The success of the 1973 Women’s Cricket World Cup helped prove the concept was viable, driving the creation of a men’s tournament in 1975. When it came time to organise another Women’s World Cup, the value of Sir Jack Hayward and Rachael Heyhoe Flint’s ignition, combined with the organsational skills of England’s Women’s Cricket Association, become evident.
The 1978 tournament was initially supposed to feature six teams and be played in South Africa. While financial issues forced the withdrawl of the Netherlands and West Indies (now playing together like their male counterparts), South Africa were still firmly rooted in the apartheid regime and outside of cricket. With only four teams playing, the tournament was nearly cancelled before a decision was made to go ahead and play in India where it was felt the competition would still draw crowds, a prophecy that came true.
At their meeting, held in India to coincide with the tournament, the International Women’s Cricket Council, who played no role in organising either of the first two World Cups, responded to a perceived lack of direction by signalling their need to be deeply involved in organising future events. Beginning with the 1982 edition in New Zealand, they became a more involved participant. In spite of this additional input, the fact that any of these tournaments were played was largely down to the passion of the players who were still required to fund much of their World Cup experience.
While the talking point for New Zealand’s side at the 1973 World Cup was the absence of their captain, Trish McKelvey, she would return to take the helm in India. England, however, saw controversy in their team selections as Rachael Heyhoe Flint, a fixture of their side for 28 years and the game’s first true female superstar, was left out. The WCA claimed they had picked the side “with youth in mind” and it looked like her stellar international career was over. Thankfully, she got one more chance to play in a World Cup as, in 1982, the same body who dropped her for being too old, recalled her at 43 years old.
Having toured India two years before, the New Zealanders were at an advantage over many of their opponents. The experience of India in the 1970s was a massive culture shock for cricketers from the western nations – playing in front of 40,000 fans and being chased for autographs on the street simply did not happen outside grounds at St Albans in the UK, Rangiora in NZ, or Sydney’s University Oval.
. . . that World Cup was really difficult for all the participating teams because there were long gaps between games and sitting around in Indian hotels was not fun.
– Trish McKelvey, New Zealand captain
Unfortunately their prior experience of the conditions did not help the New Zealand side on the field. In the tournament opener, Australia dealt McKelvey’s team a huge blow, winning by 66 runs as New Zealand’s run rate chasing 177 barely crept above two runs per over.
In their next match, against the home side, New Zealand successfully chased India’s 130 for the loss of just one wicket. Barb Bevege and Sue Rattray – recalled, like her captain, after being a member of the International XI at the inaugural tournament – put together an unbeaten stand of 95 to secure a victory that kept their side in the hunt for the title.
New Zealand’s final match was against England at Hyderabad and it was crucial for both teams – like 1973, England needed a win to ensure the tournament’s final game, which pitted them against Australia again, would decide the World Cup holder. While Bevege again showed her class in hitting 57, she didn’t have enough support and New Zealand could muster just 157. While it was a reasonable score in the context of the tournament, it was nowhere near enough to stop the reigning champions as they chased it down in the 41st over for the loss of just 3 wickets.
While New Zealand prepared to make a hasty exit, England eyed up a final match-up against Australia as they hoped to retain their title. It wasn’t too be as, in a dour final, the holders compiled a sluggish 96 for 8 off their 50 overs – making New Zealand’s earlier RPO look like a Sophie Devine T20 onslaught. Australia didn’t have too many demons to battle in the pitch as they cruised to victory with almost 20 overs and 8 wickets to spare.
The victory was Australia’s first in World Cups, starting a run of success that would eventually be replicated by their mens’ team.