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Remembering the trailblazer Rachael Heyhoe-Flint

Rachael Heyhoe-Flint was ahead of her time in many ways. She dared to dream and persistently worked hard to achieve them.

It was 1971. She tirelessly pushed millionaire Jack Hayward to do something huge for the women’s cricket. Don’t get me started on the male chauvinism at that time. She came up with the idea of the World tournament. She convinced Hayward to spend £40,000 to bring players from different countries to play in England.

Two years on, in 1973, her dream became true. She managed to bring together seven teams- England, Australia, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Young England, International XI to play in the World Cup, a round-robin format. The England team had four housewives, nine teachers, and one secretary, according to the England media. Most of them had to make the sacrifices of choosing the job or playing cricket and they ended up choosing the latter. The sacrifices were huge.

In the final, Enid Bakewell’s 116 and later two wickets played the major role. Heyhoe-Flint also had 64 runs and became the first-ever captain to lift the World Cup. Men’s World Cup began only two years later from the women’s World Cup.

She was also a freelance writer at that time and she would report every single match to The Telegraph. Her routine was close to this. She would play the game, would report about the match, would talk to her family, shower and she would come out with Ukelele to entertain the team. She really did lead from the front, be it entertainment or of course, the game.

From 1970 to 1975, she organized charity matches and raised money for the Women’s cricket to survive.

Born in 1939, Rachael Heyhoe played different sports and even represented England in Hockey but she was driven by the cricket, maybe, the sentences like, “Women don’t play cricket”, influenced her. She didn’t have a great debut in 1960/1961, however, her half-century in the second Test proved that she belonged at the highest level.

Three years later, it was she who hit the first-ever six in the women’s cricket. The shot she described as “a hoick to leg”, also fondly known as the Heyhoe Heave-Ho. The six came against Australia at the Oval.

Thanks to her skills, she was made the captain of the team in her eighth Test match. Some people love the extra responsibility they say and it is true with Rachael Heyhoe who brought up her maiden hundred during the first innings against New Zealand and followed it up with an unbeaten 59. She then successfully defended the Ashes, then won another series against New Zealand.

She adopted double-barrelled surname after marrying Derrick Flint and became Rachael Heyhoe-Flint in 1971.

In 1973, The Lord’s refused to host the final of the World Cup. She did fight her way and years later in 1976, she became the first English woman to captain at the Lord’s.

She also gave birth to her son Ben in 1974 and returned just two months after his birth for the love of the game.

Talking more about the love and her persistence, she was 37 in 1976. England was taking on Australia at the Oval for the final Test. Batting first, England managed only 134. In return, Lumsden made 123 and with significant contributions from others, Australia reached 379. In the second innings, England was at the verge of losing the Test match at 77 for 3.

Nobody knows where Rachael Heyhoe-Flint gathered the strength and concentration to score 179. Now, the best part is, she literally killed everyone by her defence. Australia had to use nine bowlers yet they couldn’t get rid of her. She batted for freaking 521 minutes, pushing for a draw. She got out in the final ball of the Test match while jokingly trying to hit the ball for a six. To bat for more than eight hours at 37 tells you how much she loved the game.

A few years later, she was “dropped” from the team as the Board for looking for grooming young talents for the future. However, in 1979, she came back against West Indies and she ended up scoring 162 runs in the series at 41. Thus, ending her 22-match Test career without losing any of them.

She was recalled to play the World Cup at the age of 43. She did bat well and ended up with an average close to 48. This tournament was her final international one.
Now, her services to the game did not stop there. She fought for a membership at MCC in 1991 to allow women into the committee. At first, nobody voted for her, well, expected. Seven years later, she became one in 1998.

In 1999, she was one of ten original female Honorary Life Members and went on to become the first woman to be elected on to the MCC Committee in 2004. She was also the first woman cricketer to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in 2010.

She was the first global superstar of the game, oh, did I not mention that she worked in the PR department for her Hockey team Wolverhampton Wanderers then for years, she served on the board before becoming the vice-president.

Nobody influenced the game as she did and she will always stay as the legend everyone looked up to. Unfortunately, we don’t have many videos of her game. I regret that I never had an opportunity to watch her game.

In 2017, maybe, she got a call from heaven to rebuild the women’s cricket out there. She, as always, humble enough to pick up the call and now, she possibly influencing many in heaven to play the game. She might be looking down and might be smiling because of the improvement in the women’s game today. Hopefully, as she wished, things will be a lot brighter in the future for the game.

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