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Australia Women lift 1978 World Cup — the tournament which was almost called off

The Australian captain, Margaret Jennings lifted the first of three consecutive World Cup Trophies Australia Women won, in 1978.
The Australian captain, Margaret Jennings lifted the first of three consecutive World Cup Trophies Australia Women won, in 1978.

Australian Women lifted the second World Cup ever on January 13, 1978. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the culmination of a tournament that had almost got called off before it had started.

 

After the initial success of the 1973 World Cup (held two years before the version for the male counterparts), women’s cricket reached a serious financial problem. The next World Cup, scheduled to be played in 1978, was supposed to have six teams. Shortly before the schedule was announced, however, West Indies Women and Holland Women pulled out of the tournament due to financial reasons.

Down to four teams – Australia Women, New Zealand Women, England Women, and India Women – the tournament was almost called off: it was simply not a financially viable option. After much deliberation it was decided that India, the only country that was likely to pull any sort of crowd, would host the tournament.

There were controversies elsewhere as well. Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, perhaps the first great female cricketer and the greatest reason that the World Cup had taken place at all, was dropped from the England Women squad. It had been rumoured that she was getting too popular for the comfort of the administration and the selectors.

Since the number of teams was too less, it was decided that the tournament would be played in a round-robin format without any final. The last match, however, was scheduled to be played between England Women and Australia Women – easily the two strongest teams of the tournament.

Australia Women started the tournament with an easy win over their Kiwi counterparts at Keenan Stadium: batting first the Australians scored 177 banking mostly on Wendy Hills’s 64. Their opening bowlers, Sharon Tredrea (one of those rare female bowlers who have been classified as “fast”) and Raelee Thompson, then finished with figures of 10-7-9-2 and 10-3-11-2 respectively, and put such a stranglehold on New Zealand Women that they finished on 111 for eight.

On the same day, India Women (with 11 debutants) had a disastrous start against the defending champions at Eden Gardens, being bowled out for 63 in 39.3 overs. England Women chased off the score with 118 balls to spare and with nine wickets intact.

The hosts lost again – this time against New Zealand Women at Patna: this time they managed to reach 130 for nine, but the Kiwis batted serenely and won the match by nine wickets with 36 balls to spare.

The next two matches were played on the same day as well. Sharon delivered again, this time with the bat, scoring 56 as Australia Women finished on 150 for nine at Patna. Fowzieh Khalili and Shobha Pandit added 31 for the opening stand, but Peta Verco, with figures of 9-3-9-3, helped bowl out India Women for 79.

Elsewhere in Hyderabad, Barb Bevege’s 57 helped New Zealand Women to 157 despite some excellent bowling from Jacqueline Court and Rosalind Heggs. England Women, however, got off to an excellent start thanks to Lynne Thomas, Megan Lear, and Chris Watmough, and England Women won easily by seven wickets with 57 balls to spare.

The fixture was decided: the finalists from the previous season were scheduled to meet in the last match here as well. Though not technically a final, it became equivalent to one (in a way akin the Brazil-Uruguay match of World Cup 1950). Mary Piling won the toss and elected to bat.

 

The English crawl

Lear fell to Sharon for a duck before Thomas and Watmough added a painstakingly slow 21 for the second wicket. It turned out to be one of the higher points of the innings as an inspired four-wicket spell from Sharon, with some assistance from Verco, saw England Women reeling at 28 for six.

Shirley Hodges, the wicket-keeper, walked out to join Thomas, who had fought resolutely at the other end. Another crawl began as the pair added 22 for the seventh wicket, but Sharyn Hill (née Fitzsimmons) struck with her military-medium to pick up two more wickets. At 60 for eight, things looked completely hopeless for England Women.

Glynis Hullah walked out: the focus was on batting out the 50 overs, and both Hodges and Hullah put their heads down to grit it out. They managed to survive, but England Women managed to score only 96 for eight from the allotted 50 overs – an easy target by any standards. So strong and suffocating was the Australian stranglehold that their spearhead and wrecker-in-chief Sharon (10-3-25-4) was the only one who went for over two runs an over.

 

The Australian stroll

Despite the meagre target, Hullah started in dramatic fashion, clean bowling Lorraine Hill for two and trapping Hills leg-before for a duck. With the score on six for two, Janette Tredrea (two years younger to her sister Sharon) walked out to join her captain (and wicket-keeper) Margaret Jennings.

The small total meant that Jennings and Janette were in no hurry of any kind, and they approached the target with an air of tranquillity. Towards the end of the match, Jennings reached her fifty and finished unbeaten on 57 at close while Janette Tredrea remained unbeaten on 37. Australia Women won by eight wickets with 111 balls to spare.

Fitzsimmons’ two-wicket haul had taken her to seven in the tournament as she finished a wicket ahead of Sharon Tredrea and Pat Carrick; Jennings, on the other hand, edged past Bevege’s 126 at the very end and ended with a single run ahead of the New Zealander.

 

What followed?

- Australia Women won the next two editions as well, achieving a hat-trick over two decades before their male counterparts.

- The World Cup became a (more-or-less) regular fixture of sorts, though the finalists would not change till the fifth World Cup in 1993 when New Zealand Women lost to England Women in the final.

- In 2000, New Zealand Women became only the third team to win a World Cup. The count has not increased since, though India Women and West Indies Women have made it to the final.

 

Brief scores:

 

England Women 96 for 8 in 50 overs (Sharon Tredrea 4 for 25) lost to Australia Women 100 for 2 in 31.3 overs (Margaret Jennings 57 not out) by 8 wickets with 111 balls to spare.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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