Women hit 250 years and a car on the A281

Robert Winder watches as the women's game celebrates its quarter- millennium with a match on Bramley Common
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The Independent Online
From the Guildford to Horsham road, it probably looked like any old match. Indeed, what with the rows of cars, the barbecue, the colourful deck chairs and the Loseley ice cream concession, it probably looked like an upmarket car boot sale. But the cricket match on Bramley Common yesterday afternoon was a historic one: a friendly commemoration of the first recorded women's fixture which took place on this Surrey heath 250 years ago.

In the men's game, 1745 was the year that Bonnie Prince Charlie took on the Butcher Cumberland at Culloden, and fell back in the face of some intimidating short-pitched piking. In the women's game, Bramley took on Hambleton in a match that the Reading Mercury of that year called "The greatest match that ever was played in the South part of England". The Hambleton Maids (wearing red ribbons in their hair) got 127 "notches", and the Bramley Girls (blue ribbons) could only manage 119. "The girls bowled, batted, ran and catched as well as most men could do in that game," the paper said.

Back then, overarm bowling had not been invented. It was a woman (Christina Willes) who developed the technique in order to get round the snag of her "voluminous skirt". And in 1745 the grass on Bramley Common would have been three inches long, dotted with sheep, and surrounded by men in hats waging large sums on the girls.

Yesterday's fixture was between the Chairman's XI and Surrey Ladies. The Chairman's XI batted first and made slow progress on a variable pitch. Jenny Wostrak (public relations officer for the Women's Cricket Association) batted her way to 63 not out in a total of 139 for 6 off 45 overs. The pick of the Surrey bowlers was Enid Bakewell, who shares with Ian Botham the distinction of having scored 100 runs and taken 10 wickets in a Test match. In nine overs of slow - sometimes very slow - left arm she bowled four maidens and took 1 for 15. Surrey knocked off the runs with some ease, Jenny Lupton top- scoring with 79 not out.

"It was my fault," Wostrak said. "I hogged the bowling at the start." She picked up later, though, whacking one of the cars on the A281 with a pull over square leg. "The girls owe me a tenner for that," she said. "We had a bet no one would hit a car."

It was a spirited match. The class of 1995 batted, bowled and caught with distinction. For the Chairman's XI, Sarah Jane Cook (who is both deaf and dumb) bowled fast and straight enough to trouble everyone. If they had not been wearing boxed, two-pleated skirts, you would not have known they were women except for the fact that for some reason they rubbed the ball on their stomachs instead of their groin.

"We're at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to fielding," said Pat Lovell, captain of the Surrey Ladies. "You don't see a lot of diving in the field with players wearing skirts."

One point of the match was to promote women's cricket. In male locker rooms the joke is that maiden overs are so called because no one scores. It is a pity because England are good at women's cricket. They won the 1993 World Cup and on Saturday won the European Championship in Ireland. Ruth Lupton was one England player who flew home to play in yesterday's game.

"It's the usual Catch-22," Wostrak said. "You can't get sponsorship without coverage and you do not get coverage without sponsorship - it doesn't feel like a big occasion." But the women's game is growing. Some clubs like Shepperton run two women's teams.

There are none at Bramley, however; the great game 250 years ago, commemorated by a plaque on the pavilion wall, does not seem to have inspired the women of Guildford to make the ground their home. Still, as the game drew to a close the women sounded right at home. "God, is it time for a pint of lager," said one. "No way," said her captain. "You might still have to bat." A timeless scene, or what?