Cricket: Ladies aim for Lord's

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THAT Sir Colin Cowdrey was able to place the eight runners for the fifth women's World Cup under starter's orders at The Oval yesterday was almost as worthy a feat as keeping the peace on the International Cricket Council. Still, with no major sponsorship or prize-money in the offing, the aroma of unpolluted sport wafting in from the stalls was highly seductive.

Until the Foundation for Sport and the Arts approved a grant of pounds 90,000 two days before deadline last October, the entire enterprise was on the brink of collapse. Rory Bremner, Eton College and Fiesta Marquees of Wokingham also helped bridge the shortfall. So, starting next Tuesday, venues as diverse as Warrington Sports Club and Charterhouse School will host a 60-over round-robin, culminating in a Lord's final on 1 August.

As the players assembled beneath the gasholders, discerning between the haves and have-nots was none too difficult. The Australians, winners of the last three World Cups, looked sleek in their natty tracksuits and wraparound shades, professional down to the last sponsor's logo. The Indians wore saris, the Dutch modest midis, the West Indians prim skirts.

The first representative side from the Caribbean to participate in the tournament, the West Indians are actually drawn from three islands, Trinidad, Jamaica and St Lucia. Having entered, a little self-consciously, as the Caribbean Federation, the authorities subsequently claimed a wider responsibility. 'We've got quite a few fast bowlers,' revealed their coach, Theo Cuffy, somewhat needlessly.

Net practice before the opening ceremony brought proof that some of the less genteel realities of the men's game are beginning to sully the feminine version. Having recently been struck in the mouth, one wary Danish player was wearing a helmet. Lyn Larsen, the Australian captain, admitted that she, too, had packed some protective headgear, albeit solely for use in the nets. As an omen for England's prospects, it was not propitious.