RACHAEL HAD THAT SPECIAL SPIRIT...
ITwas Harry S Truman who coined the term ‘soft diplomacy’ – but it might just as well have been Rachael Heyhoe Flint, so distinguished was her crusade to get women’s cricket recognised in the face of overwhelming male prejudice. It is too late now, but the MCC should have made her its first female President, so important a figure was she in the game.
Rachel knew that men, especially those in the bastions like Lord’s, would never allow women an equal share in their precious game if she and others protested too loudly. Instead, she lobbied quietly with great charm, ruthless only in the targets she selected in order to get women’s cricket its dues.
Many are considered pioneers but Baroness Flint, as she was eventually ennobled, was at the forefront of so many things. Captain of England’s women for 12 years, she single-handedly organised the first women’s World Cup in 1973, two years before the men’s equivalent took off. Later, after she had retired, she became the first honorary women’s member of the MCC before serving on both its cricket and main committees.
Cricket wasn’t her only calling in sport, and she was a fine hockey player and a lifelong supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers, for whom she served as vice-president.
I didn’t know her that well, but I did have cause to spend about a week with her in 1984 in La Manga, Spain.The occasion was a competition between six cricketers and six celebrities from showbiz and other sports, all for Ian Botham’s Benefit Year. One of the cricketers invited along with Botham, me, Phil Edmonds, Chris Cowdrey and Eddie Hemmings was Janette Brittin, the leading England women’s player at the time.With comedian Peter Cook one of the celebrities it was excess all areas and Rachael had come along to chaperone Jan.
Handling Cook was not for the faint-hearted, especially after strong drink, but Rachael had it sussed; she simply spotted the naughty public schoolboy within and adopted an appropriate headmistress-like tone to combat it. It worked a treat and while everybody else felt the lash of his tongue, Rachael and Jan went unscathed.
I didn’t know it then but have come to know it now, that there are certain people in the world who just ooze wisdom whatever the circumstance. Rachael Heyhoe Flint was one of those and it is cricket’s great loss, as well as the myriad other people and causes she touched during her lifetime, that she is no longer here to dispense it.