Cricket: Hodges seeks to restore pride

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The Independent Online
England women's XI. . . . . . . . .259-4

Ireland women's XI. . . . . . . . .80-9

England win by 179 runs

ONE assumes that the former, unashamedly male, England captain who once described women's cricket as 'absurd - just like a man trying to knit' had a northern upbringing. Why else would Berkshire be the most northerly outpost on England's World Cup itinerary?

The official reason is almost as unpalatable. This event is very much a shoestring operation for the hosts, dependent as they are on the generosity of club secretaries, MCC's included. Costs must be pared back, hence the siting of all bar a handful of matches in one half of the country.

In defiance of the Keith Fletcher slant on regional talent, nine of the England squad were culled from Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands, so it seems a trifle odd, from a commercial perspective alone, that that half should be the home counties. Then again, southern voices dominate the organising committee. 'All our best players are from the north,' the Huddersfield seamer, Claire Taylor, tongue glued to the inside of a ruddy cheek, said, 'so it's only fair to give the southerners a chance to see what they're missing.'

Any alibis about the more clement southern weather compelling this arrangement have been confounded by the numerous nimbi cumuli that pursued England from Banstead to Beckenham and now here.

The clouds have also been metaphorical. The inability of Karen Smithies and her cohorts to pass New Zealand's paltry 127 last Wednesday means victory over Australia tomorrow is imperative.

That numbing Beckenham defeat was partly attributable to the astute tactics of the New Zealand captain, but then her name was Illingworth. The foot-shooting came in the shape of five run-outs, so when Jan Brittin met the same fate just before the first flurry of drizzle yesterday morning, a score of 5 for 2 suggested a sizeable hangover. That or Jack Charlton had been roped in to give the Irish a pep talk.

Happily for English self-respect, the brief interruption focussed minds on the task at hand. Helen Plimmer joined Carole Hodges, along with Brittin one of two survivors from the 1982 tournament, and the pair moved steadily from graft to waft, adding 213 to set a competition record for the third wicket.

Further rain stoked English fears, since an abandonment would have scotched any prospect of a Lord's final, but it relented sufficiently to permit the Irish innings to start and, once the 20 overs required to produce a result had been delivered, the sighs of relief were profound. With five wickets tumbling in 11 overs, the outcome was never subsequently in doubt.

Hodges is a Blackpool-born bank clerk whose stratospheric off-breaks have been England's trustiest bowling weapon over this and the two preceding World Cups, culminating in a hat-trick against Denmark last Tuesday. Her 113 here merely underlined the folly of annointing Jo Chamberlain as the female Botham. 'I wish all our players had her determination,' enthused Norma Izard, the England manager.

There was a fluent century, too, for Plimmer, a product of the Solomon Islands. It was Hodges, though, who evoked the Hebrew king's unerring sense of diplomacy. 'The fellows are having a bad time' she mused, 'so let's see if we can restore a bit of pride.' Was that northern pride or English pride?

Rachael Heyhoe Flint, the former captain of the England team, is married to Derrick Flint, not Jack Hayward as was stated last week.