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OBITUARY: Molly Hide

Molly Hide, once described as "the personification of women's cricket", bestrode the field for 20 years, and brought a classical style to the distaff side of the game such as had never previously been known. Women's cricket was elevated by her deeds and by her manner, which, during her years as England captain, was almost lordly.

All her life, Hide had been committed to cricket, from her schooldays at Wycombe Abbey through her summers with Surrey and England, and into the later years when she served as selector, manager, broadcaster and administrator. Almost 60 years after her maiden Test appearance she was a guest of honour at Lord's when England's women cricketers won the 1993 World Cup.

She played in the first of all women's Test matches, at Brisbane in 1934- 35. Having made a century in the opening match, against Western Australia, she scored 110 at Christchurch when England sailed on to New Zealand for a further Test. In less than 21/2 hours, she and Betty Snowball (189) added 235 for the second wicket as England raced to a declared total of 503 for 5 in reply to the home side's 44. Victory by an innings gave English women's cricket a lift.

A drawn (1-1) series at home to Australia in 1937 further boosted the game, which then as now had many doubters among the chauvinists. Molly Hide was made captain that year, an appointment she graced for 17 years until her 1954 retirement. Her crucial 64 at The Oval steadied England in an unfinished match, her eight wickets for 58 in the Second Test, at Blackpool, helping England to victory. It was not only her classical batting which elevated her above the rest. Her uncompromising off-spin and competent fielding made her the complete all-rounder, even if she tended to underuse her bowling.

Even had the 1939-40 tour of Australia not been stopped by the onset of the Second World War, Hide would not have gone, for her father needed her on the farm, Lower Roundhurst, a 200-acre spread near Haslemere, in Surrey. She had completed her education with a diploma in agriculture at Reading University.

When international cricket was resumed with the 1948-49 tour of Australasia, Hide, now in her mid-thirties, was the natural choice as England captain. Having notched a century in Colombo on the voyage out, she made 51 in the drawn Melbourne Test before registering her outstanding performance, 63 in 21/4 hours coupled with a rain-interrupted, unbeaten 124 in the drawn Sydney Test, with an adoring Neville Cardus among the onlookers.

Australia won the series, having taken the opening Test at Adelaide, but Molly Hide's achievement earned her the distinction of a portrait hung in the hallowed precincts of the Sydney Cricket Ground pavilion, alongside the champions of men's cricket. In all matches on the tour she made over 1,100 runs, averaging 50.39, with five centuries. A further honour followed when she and Amy Bull sat on an MCC inquiry, the first women to sit on any committee at Lord's.

Missing the first two Tests when Australia came to Britain in 1951, Hide resumed as captain at The Oval and top-scored twice with 65 and 42. She also took 2 for 15 (Mary Duggan 5 for 30) as Australia were hustled out for 83 to give England a halved series.

Three years later, Hide's Test career closed with a 1-0 victory over the 1954 New Zealanders. She had never had the chance to tread the sacred Lord's turf, but in her 20 years of Test cricket she had made 872 charming runs (at an average of 36.33) and taken 36 wickets (15.25) and 10 catches.

Tall, calm and usually somewhat inscrutable, Molly Hide inspired awe in her team-mates. It is not far-fetched to compare her with Walter Hammond, who was England's most commanding male cricketer over much of the same period, or with Douglas Jardine, the sardonic skipper of the Bodyline campaign of 1932-33, though Hide never did anything that brought discredit upon the game.

Also a lacrosse international, this quintessential Englishwoman of her time was actually born in Shanghai. And, by way of further lustre and romance, let it not be forgotten that she, like all women cricketers to this day, was the complete amateur, though the class of her batting warranted rich reward.

Mary Edith (Molly) Hide, cricketer: born Shanghai 24 October 1913; died Milford, Surrey 10 September 1995.