Thursday Book: An England team behaving perfectly

MAD DOGS AND ENGLISH WOMEN BY PETE DAVIES, ABACUS, pounds 9.99

THIS IS the story of an English cricket team that went to India to compete in a World Cup, lost, and did so without whingeing. Displaying stamina and good humour, they undertook an itinerary that would try the patience of even the most hardened India hand, shuttling from one end of the subcontinent to another by plane, bus and train. Since they were women, there was no money and little glory on offer, but motivation was not a problem and commitment never in doubt.

Unlike the team taking the field today against South Africa, these England cricketers had actually won a World Cup, upsetting New Zealand in the 1993 final at Lord's (a venue that appears to inhibit the men). That victory led to a brief flurry of interest from the cricket media, eager to use the women's triumph to bash the hapless men. The momentary excitement was quickly followed by a return to accustomed oblivion and the hard graft of building a game from the grass roots. By the time they visited India last December to defend the title, the England women had managed to scrape together sponsorship, support staff, and - in Pete Davies - the most adept chronicler the women's game has yet attracted.

Davies takes the women cricketers on their own terms, not as foils for the men. He shares their sense of mission and writes sympathetically of their skills and struggles, without ever striking a patronising note. He enjoyed a degree of access and trust a reporter following the men's team could only dream of, and he does not abuse it. The frustrations, conflicts, failures and occasional sulks are there, but underlying Davies's frank team portrait is a sober respect which comes as a welcome relief from the wild lurching between sentiment and cynicism which blights so much writing about the men's game.

The book offers a rare insight into a small but vital corner of the sporting universe, and reveals much about the dilemmas confronting women who seek to play uncommercial sport at the highest competitive level.

These England cricketers are working-class women - van drivers and teachers, posties and clerical workers - and the spirit in which they play the game is as far from the old public school ethos as can be imagined. They drive themselves to achieve professional standards of performance without any hope of a professional's reward.

Curiously, and precisely because they are not playing for cash and career, their motives seem more elusive than their male counterparts'. One of the pleasures of Davies' book is watching the women themselves trying to figure out what keeps them going, even as they do keep on going, often in circumstances that drive the author himself to despair.

Davies approaches India with a generous spirit, but his patience wears thin, and a curmudgeonly whine creeps into the prose as he marshals the familiar cast of obtuse bureaucrats, incompetent waiters, and hair-raising drivers. For all the precisely observed sketches of the "grubby vividness" of India, it remains an India glimpsed from a great distance, where even the fall of the government is merely a passing headline. Disappointingly, Davies makes no attempt to ascertain the state of the woman's game in India or to explore its place in south Asian society. His attitude towards the country remains fond but deeply frustrated and utterly baffled. The resultant grouchiness colours too much of the narrative, sometimes pushing the real subject, the England cricketers, out of sight.

Earlier this year, the Women's Cricket Association voted to end 70 years of independence by folding itself into the English Cricket Board, which administers the men's game. The lure of recognition and resources outweighed anxieties about lost autonomy. However, in light of the sex discrimination ruling against the ECB in March, and the crass sexism revealed in the evidence given to the Industrial Tribunal, women cricketers will expect few favours. (ECB Chief Executive Tim Lamb is alleged to have remarked of England's women cricketers that "We need the dykes in to get the lottery money".)

And television viewers should note that the same MCC membership which has staunchly barred women from membership gave overwhelming approval to the construction of the ungainly new media centre at Lord's, hanging over the Nursery End like an an airborne southern Californian taco stand. What counts for cricket's old guard is not so much tradition as privilege and power. They are unlikely to cede either to women without pressure from the outside world.

Rightly, Davies ends his book by urging readers to attend this summer's big series against the world champion Australians. Cricket lovers would be daft to miss the chance to see an England side hungry for revenge take on the polished talents of Belinda Clark, the record-breaking opening bat; Kathryn Fitzpatrick, the tearaway fast bowler; and Olivia Magno, slow bowler and rebarbative sledger.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine