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Review: A History of Women’s Cricket

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history of women's cricket, book review, duncanIsabelle Duncan’s new history of women’s cricket charts the game’s progress over the last 300 years.

Cricket is a game of statistics, but not everyone has a mind for data.

My own love of both men’s and women’s cricket is deep and unending (and well-documented on this site), but I cannot retain a stat for the life of me.

So when a first casual flick-through of Isabelle Duncan’s new history of women’s cricket revealed stat after stat, average after average, my heart sank.

However, on a deeper reading the data fit in beautifully with a greater description of the action on the field and the story behind the scenes.

Duncan’s entertaining new book charts the rise of women’s cricket from its inception to the game we know today.

Cricket has inspired some of the greatest sports writing ever committed to paper. Unfortunately, very little of this has been devoted to the women’s game, and in her preface Duncan says she would like her book to help fill the “yawning gap in cricket literature.”

This she does with consummate ease. The book does not, perhaps, reach the lyrical heights of a Cardus or Selvey, but it is a creditable attempt to shoehorn three centuries of achievement into just under 300 pages.

Duncan begins with the “Maids v Marrieds” matches of the eighteenth century, when single women took on their married counterparts, frequently in front of large crowds.

Women taking part in any sport at this time were usually viewed as curiosities, but at least they were allowed to compete.

By the time we reach the nineteenth century, attitudes had clearly changed. I challenge you to read the chapter on the Victorian era without raising your hackles.

Excerpts from an 1881 Birmingham Daily Mail article are typical of the time: “Cricket is essentially a masculine game. It can never be played properly in petticoats… let our women remain women instead of entering their insane physical rivalry with men.”

“Girls of the future will be horny-handed, wide-shouldered, deep-voiced… and with biceps like a blacksmith’s.”

However, as Duncan describes, the Victorian era was also a time of great progress for women’s cricket, if only for the upper classes.

Duncan then goes on to outline each cricket-playing nation’s history in relation to the women’s game.

There are lengthy analyses of women’s cricket in Australia, India, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, USA, West Indies and Zimbabwe.

Some more surprising cricket-playing nations are also profiled, including Canada, France, Italy and Rwanda.

The long chapter devoted to the series and competitions in which England have participated both home and abroad is exhaustive and interesting, although occasionally Duncan strays into whimsy. In describing cricket in the sixties, for example, she peppers the text with as many Rolling Stones songs as possible.

Duncan insists that she is no “bra-burning, man-hating, equality-at-any-price virago”, but there is no getting away from the fact that women’s sport is a feminist and political issue.

In the excellent chapter, “MCC Bowl a Maiden Over”, Duncan gives an eye-witness account of the trials and tribulations faced by women in their fight to gain entry to the Pavilion and Long Room at Lord’s by becoming members of the MCC. Some of the shocking misogyny really made me gasp.

From a cricket-lover’s point of view, I gained a lot from this book. I learned a great deal about the origins of the game for women and the personalities of both sexes involved in cricket’s promotion.

I cheered on the struggle of those determined to play, raising the money themselves to be able to tour, making the decision to put cricket at the centre of their lives. I was also pleasantly surprised at the number of male professionals over the years who have been vociferous advocates of women’s cricket.

The book makes the reader realise how far women’s cricket has come and this is incredibly heartening. I may lament the lack of of test cricket more recently in the women’s game, but we do have a lot for which to be thankful.

Most cricket-playing countries are now taking their women’s game seriously. There are more initiatives, more coaches and more teams than ever before. The profile of women’s cricket in the media is on the rise, as is the popularity and availability of the game in schools.

If you are already a cricket fan this book will give you a warm glow. If you are yet to be convinced, I would urge you to give it a go. It may just change your view.

Duncan is donating 50 per cent of the royalties from “Skirting the Boundary” to the Chance to Shine charity, which aims to bring cricket to girls and boys in state schools.

The book is published by The Robson Press and is currently available in hardback.

  1. Jackie Crawford says:

    I love books about women and sports. I’m reading “One American Woman Fifty Italian Men” by Lynne Ashdown, right now and I love it! I’m definitely going to check out “Skirting the Boundary”, thanks so much for the review of it!

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