Cricket: Women's World Cup Final: Hodges is cast as the leading lady: England and New Zealand have proved that they deserve to be at Lord's tomorrow. Rob Steen reports

Click to follow
WHEN the Women's Cricket Association hired a coach company by the name of Hodges to ferry the players around during the World Cup, allegations of nepotism would have been understandable. Surely the Hodges clan already had enough fingers in this admittedly humble pie.

Carole, after all, is arguably the pre- eminent all-rounder in the women's game, mother Joan and father Ray trekked some 3,000 miles to assess facilities at the designated World Cup venues. Joan, meanwhile, is the England scorer. Welcome to the Cowdreys of English women's cricket.

Should a peerage be in the offing, Carole is the likeliest recipient. One of only two survivors from the England XI that lost the 1982 World Cup final to Australia, the tall, bespectacled bank clerk from Poulton-le -Fylde opened the fifth World Cup by dusting off Denmark, taking a hat-trick with her looping off-breaks. A brace of centuries followed, the second an undefeated effort to pave the way for Monday's victory over the old foe at Guildford. No pen has done more to script English success.

Standing side by side at Ealing Cricket Club on Thursday, father and daughter formed an intriguing double act. Every time Carole played down her achievements with a nervous giggle, Ray would chortle heartily and trumpet them even louder.

Take the 1988 World Cup final in Melbourne, where turgid English batting allowed the hosts to romp home in what Carole had announced as her farewell performance. Prodding the bridge of her glasses as if trying to de-exorcise the memory, she reflected with due sheepishness. 'The outfield was sodden and we had the worst of the conditions by choosing to bat first, although Lyn Larsen, the Australian captain, later said she would have done the same. We only managed two boundaries and barely scraped over two runs an over. It was a bit depressing.'

'Typical Carole,' Ray interjected. 'What she fails to mention is that she was nominated player of the tournament. She wanted to retire at the top.'

'I didn't want anyone taking pity on me when my game started to go downhill,' Carole elaborated.

Having captained England in 1986 and 1987 she had returned to the ranks for the World Cup, whereupon she retired as planned, albeit not for long. 'I scored a bit and watched quite a lot but after a year I was missing playing so I changed my mind and managed to pick up the threads. The break did me good. Maybe that's why I've been hitting the ball harder over the past two or three seasons. Maybe everything's clicking now.'

A retired former detective sergeant whose beat was Carole's Blackpool birthplace, Ray readily admits to having foisted his love of cricket on his only child. 'I didn't have any sons so I pushed her into the game. Joan's late brother, Derek Mason, was a Taverner, so the influence was widespread. Carole read avidly about the game and after I took her to her first Test at Leeds in 1966 she compiled a thick treatise on cricket for her school project. At eight years of age]'

As the only girl on the street, Carole was soon mixing it up with the boys. 'Football in the winter, cricket in the summer. They accepted me easily. I even took my bat on holiday. I became a Lancashire member early on but there were no opportunities to play at school.'

At a netball match in 1974, however, Carole was introduced to Wendy Swinhoe, a member of the Young England team in the inaugural Women's World Cup the previous summer. 'Wendy persuaded me to come to a practice session which turned out to be a junior county trial. I could bat a bit but mainly bowled medium-pace, though I later decided there were plenty of seamers around and switched to spin.

'Not that I turn it a great deal. I push 'em through, float 'em up and use other forms of deviousness.'

Emboldened by a maiden Test century against New Zealand in 1984 - Carole approached Fylde CC with a view to playing alongside the menfolk. Permission was granted by the local league and she enjoyed five ruffle-free seasons. 'I tend to find that men's perception of women cricketers isn't too bad once they've seen us play. I don't think some teams knew quite what to make of me at first; but they were OK once they saw I could hold my own.' Bouncers from piqued pacemen? 'Only one, and I evaded it quite easily.'

As the words died away, the public address system at Ealing crackled jubilantly into life: New Zealand had dispatched Australia for 77. Win or lose their concurrent game against The Netherlands, England were in the final. Carole clenched her right fist and punched the daylights out of the air.

'That's done it,' she exclaimed. 'A couple of years ago, finally, we reached the stage where we realised we didn't have an automatic right to be the best. Australia had overtaken us and forced us to improve our preparation, and now look where we are. Yet we still tend to denigrate our own game. This must help.'

(Photograph omitted)