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Betty Snowball, born July 9, 1908, was one of the earliest superstars of the sport. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a versatile sportsperson who ruled multiple sports with authority.
Myrtle Maclagan and Elizabeth Alexandra “Betty” Snowball were, without a doubt, the first formidable opening pair in women’s cricket. In fact, they were so strong a pair that they were compared to Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe by the English media. In fact, Morning Post came up with a quatrain:
“What matter we lost, mere nervy men
Since England’s women now play England’s game,
Wherefore Immortal Wisden, take your pen
And write MACLAGAN on the scroll of fame.”
The Maclagan-Snowball pair gained more fame after England Women beat Australia Women at their den a year after the English men’s side had conceded the Ashes at home six months back. Additionally, Maclagan was a fastish off-break bowler who often opened bowling (she bowled the first ball in Women’s Tests, and faced the first ball for England Women), while Snowball was the English wicket-keeper. The partnership extended to an excellent rapport as ace bowler and a champion wicket-keeper.
Wisden compared Snowball to one of the legends of the sport: “She (Snowball) had something of Australia’s Bert Oldfield in her style: always immaculate in turnout, and neat and tidy in technique, although enthusiasm added a flourish to efficiency.” The almanac also classified her as “generally accepted as the outstanding wicketkeeper of her generation.”
With a solid defence, Snowball was the perfect foil to the destructive Maclagan; despite her diminutive frame (a shade over five feet) she could reach out to the ball by virtue of excellent footwork, and she finished her career with 613 runs from ten Women’s Tests at 40.86. Quite fittingly, till her retirement, her tally of runs was next to only Maclagan’s.
She added 13 catches and six stumpings to this, and had also represented Scotland in both squash and lacrosse.
Born in Burnley, Lancashire, Snowball went to St Leonard’s School. She later went to St Andrews and Bedford Physical Training College. Sometime during this period she was coached by Learie Constantine, who taught her, in her own words, “aggressive inspiration”.
Snowball’s first recorded match dates back to 1929, when she scored 19 for Women’s Cricket Association against her old Alma mater, St Leonard’s School for Girls. As the years turned by, the big scores kept coming, and Snowball was selected for the Australia tour of 1934-35 — the first ever Women’s Test series.
Before leaving the shores Snowball scored 77 for England Women against The Rest at Old Trafford, putting up 140 with Maclagan for the opening stand. In the last match that season she scored 55 not out for England Women Australia Touring Team against The Rest at Northampton.
The first ever Women’s Test, played at Brisbane, was an easy victory for England Women. Maclagan polished off the top of the order and finished with figures of 17-11-10-7, with Peter Taylor supporting her with 14.3-8-9-2. Australia Women were bowled out for 47 in 49.3 overs; Maclagan and Snowball went past them, adding 48 for the opening stand.
Snowball was snared by Peggy Antonio for 15, but Maclagan scored 72 herself as England Women secured a 107-run lead. This time it was the turn of Mary Spear, who ran through English Women with 34-24-15-5; Australia Women set a paltry target of 32, and though Maclagan fell early, Snowball and Molly Hide guided England Women to a nine-wicket victory.
The teams moved to SCG. This time Australia Women fared better, reaching 162, but Maclagan and Snowball killed their hopes, adding 145 for the opening stand before Kath Smith trapped Snowball leg-before for 71. Maclagan scored a hundred, Betty Archdale declared with a 139-run lead, and Australia Women collapsed dramatically against Joy Partridge. Set to chase a paltry ten, England Women made it with eight wickets in hand.
The third Women’s Test at MCG was a more keenly contested one. Snowball fell cheaply as England Women were bowled out for 162, and Australia Women fought hard to restrict the lead to a mere 12. England Women were 17 for two, and later 40 for three, when Snowball took charge.
There was not much support from the other end; Snowball played a lone hand, adding 46 with Hide and 52 more with Mary Richards. Archdale set Australia Women 166, and despite Maclagan’s 24-13-28-4, Australia Women finished on 104 for eight, clinging on to a draw.
The world record
There was a tour of New Zealand on the second leg of the tour, where Snowball decided to take things a bit further. She amassed 103 against Wanganui Women, and followed it with 108 against Otago at Carisbrook, putting up 206 for the opening stand with Maclagan.
Maclagan and Taylor bowled out New Zealand Women for 44 in the only Women’s Test at Lancaster Park. Maclagan fell after an opening stand of 55, and Snowball and Hide batted the hosts out of the match. The pair added 235 before Hide fell for 110, but there was no stopping Snowball.
She went past Maclagan’s world record score of 119, and was in no mood to give in. Mollie Child provided her with the support she needed. Snowball became the first woman to score 150, and by the time she was eventually claimed by Ruth Symons, she had scored 189. It remained the highest score in Women’s Tests for over half a century till Sandhya Agarwal scored 190 (Kiran Baluch holds the current record with 242). The poor Kiwis folded for 122 against Partridge.
Australia Women returned the favour with a return tour of 1937 for the Women’s Ashes. They won the first Women’s Test at Northampton by 31 runs, thanks to some excellent batting from Hazel Pritchard and Kath Smith and Antonio’s match haul of nine for 91. Set to score 199, Snowball had added 58 with Maclagan and 39 more with Joan Davis, but her 72 went in vain.
England Women drew level at Blackpool with a 25-run victory, triggered by Maclagan’s outstanding all-round performances. Come The Oval, and Australia Women impressed again, declaring at 207 for nine. Once again Snowball came handy, but was unfortunate to be run out for 99. Australia Women saved the Test. At this stage Snowball’s numbers read 572 runs from seven Tests at 63.55.
When cricket resumed after World War II, England Women visited Down Under for the third Women’s Ashes. Though Snowball scored 100 not out against Western Australia at WACA, 60 against New South Wales at Sydney, and 53 against Queensland at The Gabba, she was nowhere close to her best.
Australia Women won the rubber by virtue of their win at Adelaide Oval, while the bouts at MCG and SCG did not yield any result. It was a miserable outing for Snowball, who finished with 41 runs at 6.83. She had clearly been reduced to a shadow of her illustrious past. She played minor cricket till 1951 before hanging up her boots.
Snowball became an umpire, and even stood in the 1951 Women’s Ashes Test at New Road. She settled down in Colwell, Herefordshire, and taught cricket at mathematics at The Elms School. Michael Singleton, who had played First-Class cricket for Worcestershire, was the principal of the school at that time.
Snowball passed away on October 13, 1988. She was 80.
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