The Growth of Women’s Cricket

By Simon Hodgson 

When cricket first took root in 18th-century Britain, women’s cricket was a popular activity. “The greatest cricket match that was played in this part of England,” recorded the Reading Mercury newspaper in 1745, was “between eleven maids of Bramley and eleven maids of Hambledon, all dressed in white. . . . The girls bowled, batted, ran and catched [sic] as well as most men could.” In villages throughout the southeast of England, women’s teams—composed largely of middle- and upper-class players— competed in front of mixed crowds. 

Cricketer Mithali Raj batting for India against England in Truro, United Kingdom, July 8, 2012. Photo by Harrias. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

As the 18th century wore on, however, and the Industrial Revolution took hold of towns in the north of England in the 1800s, the game did not spread widely among working-class women. “The time and space requirements of the factory system and an increasingly strict moral attitude among the ‘better classes’, who regarded games-laying among the lower orders as frivolous, non-improving and morally suspect, militated against working-class sport of any kind,” writes University of Windsor Professor of History Kathleen McCrone.

Women in England—and in Australia, where the women’s game started up in the late 19th century—continued to play cricket into the 20th century, but the competition was mostly in local leagues, and the sport lacked nationwide coordination in both countries. Not until the 1930s did women’s cricket go international, with Australia playing England. In 1958, the founding of the International Women’s Cricket Council sparked the development of the game worldwide, with nations from New Zealand to the United States to the Netherlands competing in international matches.

For more than two centuries, women’s cricket has been at the forefront of innovations in the sport. Christina Willes, an 18th-century English woman, is reported by some writers to have invented overarm bowling—a historical claim that Kate Attwell draws into the plot of Testmatch. The inaugural Women’s Cricket World Cup in 1973 predated the men’s equivalent by a decade, and the first international women’s T20 match (a shorter, more explosive form of cricket featuring big hitting and more risk-taking) took place in 2004, a year before their male counterparts.

Indian women’s international cricketer Harmanpreet Kaur, playing in the Australian women’s league, representing Sydney Thunder against Perth Scorchers on January 7, 2018. Photo by Bahnfrend. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In recent years, there has been “a revolution for women’s cricket,” says Ananya Upendran, an Indian cricket writer who plays for Hyderabad women’s team. Arguments for gender equality have bolstered the pay and profile of female professionals in multiple sports (including cricket), though much work is still necessary to ensure full financial parity. “We are living through a revolution where a great effort is being made to show that everyone is equal,” says Indian journalist and cricket writer Mihir Bose. In the United States, the women’s team (captained by Bay Area resident Sindhu Sriharsha, a wicketkeeping batter based in Livermore) is steadily establishing itself on the international stage. As teams prepare for the next Women’s Cricket World Cup in 2020, international women’s cricket matches now attract tens of thousands—a throwback to those 17th-century matches.

This interview is excerpted from the Testmatch issue of Words on Plays. Want to read more? Order your copy here. Testmatch is onstage now through December 8 at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater. Click here for tickets!

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