We often need to look back to see how far we’ve come. I made my first visit to Lord’s as a starry-eyed, cricket-obsessed nine-year-old girl at a time when women were not welcome in the Long Room. Times have changed.
Now I find myself entrusted with this remarkable opportunity – the opportunity to play a part in helping MCC, cricket’s most influential club, to thrive and grow in an even more modern and inclusive future.— Clare Connor
Clare Connor’s statement after she was announced as the next — and first-ever female — president of the Marylebone Cricket Club in its 233-year history is telling. She is set to helm a club that did not even allow female members until 1998. She will lead one of the oldest institutions in a sport that is often problematically called ‘the gentlemen’s game’.
In October 2021, the former England captain will succeed Kumar Sangakkara, who was the first non-British president of the MCC in history.
On the face of it, both decisions are symbolic for their diversity and one of cricket’s most traditional and most male-dominated bastion. The MCC maybe a private club but the name has a significant standing in the game as the guardian of the laws.
Headquartered at Lord’s in London, also known as the Home of Cricket, the MCC area is full of portraits of the male players who have distinguished themselves in the game. So entrenched has been the differentiation that although the England women’s team famously won the World Cup at Lord’s in 2017, women cricketers’ names and achievements were added to the iconic Lord’s honours board only in early 2019. The change was said to be a part of “MCC’s refurbishment drive”. Even the cricket museum at Lord’s only recently acquired more memorabilia associated with the women’s game.
The MCC members are mostly male too. According to The Telegraph, MCC had a record inclusion of 134 women as full members of the club before 2019’s Annual General Meeting but that only took the number of women to 217 out of a whopping 18,000, which comes 1.2%.
But as the appointment of Connor shows, there is a conscious effort being made to make it more inclusive of the women’s game. On her part, the 43-year-old is sure of her goal in her new role: to better the gender ratio in one of cricket’s oldest domains.
“My belief is that the game is for everybody and we haven’t always behaved that way as a game. That’s not a criticism of anybody. The game has, for a long time, been set up in this country and overseas to cater for men and boys. And we’re at an exciting crossroads in society more widely and in sport and in cricket where there is a huge commitment to making the game more inclusive and more diverse. And that’s not just about gender. That’s all areas of inclusion and diversity,” she was quoted as saying.
Making a 233-year-old organisation in England more diverse won’t be an easy task but MCC has picked a candidate most suitable for the role.
Connor was appointed as the ECB’s Head of Women’s Cricket in 2007, a year after her retirement, and is now the ECB’s managing director of women’s cricket. She has also been the Chair of the ICC Women’s Cricket Committee since 2011. In terms of experience, she has spent the requisite time in the backrooms of cricket and this feels like a logical next step.
During her time at ECB, England women have reached new heights as a team, including the 2017 World Cup triumph at Lord’s and has seen investment at all levels increase. There were concerns that the women’s game will be left behind due to the financial hit caused by the coronavirus pandemic but ECB has been trying to ensure that the domestic players are not left in the lurch.
Clare Connor's England career
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On field, she made her England debut in 1995 at the age of 19, took over the captaincy in 2000 and is best remembered for leading her team to their first Ashes triumph in 42 years, back in 2005.
An all-rounder, Connor bowled left-arm spin and played a total of 111 internationals (16 Tests, 93 ODIs, 2 T20Is), scoring 1,604 runs and taking 104 wickets across formats.
She has also served as a director on the board of Sussex Cricket and Sport England and taught English Literature and been Head of PR at Brighton College alongside her cricketing career.
Connor was also considered for the role a while back and would have taken over in October. She knew about it before the coronavirus lockdown came into effect, which resulted in Sangakkaara’s term being extended by a year.
But with almost two years in the role, the 43-year-old has the needed time to effect meaningful change.
Connor’s new role was widely praised by her peers on Twitter for the deeper implication of levelling the field it has. Perhaps the best summation of it came from former Indian cricketer Anjum Chopra wrote: “Heartening to see the growing respect and acknowledgement of the women’s game.”
Connor’s appointment indeed shows that the traditional custodians of the game are making an effort to make cricket more inclusive for women.