Women’s Cricket – A View From 1933

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My playing days ended some years ago and for that reason if no other my interest in instructional books is limited. A couple of weeks ago however I read The Club Cricketer by Neville Cardus, a book that I found sufficiently interesting to write this post.

I subsequently picked up, in the hope that it might have some autobiographical content, a book simply entitled Cricket. It was written by the Somerset batsman and sometimes wicketkeeper Dar Lyon and published in 1933. In terms of Lyon giving much of himself in the book I was to be disappointed but, like a number of these books there are one or two entertaining chapters to be found at the end. In Lyon’s case he has some interesting thoughts on the future of the game and also on the way it was reported.

The part of the book that particularly caught my eye however was a chapter on women’s cricket, something I thought worth reproducing in full. The title of the chapter is Should Women Play Cricket? and it reads as follows:-

A few years ago the title of this chapter might well have been: Can women play cricket? But nowadays there can be no mistake about it. They can play cricket, bless them. And why shouldn’t they?

Women who don’t play accuse those who do of aping the man.

I disagree – but with this qualification.

Women will only remain immune from that criticism as long as they continue to play cricket among themselves.

No word of mine shall be taken as discouraging them or belittling their skill. I have already seen many remarkable women players.

But mixed cricket, unlike mixed bathing, will never do.

And here we find one of the vital differences between cricket and lawn tennis. In the latter game that abortion the mixed double (sounds like some ghastly drink) is played everywhere.

But stop to think what might happen should the fairer sex force its way into First Class cricket.

Think once more of the poor umpire!

We have already seen how susceptible he may be to the demeanour of the players. Imagine his added difficulties with the ladies.

Some ox-eyed lady player takes guard. In her first over she snicks a ball and is caught at the wicket.

“How’s that?”

She glances at the umpire, that is all. And the poor man, dazzled by her beauty, checks his hand which was on its way above his head and scratches his ear thoughtfully before calling,”Not out.”

And suppose a lady player were opening the innings for Australia in a Test and that she vamped Tate, for example.

We should then find a maiden bowling the bowler over instead of the bowler – well, you know the rest.

The whole code of cricket laws would require drastic modification.

For instance, would a player be allowed to use her lipstick or powder nose while at the wicket? It would all need careful consideration. And I suppose the poor dear was being tied in knots by a particular bowler would constantly be getting flies in her eye. All of which would be most disarming.

Even the duty of reporting a mixed game would involve grave risks of action for libel.

Imagine reading that Hobbs had carted Venetia Venables all over the ground. Or that Florence Flighty began to bowl with a square leg but carried on later with a man in the gully. You see the kind of misunderstanding that might arise.

No. I am sure it would never do.

The ladies must play by themselves, rather like Kipling’s cat.(Oh dear! Another bloomer. You see how difficult it is.)

But then I hope they will not begin to take the game too seriously. Let the married players at least try not to disturb their own domestic bliss. We don’t want to hear mother saying: “You bath the children tonight, George. I must have a net. My foot work seems to have gone to blazes.”

What use is a woman who is head of the averages, if she neglected her duties as head of household?

And likewise with other games.

What use is the woman bridge fiend who can make four hearts, doubled, if she spurns the one heart that her life partner has laid at her feet?

What use is the woman golfer who can lay her approaches dead, if her long absences from the home cause the premature demise of all domestic affection?

But judging by the present position and the admirable work already done and being done by the Ladies Cricket Association, we need fear none of these dangers. In fact, the woman’s attitude towards cricket is far more sensible than the mere man’s. For she treats it as a game that can be played as if the people taking part were simply out to enjoy themselves.

It is unwise, I know, to attempt to advise a woman about anything. But supposing by some wild flight of the imagination a young bud of the willow were prepared to listen to the counsels of an older cricketer (and no woman will surely will object to that adjective when I have carefully used the comparative) I should with the greatest deference make the following suggestions.

