It was women after all, who staged the first ever Cricket World Cup – an idea born out of a few after-dinner brandies on a night in 1971.
– Rachael Heyhoe Flint
In sporting circles, Sir Jack Hayward is most commonly associated with English football and the Wolverhampton Wanderers. However in 1971, together with the English women’s cricket captain, Rachael Heyhoe Flint, he came up with an idea which would completely change international cricket.
After dinner and, as Heyhoe Flint puts it, “with brandy glass in hand” the pair were discussing ways to increase the profile of women in cricket. Hayward was already known as a ardent supporter having financed two tours by the English women’s side, and the idea of a World Cup seemed natural to him, as did providing much of the financial support required.
The pair agreed that, while the concept was a winner in their eyes – and beating the men to the punch would be fantastic, they needed to channel it through the Women’s Cricket Association. Hayward wasted no time and, the following day while Heyhoe Flint was on-field in an exhibition match, he floated the idea with the Association’s chair. With a favourable response, 18 months of hard work began to create history.
The tournament officially began on June 20th 1973 with seven teams taking part. Joining the perennial attendees – Australia, England, and New Zealand – were sides from Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. Balancing out the draw was Young England and an International XI. The last of these sides was added when, very late in the piece, South Africa’s invite to the tournament was rescinded on political grounds. Although the organisers wished for a few South African players to join the ranks of the side that replaced them, both teams from the West Indies indicated they would withdraw if any South Africans participated.
The balance of sport and politics at the time was highly charged, culminating in New Zealand with the 1981 Springbok tour. For many of the international players, however, they had a heavy feeling of regret on behalf of their South African compatriots for missing the opportunity to play. After the conclusion of the World Cup, this feeling manifested itself in an informal touring party made up of eight New Zealanders visiting South Africa to play cricket.
On the field, the 1973 World Cup was to be played in a league format with all teams playing each other and the winner being decided by who topped the points table on July 28th. Heyhoe Flint, in her 1978 autobiography, accepted that this may have been an error in their organisation, although circumstances conspired to give the tournament a ‘final’ anyway.
New Zealand’s first World Cup side was not without its own selection controversy as Trish McKelvey, who had led them to dual Test wins over Australia and South Africa the previous year, was left out of the squad altogether. In late 1972, McKelvey travelled to Munich for the Olympic games and made the decision to remain in Europe through to the World Cup, therefore missing the Hallyburton Johnston Shield competition in New Zealand ahead of the tournament. She had informed the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council of this in advance, being told they had no issue with her plans, and she arranged to play cricket in England ahead of the tournament – giving her experience with the conditions few other visiting players would have. In spite of those assurances and her own preparation she was omitted from the squad.
Bev Brentnall would step into the captain’s role, leading a team which had a good balance of experienced players and youth. None of the team could claim any real experience in the 60-over format of the tournament however, as these were the first women’s ODIs ever played and the season’s Hallyburton Johnston tournament had kept with tradition and featured two-day cricket.
It was the first time we’d played to those sort of rules and being pioneers [. . .] if we’d played more limited overs matches before we went I think we might have done a little better.
– Maureen Peters (nee Dunlop)
While England bore the cost of the tournament itself, helped by Sir Jack’s presence, the attending teams had to pay their own way. In the case of New Zealand, that burden fell on the players and their families. Raising the $2000 required was difficult, but such was the excitement of the opportunity that players worked hard to ensure they could attend. New Zealand also had the challenge of distance, with a 36 hour trip taking them from Auckland to Fiji and on to Las Vegas after fog meant they couldn’t land in Los Angeles. From there they went on to Chicago, then New York before finally arriving in London only to be forced to wait a further two hours while their lost luggage was found. But, they made it, and the excitement of the tournament and being in a foreign country soon took over.
It was a great tour [. . .] really wonderful. I thought the whole concept of the World Cup was magnificent. We were lucky enough to be taken around several grounds and several counties had wonderful sightseeing trips organised. . .
