@ Getty Images (representational image)
© Getty Images (representational image)

One of the strangest cricket matches took place at Paddington on July 17, 1888, involving all sorts of non-cricket props — from theatre to broomsticks and beyond. Abhishek Mukherjee describes the curious contest.

There have been instances where teams of men have played, even lost, to teams of women. Perhaps the most famous instance of this took place on board in 1903 when Plum Warner’s men were beaten by ladies aboard The Orontes. Of course, the men had to bat and bowl with their‘other’ hands, but that does not take the credit away from the ladies.The same England side would then land in Australia and regain The Ashes.

The Recreation Ground, Paddington witnessed a match between men and women. To add to the novelty, all participants were theatre personalities. The women played under assumed names, though it is not clear whether they used their stage names. The inter-gender match attracted a reasonable crowd.

However, there was an added rule: the men would use broomsticks instead of bats. While this may come across as unusual today, it was not as uncommon in the 19th century. Exhibition matches often featured bats vs broomsticks contests.

One such instance took place at Cheltenham in 1877. Gloucestershire defeated Nottinghamshire early on the last day.This was unexpected, since Nottinghamshire, 69 for 2 overnight, needed only 55 more to avoid innings defeat. They were bowled out for 79. This meant that the spectators, despite paying for an entire day’s entertainment, were left without action.

The Notts cricketers left, but after some discussion, Gloucestershire decided to play a local XI. Of course, the XI had no chance of competing against a side that boasted of the three Grace brothers (EM, WG, and GF), their cousin Walter Gilbert, and Billy Midwinter. So it was agreed that the county cricketers would bat with broomsticks and the local team would use bats.

But let us return to the current match. The men won easily despite the handicap. Another match was then arranged.

There was an added condition this time: the men had to play with wrong hands and broomsticks.To add to it, if they fielded with the ‘right’ hand (not necessarily the right hand), a penalty of 3 runs would be awarded to the women.

It was a fair call, for some of the women were not quite acquainted with the sport. The Times reported an incident: “An amusing incident occurred by a lady who was batting having the politeness to field the ball herself, but the penalty was not enforced, and she was allowed to continue her innings.”

The women won the match comfortably. The men probably tried to overuse the sweep shot, but their brooms were hardly as magical as the ones they use at Hogwarts.

Brief scores:

Female Theatre Actors 60 beat Male Theatre Actors 23 by 37 runs.