Let the woman player concentrate upon the final arts of the game. Let her, if bowling, consider length and spin, but not pace. And let her, if batting, look to the gentler shots, the deflecting shots and wristy shots, rather than the full blooded drive which to a certain extent requires brute strength.

In fielding there is no reason that I can see why women should not become as good as men. There would be little difficulty in their becoming better than a good many first-class players. But at present their throwing is not what it should be.

I suspect that women players, like boys, think it rather grand to bowl over arm. I suspect that they think underarm bowling is far beneath their dignity. Underarm bowling, chiefly because of its very rarity, would, I firmly believe, be successful today, especially among the ladies.

Don’t misconstrue what is written there. One has to be so careful. I do not subscribe to the view that there is anything underhand about the fairer sex.

Lastly I hope no offence will be taken from the advice that women should play only with other women. This is not said out of any sense of superiority. It is my opinion that the ladies themselves will enjoy their cricket more in this way, and that cricket itself will gain more by the incursion of these brave and talented recruits into the limited field I have suggested.

I won’t claim to have read the whole of the book, and I suppose it might be that even in 1933 Lyon, a far from conventional man, was parodying the attitudes of the time, but I suspect he was probably sincere in the views expressed.

So who was Lyon? His father had been a successful entrepreneur, making a fortune out of rubber and although in time he lost everything he retained his wealth long enough to privately educate both his sons at Rugby School before Dar (his given name was actually Malcolm) went on to Cambridge and younger brother Beverley to Oxford.

Bev Lyon was also a decent batsman, and an inspirational and unconventional captain of Gloucestershire. Dar led Somerset occasionally but was never available sufficiently frequently to be a realistic choice for the captaincy. He was already forty when he played his only full season in 1938. In the early 1920s however he had been a semi-regular and was certainly considered a better batsman than his sibling and, had he not had such a maverick personality he might well have played for England.

Prior to his excursion into instructional books Lyon had also written a novel and subsequently scripted and appeared in a film. Ashes was a somewhat irreverent look at a Test match that went on for more than 60 years until the last two surviving players passed away. Lyon himself filled the role of Australian Captain. Primarily however Lyon’s career was in the law.

A barrister, Lyon must have been a good one because in 1927, when he was only 29, he defended John Robinson on what was, at the time, a notorious murder charge. Robinson’s victim was a prostitute, Minnie Bonati who, the prosecution alleged, Robinson had struck on the head and then dismembered before putting her remains in a trunk that he took to the left luggage facility at Charing Cross station where, when the trunk started to smell, the crime was discovered.

The police investigation led them to Robinson who claimed that Bonati had, when visiting his office, demanded money from him and then attacked him. Robinson explained that, acting in self-defence, he had pushed Bonati away causing her to fall, crack her head on a grate and die. After that he panicked and took the steps he did to dispose of the body.

Unsurprisingly the jury were having none of it and Robinson was convicted and hanged, although it seems that no blame could be attached to those charged with the duty of defending him as they had managed to trace and call to give evidence Bonati’s estranged husband, who had confirmed that Bonati was an alcoholic, and prone to outbursts of violent temper. In light of that evidence it seems likely that, had Robinson held his nerve and gone directly to the police with his story, he might well have got the benefit of the doubt.

Lyon’s days at the bar ended in 1932, and the remainder of his working life was spent in a variety of judicial appointments around the commonwealth during which he continued with his at times outspoken remarks about those in authority. He eventually retired back to the UK and died in Sussex at the age of 65 in 1964.

As he never went into print again in book form we have no more clues as to whether Lyon’s tongue may have been in his cheek when he wrote that chapter on the women’s game other than that in one chapter he wrote of inviting to Lord’s a charming and intelligent friend of the fairer sex. As to his personal life he was married twice. His first bride was a divorcee, the former wife of Somerset teammate Guy Earle. It was Lyon who had been the cause of the breakdown and when that marriage broke down Lyon’s second marriage was to a woman almost twenty years his junior. It seems therefore that Lyon was not any sort of misogynist, and that his views on women’s cricket were simply ‘of his time’.