Cricket: Down-Under dominance: The Women's World Cup comes to England this week. Rob Steen looks at its history

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The Independent Online
AFTER seeing the Countess of Derby's XI take on a Ladies' Invitation side in 1777, the Duke of Dorset put pen to paper. 'What is human life but a game of cricket?' he pondered. 'And if so, why should not the ladies play it as well as we?'

In 1807, indeed, Christina Willes originated overarm bowling, having discovered that her voluminous skirt made it impossible to deliver the ball to her brother in the customary underarm fashion. It took another 21 years for the revolution to catch on at Lord's.

Maintaining this tradition for trail-blazing, the inaugural women's World Cup took place in 1973, preceding its male counterpart by a good two years. Uncovering a generous patron in Jack Hayward, husband of Rachael Heyhoe Flint, then plain old Rachael Flint and England captain, the Women's Cricket Association received a donation of pounds 40,000 to fund the tournament - Australia and New Zealand paid their own way - and put together a 60-over round-robin involving seven teams drawn from five nations.

Victory over Australia in the final at Edgbaston made it a memorable occasion for the hosts, the ever-dependable Enid Bakewell paving the way with 118. As an antidote to the shellacking Ray Illingworth and his men were getting from the West Indies, it was potent indeed. Subsequent finals have involved the same protagonists, Australia prevailing each time to cement their standing as the game's premier exponents.

In 1977-78, the English cause in India was undermined by the hoo- ha over Heyhoe Flint's removal as captain after 12 years in office. Hayward, not unnaturally, withdrew his patronage. Women's cricket in England, needless to add, has never come closer to mass consciousness.

New Zealand four winters later saw the host government make a sizeable contribution to costs, so too a soft drinks firm. Writing in Wisden, Netta Rheinberg cast an envious eye back to the way in which the England players had been 'royally entertained' knowing that full reciprocation was impossible.

Although the Foundation for Sport and the Arts stumped up pounds 90,000 at the 11th hour to ensure that this World Cup could go ahead, the gulf between the Antipodes and the rest of the world has widened. 'They play all the time,' hissed Dorothy Hobson, the West Indies 'manageress', as she watched the logo-laden Australians in the Oval nets last week. Her New Zealand opposite number, meanwhile, was handing out media packs and souvenir brooches; a television crew is due in from Auckland. The tournament, however, has failed to attract any major domestic sponsorship.

Since the Lord's pavilion remains officially and resolutely out of bounds to women, presumably a portakabin will be installed outside the squash courts. The second-class citizens must have somewhere to change.