert: All-rounder, an extraordinarily useful player to have on a side.
Burleston: Young all-rounder.
But the greatest words were reserved for Maclagan: “Maclagan is going to be a thorn in the side of the Australian teams … is a wonderful bat – she never fails to make runs, but she must make them in her own time. She will do really well in Australia.”
Few words, as we shall see, have been as prophetic.
The Argus (Melbourne) wrote on the arrival of the team: “All the bowlers were over-arm, mostly medium to fast, but M. Hide turned the ball. Probably they were strongest in fielding. Taylor, the team’s Larwood, said that she was looking forward to fast wickets. Laughingly, she denied any intention to bowl Bodyline, or even a suggestion of leg theory.
“They were determined to play the game, and, while doing their best to win, hope to preserve the friendliest spirit and not get over-solemn about it.”
Archdale was candid at the reception provided at Perth: “We do not try to emulate men and do everything we can in England to discourage the comparisons, although fundamentally the game is the game. We play because we just love cricket.”
Green, who maintained an excellent diary throughout the tour, impressed with her humour: “Although there are no Ashes of the games, you might have to clean up the ashes of our team if the weather is to be as hot as you say.”
Boomerangs and grasshoppers
The tourists played some excellent cricket. Time saved Western Australia from defeat, but they easily beat New South Wales (by 7 wickets) and Queensland (by an innings). Only Victoria tested them, while the lesser sides did not quite compete.
But they got a taste of Australia. They had seen nothing like it. Green wrote about their kangaroo-hunting experiences. They went to Araulan, where they picked their “first oranges”, much to confusion of the local fruit sellers. But the cricketers “insisted on picking them and on being photographed doing it too,” wrote Archdale. Unfortunately, Instagram was still some time away.
They played a one-day match at Deniliquin, NSW (they won by an innings) where they encountered a grasshopper plague. At tea, the aboriginals put up a display of boomerang throwing and music and gifted them boomerangs and flowers.
After the match against NSW, they were encountered by a man who lectured them on the lines of “you ought to be at home looking after your children.”
At Wollongong they played on a concrete pitch covered with Kippax matting (the one-day match ended in a draw).
The local authority of Newcastle had announced a prize for the best fielder on the home side. So poor was the fielding that it had to awarded to the wicketkeeper after Archdale left the declaration for too late.
Victor Castles and David Given, the umpires for the Queensland match, were “one large and one small and most astonishingly like Laurel and Hardy” (Archdale). They gave a Christmas card to each member of the touring side (the match got over on Christmas Eve).
Partridge top-scored for England with 63 in this match. The Courier-Mail correspondent, however, took a liking to her bowling, calling her “a bowling curio” who “sent them down high, low, medium pace, and slow, and every delivery had some technique about it.” Given that her match figures read 4-0-13-0, her bowling must have been something.
On the other hand, this was what Archdale had written after the first match, against WA: “The possibilities of Partridge as a bowler appeared, but even her lobs would not tempt the West Australians.”
Snowball’s spectacular glovework found praise all through: “The fielding of the English team was fine and often brilliant, and the wicket-keeping of Snowball was very good. She stood fairly well up to the fast bowling and took the deliveries on the leg side quickly and cleanly.”
“She was never at all afraid of the speed and bounce, and in the end I had to advise her to use more caution,” Constantine would write in Cricket Crackers years later.
The first ever Test
England comfortably won the first ever Women’s Test, at Exhibition Ground, Brisbane (remembered as the ground where Don Bradman had played his first Test). The Test started in front of over 1,500 people, including male cricketers from Grade Cricket. The Telegraph (Brisbane) estimated that the revenue was in excess of £380.
The Australians were barely expected to compete. While there was Grade Cricket, the structure was not robust enough. As late as on October 12 they ran an advertisement on The Courier-Mail: “The names of those available for selection in one or all of the Tests must be in the hands of the secretary of the Q. W. C. A. (Mrs. Dot Waldron) not later than November 30.”
The Test was supposed to begin 28 days after the cut-off date.
England took the field in the Test in “short-sleeved shirts and divided skirts” in the Test. Maclagan took 7/10 from 17 overs, the first five-wicket haul in women’s Tests and hit wicketkeeper Hilda Hills. “The ball hit the shoulder of her bat and struck a nasty blow on her face,” wrote The Newcastle Sun. Hills left amidst blood on the crease. Her Test career was over (Hazel Pritchard kept wickets in the Test).
Australia batted 49.3 overs for 47. Then Maclagan (72) opened batting and outscored Australia on her own. This Test also witnessed the start of the Maclagan-Snowball partnership, one of cricket’s greatest opening pairs. Unfair comparisons were invariably drawn with Hobbs and Sutcliffe, none of whom bowled or kept wickets.
