Rachael Heyhoe Flint: Trailblazer for women's sport dies

Five things you might not know about the former England cricket captain who did so much to raise the sport's profile

Rachel Heyhoe Flint
Former England Women's cricket captain Rachael Heyhoe Flint batting for England against New Zealand at the Oval 
(Image credit: Central Press/Getty Images)

One of the most influential figures in women's sport, former England women's cricket captain Baroness Rachael Heyhoe Flint, has died at the age of 77.

Her international career lasted 22 years and she was captain of the side between 1966 and 1978. But her exploits extended far beyond the cricket pitch. She also represented England at hockey, worked in journalism and public relations, and became a media personality and renowned after dinner speaker. She was made a peer in 2011.

"From Lord's to the Lords, Rachael Heyhoe Flint, as she became [after marriage], was a sporting pioneer, taking on the establishment and hitting it for six," says The Times.

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Here are the five surprising facts about Heyhoe Flint:

She arranged the first cricket world cup

At school she played hockey, tennis, netball and rounders but fell in love with cricket after seeing a touring side from New Zealand. She became a star soon after taking it up. Funding for women's cricket was hard to come by in the 1960s and 70s but Heyhoe "worked tirelessly to raise money for tours and tournaments", reports the Daily Telegraph.

In addition to making sure the England team could afford to tour she came up with the idea of a world cup.

"Her crowning glory came at the 1973 Women's World Cup, when she led England to victory in the inaugural tournament, having been instrumental in setting the competition up in the first place," says Cricinfo. "According to legend, the concept was inspired by a bottle of 'very good brandy' that she had shared with the future owner of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Jack Hayward, as the pair sat down to sketch out an event that would pre-date the men's World Cup by a full two years."

She had a better Test average than David Gower

Heyhoe made her Test debut in 1960 at the age of 21 and played a total of 22 Tests, scoring 1594 runs at an average of 45.54. She scored more runs than Douglas Jardine in the same number of matches and her average is higher than those of David Gower and Graham Gooch.

"In 1960 she was chosen for England's cricket tour of South Africa and, when Australia visited England in 1963, at the Oval she became the first woman to hit a Test six. In 1966, despite having already got up some official noses, she was appointed captain," says the Times.

She captained the first England women's team to play at Lord's in the 1976 Women's Ashes series and England were unbeaten during her six series in charge before she lost the role in 1977. She played her last Test in 1979 but helped guide England to the final of the 1982 Women's World Cup at the age of 42.

She was the first woman to join the MCC committee

Heyhoe Flint, as she became after marriage in 1974, did not melt into the background after her retirement. "Her zest and enthusiasm, both during and after her playing career, helped to raise women's cricket to a higher level, alike on the pitch and in the public consciousness", says the Telegraph.

"Although she hotly denied being a feminist, she advanced the cause of women by her campaign to make them acceptable as members of MCC. Despite years of stolid resistance at Lord's, she finally carried the day in 1999. She herself was among the first women elected as honorary life members.

"In 2004 she achieved another first when she became a member of MCC’s committee. And in 2009 she joined the England and Wales Cricket Board. Again and again she had proved that her spirit and her enthusiasm were indestructible."

She was a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan

Born in Wolverhampton, she was a lifelong supporter of her local football team. In the 1990s, she became a director and later vice-president of the club.

During her playing career she also worked as a journalist on local papers and often covered Wanderers matches, even though, as the Times notes, women were not allowed in the press box at the time.

The club have arranged tributes to her, reports Wolverhampton Express & Star. "The flags at Molineux are flying at half mast, while Wolves players will wear black armbands in Saturday's game at Norwich," it says.

She picked a Maori anthem on Desert Island Discs

She became a media personality in the 1970s and was the first woman sports reporter on ITV's World of Sport, covering hockey internationals. She also appeared on panel shows and became an in-demand after dinner speaker and won an award from the Guild of Professional Toastmasters.

In 1985 Heyhoe Flint appeared on Desert Island Discs where she chose an eclectic range of records, featuring Hey Jude by The Beatles, a Maori love song, chamber music by Henry Purcell and a spoken word sketch by the comedian Joyce Grenfell.

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