Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, who passed away on 18th January at the age of 77, was a pioneer of women’s cricket and an undisputed great of the game.
Due to her noteworthy achievements as a successful captain of England, an administrator and a vocal crusader of gender equality, she has left an indelible mark on the game and the way it is run today.
Heyhoe-Flint was a major catalyst in the ideation of the first Women’s World Cup in 1973, which predated the inaugural men’s edition by two years. As if this was not enough, she went on to lead England to victory in the tournament. In 1998, she actively campaigned for the path-breaking vote that allowed women to become members of the hallowed Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).
Born in Wolverhampton, Heyhoe-Flint was a first-rate top-order batswoman who played 22 Tests and 23 ODIs in an international career that spanned from 1959-60 to 1981-82. Her tally of 1594 Test runs, scored at an average of 45.54, is currently the third-highest in the women’s game, while her ODI average of 58.45 still remains the highest among those who played at least 20 innings.
Captaincy came calling for the first time in 1966, when she took over the reins for the home series against New Zealand. Never once in her 12 Tests in charge did she taste defeat. In 2010, she was christened a peer in the House of Lord’s, thus taking the title of Baroness Heyhoe-Flint. In the same year, she became the first female inductee in the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.
While her impact was felt beyond the cricketing field, the genesis of Heyhoe-Flint’s commendable journey lay in her credentials as one of the finest batswomen the world has seen. As a tribute to her inspirational career as the first truly iconic female cricketing personality, we look back, in chronological order, at five of her most significant performances for England.
113 and 59* vs New Zealand, Scarborough, 1966
Heyhoe-Flint celebrated her first Test in charge with her maiden century for England. She followed her 113 – which remained her highest score for a decade – in the first innings with an unbeaten half-century in the second. Though the match ended in a dour draw, the new captain led from the front – something which would be repeated several times in the years to come.
76 and 68 vs Australia, Adelaide, 1968-69
England had secured a series win over Australia after 26 years in 1963, but the challenge now was to defend the ‘Ashes’ (not until 1998 were series between the two nations officially called the Women’s Ashes) five-and-a-half years later in Australia. Heyhoe-Flint had since taken over as captain and was a vital cog as far as the hopes of England, playing in Australia after 12 years, were concerned.
The skipper duly made a mark in the first Test at the Barton Oval in Adelaide. Coming in at number three, she produced a knock of 76, sharing in a second-wicket stand of 127 with debutant Enid Blakewell (113). With her team trailing by 69, she averted any potential second-innings awkwardness with a patient 68, thus beginning her first overseas series as captain with twin fifties.
114 vs Young England, Ilford, 1973
Heyhoe-Flint’s only ODI century came at the 1973 World Cup against Young England, which was essentially a team made up of under-25 players. She rescued England from a tricky 55/3 with a resolute 114, making up nearly half of her team’s total of 231/6 in the allotted 60 overs. Set a rain-revised target of 152 from 39 overs, Young England went down by 50 runs.
64 vs Australia, Edgbaston, 1973
The inaugural Women’s World Cup was a seven-team round-robin affair, with the title going to the league topper. England and Australia, respectively having 16 and 17 points, played the concluding match at Edgbaston, which was in effect the final. England’s only loss in the tournament had come at the hands of New Zealand.
Luck favoured Heyhoe-Flint at the toss and she had no hesitation in deciding to bat. With opener Blakewell (118) for company, she was involved in a partnership worth 117 for the second wicket that took the wind out of Australia’s sails. She was eventually dismissed for a busy 64, playing her part in England’s strong total of 279/3, which was enough by 92 runs for a memorable World Cup title.
179 vs Australia, The Oval, 1976
Heyhoe-Flint fittingly produced her career-best score when her team was in adversity against the Old Enemy. England had been the ‘Ashes’ holders since 1963, but their defence was under serious threat after they were bundled out for a paltry 134 on the first day of the third Test at the Oval. The visitors further seized the advantage by racking up 379 on the board.
The third and final day belonged to the captain as she staged a remarkable second-dig rescue act, batting for nearly nine hours in compiling a stonewalling 179. England were in a dire position at 76/3, still 169 in arrears, but Heyhoe-Flint went on undeterred, shepherding her side to 326 and a series-saving draw. Her effort was then the second-best score in a women’s Test.
From being the first woman to hit a six in a Test in 1963 to becoming the first woman to be elected to the full committee of the MCC in 2004, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint’s association with cricket encompassed an array of accomplishments and broke many a barrier. She will always be remembered as the visionary who foresaw a brighter future for every aspiring female cricketer.