– Maureen Peters (nee Dunlop)
In the tournament opener, at London’s Kew Green, New Zealand were set to make history by featuring in the first women’s ODI ever played. Unfortunately rain would ruin the occasion for the New Zealanders and their Jamaican opponents. Rain would be a constant throughout the tournament with, in Heyhoe Flint’s view, New Zealand and England the teams to suffer most.
On the 23rd of July 1973, the New Zealand women’s side made their debut in ODI cricket, playing Trinidad & Tobago. The one-sided match saw New Zealand win by 136 runs as Lynda Prichard scored our first 50 (finishing on 70) and Glenys Page claimed six for 20 – a debut record that still stands for any New Zealander in an ODI. The victory margin was the largest in any match during the tournament but a familiar face would feature in the next match, inflicting a serious dent on their title hopes.
Shortly after learning she wouldn’t be pulling on her black cap at the World Cup, Trish McKelvey received a phone call from Netta Rheinberg inviting her to join the International XI which she had been given the task of managing. McKelvey didn’t hesitate in taking the opportunity and she was awarded the vice-captaincy under Audrey Disbury, a close friend and the woman who had arranged McKelvey’s pre-World Cup cricket in England. In their opening match against England the International side were comprehensively out-played but, from that match on, they found a formula that worked for them, starting with their game against New Zealand.
In the planning for their match against New Zealand, Rheinberg and Disbury gave the task of analysing the opposition to McKelvey. Given she had captained almost the same squad to Test victories the previous year, it’s unlikely there was anyone in the world more qualified to assess their weaknesses. The plan worked as McKelvey, with fellow New Zealanders Sue Rattray and Eileen Badham at her side, masterminded a 2-wicket win for the International XI.
We really lost it against the International XI. We didn’t give ourselves enough runs to play with.
– Bev Brentnall, NZ captain
The International XI instituted the same planning process for their remaining games, with the players from the opposing country given the task of coming up with the game plan. A surprise loss to Young England and a rain-forced no result against Australia meant that the tournament avoided the possibility of being won by a composite side, but their victory over New Zealand dealt a huge blow to our team’s title hopes.
For the New Zealand side, their loss to the International XI was followed by another narrow defeat at the hands of Australia. The back-to-back losses ended any chance of Bev Brentnall lifting the trophy gifted for the tournament by Sir Jack Hayward, but they still had a role to play in the tournament outcome.
In another rain-affected match, New Zealand came out on top against England as the home-side’s run stalled with their first loss. World Cup scheduling after the New Zealand game, however, had dealt England three matches in the final seven days including a blockbuster finale against Australia at Birmingham.
At that point in the competition, Australia had a commanding lead and could have sealed the title with a win over the International XI. After that match was rained-out and England won against their young counterparts and Trindad & Tobago, the tournament without a final suddenly had a final.
Picking up one point from their no result against the International XI, Australia (17 points) would lift the cup with anything but an England (16 points) win. Given the impact of the weather during the tournament, a damp end was a distinct possibility. Although rain threatened, the sun eventually came out as England rose to the occasion: Enid Bakewell hitting 118 as the home side piled on 279 for three – a total that would remain a record in women’s ODIs until 1988. Australia had no answer and Rachael Heyhoe Flint graciously accepted the trophy from Princess Anne.
England had organised, hosted, and won the first Cricket World Cup.
Heyhoe! The autobiography of Rachael Heyhoe Flint, Rachel Heyhoe Flint, Pelham, 1978
Fair Play; the story of women’s cricket, Rachel Heyhoe Flint & Netta Rheinberg, Angus and Robertson, 1978
Transcripts of interviews with Trish McKelvey, Shirley Cowles, Bev Brentnall, and Maureen Peters (nee Dunlop), conducted by Adrienne Simpson
Transcript of interview with Bev Brentnall, conducted by Carey Clements