The two batters had different styles. To quote Isabelle Duncan from Skirting the Boundary, “Betty’s dexterous and tidy batting compared to Myrtle’s sound and dependable style.” Snowball was also a champion of the square-cut, not a common stroke in women’s cricket of the era.
But let us return to the Test. Archdale’s 32 not out pushed England to 154 (off-spinner Anne Palmer got 7/18). Essie Shevill helped Australia avoid the innings defeat with an unbeaten 63, though they took 125.3 overs for their 138. Spear had figures of 34-24-15-5. The target of 32 was achieved without hassle.
Cricket fans back home finally found something to rejoice. Morning Post penned down a plea for Wisden, the contents of which have been provided above.
Despite being outplayed, the Australians had fielded brilliantly: “The fielding by both teams and especially that of the English team on Friday was equal to anything seen in Brisbane for many years, and must have been an object lesson to many A grade players who watched the game,” reported The Telegraph.
Archdale, on the other hand, painted a completely different picture while describing their first-innings effort: “Never had I seen such nerves. We dropped catch after catch.” Some taskmasters can be like that.
The second Test
England sealed the series with an 8-wicket win in the second Test, at SCG. Australia improved with bat (162 and 148) but paled in front of England’s 301/5, of which Maclagan scored 119 and Snowball 71. On either side of this Maclagan had 4/33 and 2/35, while Snowball had a catch, four stumpings, and a run out.
Maclagan’s 119 was the first hundred in women’s internationals, but she did not understand its significance at that time. She told Keating that she remembered the feat “only because a pressman gave me a framed photograph of it, oh yes, a full-flowing cover-drive for four, real Wally Hammond-stuff, you know.”
The match witnessed serious barracking from the Sydney Hill as Shevill slept her way to a 47-minute duck in the first innings. There was some acceleration, but Barbara Peden did not help things with her 112-minute 15. She had to endure cries of “it is four o’clock, time to go and milk the cows”, “don’t forget to wake up in the morning”, “don’t break Shevill’s record,” and more.
Archdale mentioned an unusual experience in the rain-hit Canberra match: “When it rained, the crowd, composed mainly of small boys, burst into the said dressing room and stood and gaped at us. What fun it must be to be in a zoo!”
Leeton was no different: “The ‘dressing room’ consisted of space 1 yard by 6 yards, roped off under a tree, completely surrounded by a gaping crowd of small boys. With some difficulty, the boys were moved so that we could watch the play, but the moment play stopped the boys gaped at us instead.”
And at Goulburn, the Mayor requested the cricketers to settle down to “marry the local men and breed good Australian cricketers.”
Siblings and all that
The Peden sisters, Margaret (Australian captain) and Barbara, saved the third Test, at MCG. Australia finished on 104/8 after England set 166. The usual suspects thrived: Maclagan got 50 in the first innings and Snowball 83 in the second; Maclagan also had 3/32 and 4/28.
Trivia: The series witnessed three sisters play in an unusual combination. Essie Shevill was a batter who bowled some leg-break. Essie’s sister, the left-arm fast bowler Fernie, also played in the first Test but got dropped for the rest of the series. However, wicketkeeper Hills was replaced by Fernie’s twin Rene, who played the next Test as well. Fernie and Rene were thus the first pair of twins to play international cricket – though they never played together (but played alongside their elder sister).
Maclagan (253 runs at 50.60) and Snowball (192 at 64) were the leading run-scorers in the series. They also shared the top four individual scores. Maclagan also had most wickets (20 wickets at 8.45) and best figures, while Snowball the most dismissals (8).
Archdale carried out her role well. “Her forthright yet engaging personality made her a popular figure to whom the sizable Australian crowds responded warmly,” hailed Wisden Australia.
Across the Tasman
Once in New Zealand, the tourists thrashed Wellington by an innings and drew the against the other three states. However, the draws were extremely one-sided, and were not won mostly because Archdale wanted batting practice. The first-innings leads in the draws were 167, 232, and 260.
The tour ended with a Test at Christchurch, New Zealand’s first and the fourth in history. Maclagan (5/22) and Taylor (3/6) reduced New Zealand to 13/6 before they “recovered” to 44.
Snowball (189) and Hide (110) then added 235 in 142 minutes for the second wicket. England declared at 503/5, scored at a remarkable 3.92 an over. Snowball’s score stood as a world record for over half a century.
With 4/60, Partridge (remember her mixed bag of bowling?) then bowled out New Zealand for 122.
Women’s international cricket had taken off. And while they no longer play Tests, things look up for them.