This article was originally published on All Out Cricket on August 9th, 2013.
England and Australian women have been playing each other for longer than you might think. Here, Isabelle Duncan, the writer of Skirting the Boundary, a new history of the women’s game, runs through the story of one of the great rivalries in women’s sport.
THE TRAILBLAZING THIRTIES
By 1934, Australian women’s cricket had organised itself nationally. Both Australia and England were itching to play each other, and the Australian Women’s Cricket Council invitation to England’s Women’s Cricket Association to send a touring team to Australia was accepted with alacrity.
The now obsolete Exhibition Ground at Brisbane was the scene of the first ever women’s Test match – a three-day affair – and the tension showed as, with 1,500 spectators looking on, the jittery Australians only managed to put 47 runs on the board in the first innings. England’s legendary spinning allrounder Myrtle Maclagan [above] took 7-10 on a drying pitch and the touring side went on to win by nine wickets. Maclagan then hit the first century (119) in women’s Test cricket in the second Test at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground, as England secured the series with an eight-wicket win, before the third and final Test was drawn.
In 1937 it was Australia’s turn to visit England for the first time and a transformed side squared up to England at Northampton, winning the first Test by 31 runs. The Blackpool Test produced another closely fought battle and this time England came out on top. Maclagan hit the headlines with her 115, the first female century on English soil, and Molly Hide shone with the ball, cleaning up the Australian batsmen with match figures of 8-58.
The third Test at The Oval drew a crowd of nearly 7,000 punters but ended in a draw. A Harold Griffin cartoon strip of the time bore the caption: ‘Hard-hitting Hazel at The Oval, Australia’s female Bradman, who makes boundaries look as easy as dabbing on lipstick.’
In 1949 the Australian public showed their vast appetite for women’s cricket when 20,000 men and women showed up for the Adelaide Test. The Gargantua Betty Wilson [right] did not let them down: she smashed her way to the first century by an Australian woman in an international against England before taking 6-23 with the ball. England hadn’t a hope in hell and lost by 186 runs. This was well and truly Australia’s Ashes.
THE GOLDEN FIFTIES
After the 1951 series had finished 1-1, the England team made their third journey to Australia and New Zealand in the winter of 1957/58 and five draws in a row really proved that more than three days was needed for the chance of a result. Bring on the four-day game…
England had plenty to be satisfied about, sailing through the decade without losing any of their 14 Tests. In 1963, Mary Duggan hit the first hundred by a woman at The Oval, but Rachael Heyhoe (later Heyhoe Flint) stole the limelight by smacking the first ever female ‘six’ in a Test. England won the match (and the Ashes) by 49 runs. It would be their last win against Australia for 42 years. The 1968/69 tour of Australia saw the 28-year-old debutante Enid Bakewell score her maiden Test century at Adelaide, as England retained the Ashes.
STAYIN’ ALIVE IN THE SEVENTIES
The Australians were back in England again in May 1976 and eyes were popping at England’s statistics in their second innings at The Oval: all out for 326 in an innings lasting 10 hours and 48 minutes, with 157 maidens bowled out of 264 overs. Captain Heyhoe stonewalled her way to 179 in eight and a half hours, saving her country’s bacon, and England closed their innings 81 runs ahead. The final Test, and the series, was drawn.
ONE VISION: THE EIGHTIES
The 1984 series in Australia marked the Golden Jubilee of Test cricket for the women’s game, and the Aussies won a series against England for the first time since 1948/49. The Australians then landed on British soil in 1987 brimming with confidence and England were comprehensively outplayed, eventually going down in the Test series 1–0. Australia’s 5ft Denise Annetts hit a world record 193 including 30 fours in just over six hours in the second Test at Collingham.
SLIPPING IN THE NINETIES
In a solitary Test in 1992 the English roses were well and truly smothered by the Australian gladioli at the North Sydney Oval in the first ever women’s five-day Test. Jan Brittin motored past Rachael Heyhoe Flint’s world record of 1,594 Test runs when she scored 146 in England’s first innings at Guildford in 1998. Aussie Joanne Broadbent smacked 200, toppling Denise Annetts’ 11-year Australian record of 193, but fell four runs short of Kirsty Flavell’s world record set two years earlier. Stalemate, however, ruled, and the series was drawn at 0–0.
THE ASHES TROPHY
The Test series between England and Australia only became known officially as the Ashes in the women’s game in 1998, when a ceremony took place in the Harris Gardens at Lord’s. A miniature bat, signed by the England and Australian women’s cricket squads, and a copy of the WCA Constitution and Rules Book were consigned to the flames and the ashes were sealed in a 300-year old yew-tree trophy, to be known henceforth as ‘the Ashes’.
This trophy was also in commemoration of the dissolution of the WCA, originally formed in 1926. The same trophy will be competed for this summer.
THE NOUGHTIES AND BEYOND
Australia called the shots in the two Ashes Tests in England in the summer of 2001, with the pace of future coach Cathryn Fitzpatrick and the runs of Karen Rolton proving decisive. Debutante Michelle Goszko hit a record-breaking debut innings of 204 at Shenley as Australia powered through to win by an innings and 140 runs. Then the mighty Rolton smashed 209 (a new record) in the second Test at Headingley. In February 2003, England quick Lucy Pearson took 11 wickets in the second Test at the Bankstown Oval in Sydney, but Australia retained the Ashes in this two match series.
While the men were having a corker of an Ashes series in 2005, the women were at it, too. A draw took them to the second and final Test at Worcester with everything to play for, and in a fairytale ending for England their 20-year wait for the ultimate prize was over: the Ashes were regained as they won convincingly by six wickets. England captain Charlotte Edwards only had to draw to retain the Ashes at Bowral in 2008 but the team brought home the Ashes in style, with Isa Guha taking 9-100 in the match.
After a single drawn Test at Worcester in 2009, England went into the 2011 Ashes Test at Sydney with heads held high but several key players absent. Debutante Sarah Elliott and Australian captain Alex Blackwell crushed any hopes of England glory in the fourth day to gain a seven-wicket victory. Their match-winning partnership of 125 ultimately forced England to hand back the Ashes to Australia.
THE NEW FORMAT
The new and exciting format for the 2013 series means that for the first time the Women’s Ashes is contested across all three formats of the game. The single Test match is worth six points, the three ODIs worth two points each, and the three T20Is also worth two points each. Whoever wins will certainly have earned the right to call themselves the better side. And they’re doing it all again in a return series down under in January 2014…