“When people ask me what I’d have been if I’d not been a cricket player, I say… a millionaire,” laughs Lynne Thomas, who 44 years ago helped England to victory in the first ever cricket World Cup.
The women’s game beat the men onto the global crease, with their inaugural World Cup in 1973 coming two years before the first male event.
Not only was batswoman Lynne, now 77, part of that wider trailblazing moment for sport, she played her part on the pitch too, scoring 263 runs in four innings, and making the first World Cup century.
What makes her and the England team’s victory the more remarkable is that they played and promoted the women’s game in the 1960s and 1970s for no financial reward, in fact their love of cricket left them regularly out of pocket.
By way of contrast, when England take to the field in Sunday’s sell-out 2017 final at Lords they will be playing for a cool $660,000 (£512,000). Even the losing team will collect $330,000. It is all part of an ICC pot of $2m prize money this year.
“It is great for the girls that they can now make a career out of cricket if that is what they chose to do in life,” says Lynne, who combined playing cricket for England with playing international hockey for Wales, and holding down a full-time job as a PE teacher.
“I am pleased for them. When I was playing I never imagined that one day it would be something that could provide a living.”
The inaugural Women’s World Cup was the result of the vision of the late Rachael Heyhoe Flint and a £40,000 backing from businessman Sir Jack Hayward, both from Wolverhampton (the latter went on to own football club Wolves).
Organised as a round robin event, England – whose team included nine teachers – beat Australia in the final deciding match on 28 July 1973.
“We didn’t get given any medals for winning the World Cup, although we were introduced to Princess Anne,” recalls Lynne of that historic day at Edgbaston.
“We drove ourselves to all of the England games in the tournament, and after the game against Australia I had to be back at work in south Wales on the Monday.”
It was the same story throughout her cricketing career – playing solely for the glory of winning, and for meagre playing expenses, interspersed with bouts of fundraising to keep the women’s cricket show on the road.
“I can tell you exactly about our finances – we paid for everything,” she recalls of an international career that saw her play 10 Tests, and 12 one day internationals for England over a 13-year period.
“We paid for our playing kit, our playing equipment, and most of the cost of our tours.”
To raise money towards the cost of those overseas tours. cricketing legend Rachael Heyhoe Flint organised fund raising across England, and beyond.
And that meant a lot of travelling for Lynne, the sole Welsh player in the England team.
“Those games covered the whole of England,” she says. “We also played a fund raising game in Edinburgh one time. We played there on the Sunday, and drove back on the Sunday night.
“We worked, most of us had jobs, and had to be back at work on the Monday. It was pure dedication.”
The Women’s Cricket Association – all volunteers – who ran Women’s Cricket at the time, also paid a small amount towards the cost of overseas tours.
Lynne went on a four- and-a-half month tour of New Zealand and Australia in 1968-69, and fortunately her understanding employers Neath Girls Grammar School gave her the time off with pay.
She also went on tour to the West Indies in 1971, when Sir Jack Haywood stepped in to fund the fares of the travelling party.
“When we were away on tour we only stayed in hotels when we played Test matches, when we played friendly matches we were put up to stay with local families,” recalls Lynne.
Lynne got interested in cricket through father Raymond, a keen village cricketer and member of Dafen cricket club in Llanelli.
“From the age of six I used to watch him play every weekend. When I got to eight or nine I got my own cricket bat from Woolworths and would play with a tennis ball.
“There was no girls cricket when I was growing up, I played in a boys team at Christchurch church in Llanelli.”
She went on to play for Cardiff, Sussex Women, Glamorgan Women and West Counties Women.
“For the first couple of my playing years I didn’t have a car, and friends would have to drive me around,” says Lynne, a full MCC member.
“Then I managed to buy a little Singer Chamois car. I would drive thousands of miles each year playing cricket and hockey.”
Lynne Thomas on cricket pioneer Rachel Heyhoe Flint
“She was wonderful person and a tremendous captain. She had a very good rapport with people from all levels of society.
“She was a good leader, and we would have done anything for her. She was one of the girls – on and off the field.
“She fought for women’s sport, truthfully and in an honest way. She started it all off, if it wasn’t for her the present day women would not enjoy a cricket career, and we wouldn’t have had the World Cup in England this year.”
Love of the game
Lynne, who with her team-mates were belatedly awarded winners’ medals this summer, will be at Lords on Sunday for the culmination of a tournament which she says “will have helped spread the game around the world”.
During the 1973 event she and Enid Bakewell put on 246 – an English opening partnership record that stood until Sarah Taylor and Caroline Atkins made 268 at Lords against South Africa in 2008.
“I was at Lords when our record was broken, and we were interviewed in the pavilion for three-quarters of an hour by the media,” she says. “But when we broke the record in 1973 nobody knew we had done it, not even ourselves.
“It was only decades later that my niece read about it in the Guinness Book of Firsts. We just played for the love of if, and did not worry about records.”
She adds: “It was the same all through my career – in fact we paid out for the pleasure of playing, it was all about money going out, not coming in.”