Two years before Clive Lloyd lifted the World Cup at the Lord’s balcony, the cricketing world had already witnessed the crowning of world champions. The Women’s World Cup, held in 1973, was the first of its kind: a limited-overs tournament to crown the best cricketing team in the world.
And 46 years before Eoin Morgan led England to the World Cup triumph, which was hailed by many as the first ever ODI World Cup triumph for the inventors of the game, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint had helped England become the first cricket world champions.
Seven teams – England, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, an International XI and Young England – were part of the tournament that Heyhoe-Flint had a big part in organising.
The cricket pioneer was the first to conceptualise a potential world cricket tournament. Legend goes that she convinced millionaire Jack Hayward to fund such an event for women’s cricket and that’s how the first World Cup came about.
Cricket historian Raf Nicholson, in an article for ESPNCricnfo, recounted how Heyhoe-Flint managed to pull off the first-of-its kind event, starting from the initial conversation in 1971.
She stayed with millionaire Jack Hayward at his Sussex home during a weekend of women’s cricket at Eastbourne, and the two of them remained awake into the small hours, discussing how best to advance the cause of the women’s game. At that stage still small-scale and entirely amateur, with international tours limited by the empty coffers of the associations who paid to stage them, it was a sport clearly in need of a boost.
Between them they dreamt up the scheme. Heyhoe-Flint somehow convinced Hayward that he should spend £40,000 on bringing the best players from all over the globe to England. Even men’s cricket had not yet conceived of the idea. It was big, brash and bold: Rachael to a T.— via ESPNCricinfo
The format was round-robin, with each team playing the others once. The team that finished on points lifted the title.
In the curtain-raiser against International XI, England’s Enid Bakewell and Lynne Thomas hit the first centuries of the tournament. A total of 258/1 in that game was the highest until the tournament’s finale in Birmingham, against Australia, on July 28.
It was again Bakewell who hit a century and she was supported by a fifty by a nervous Heyhoe-Flint as England posted 279/3 in 60 overs. The hosts completed a 92-run win.
England won five of its games, losing only to New Zealand in a rain-affected match. It was closely followed by Australia, with four wins and one no result. New Zealand and International XI had three wins each, Trinidad and Tobago two, and Jamaica and Young England one each.
Speaking to ESPNCricinfo in 2009, this is how Heyhoe-Flint herself recounted that historic first:
I can recall that the inaugural tournament created huge public awareness of the very existence of women’s cricket. That was a great bonus because even though the first recorded writings about women’s cricket were in 1745, the general public in the UK were still very ignorant about us.
I remember the final more than any other game of course - we won it! Princess Anne was the guest of honour and the match was covered in the television news and the highlights were presented by ITV’s World of Sport programme. I was so nervous because of the media and royal attention that I took four overs to get off the mark. But I got a half-century and led England to the title. Princess Anne handed the trophy to us.
In a tribute to the English legend, who passed away in 2017, The Guardian said: “[She] didn’t just play cricket, she watched it, spoke about it, promoted it, wrote about it, and ran it. As a batter, she averaged 45 in Tests and 58 in ODIs, and as captain she won or drew 19 of the 21 international matches she played. Beyond that she helped organise the first World Cup, orchestrate the first women’s match at Lord’s, and, in 1998, cajoled the MCC into accepting female members, coaxing the club into the 20th century just over a year before the start of the 21st.”
You watch moments from the final of the tournament below: