After a special meeting at Lord's, a majority backed a motion calling for women to be admitted. But the result, 6,735 to 5,353 against, fell short of the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution.
The MCC committee, which came off the fence last year in support of change, meets today to decide its next move. Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, the club's modernising president, said he was heartened by the swing since 1991, when 33 per cent of 18,000 members voted in favour, and by the increased turn-out. "I think we've won the battle but perhaps lost the war."
Many of the 400 or so at last night's debate seemed determined to conform to the club's Neanderthal image. "I can't stand the thought of women putting up curtains in the pavilion and worrying about things like wallpaper and colour schemes," said Peter Nillson, invigorated by a last-minute stiffener in the Lord's Tavern.
Such sentiments are anathema to Rachael Heyhoe Flint, former England women's cricket captain, whose membership application was rejected in 1991. "I feel very sad about the result. I really thought that this time things might change."