Jo Chamberlain and Karen Smithies show the trophy some love

Jo Chamberlain and Karen Smithies with the World Cup trophy after England won the final at Lord's

© PA Photos


And the World Cup goes to… England!

How amateur gusto, cutting-edge coaching and a mixtape came together in a breakout women's tournament 24 years ago

Raf Nicholson  |  

Three years ago I went to Eastbourne to interview an old white-haired lady who claimed she lived in the sunniest street in England. I wasn't there for the sun, though. I was there to meet one of the finest coaches English cricket had ever seen.

This summer England Women will try to do something that few teams ever achieve: win a World Cup on home soil. "Playing in a home World Cup is the pinnacle tournament for all of us," England's captain Heather Knight has said. "We want to embrace that challenge and play some brilliant cricket." It was just the same for their predecessors back in 1993, the last time the tournament was staged in England. What's more, that team went on to become world champions.

If Knight and Co are to follow in their footsteps, their coach, Mark Robinson, could do worse than to follow the example of the little old lady I met in Eastbourne. Her name? Ruth Prideaux. This is the story of her biggest triumph, and of a transformative tournament for the women's game: the story of the 1993 Women's World Cup.

Nineteen ninety-three was arguably the first truly global women's tournament. The participating teams were Australia, Denmark, England, India, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand and West Indies. Of the smaller nations, Netherlands and Ireland had played in just one World Cup, in Australia in 1988; for Denmark and West Indies, it was a first appearance. It made everyone's preparation difficult. "I didn't know internationally what the other teams were like," recalls the Australian fast bowler Cathryn Fitzpatrick. "You couldn't watch them on television."

Fitzpatrick juggled cricket with her work as a garbage collector. "I'd be up and out of the house by 5am and pretty much running behind the rubbish truck for four or five hours"

In other ways, too, women's cricket was a very different world back in 1993. Only one of the major teams - New Zealand - had combined their men's and women's administrative set-ups. Acting alone and trying to find sponsorship as a voluntary, amateur governing body was a difficult task for the English Women's Cricket Association (EWCA), as was securing venues. Many clubs simply refused to host women's matches - even international ones. At Ealing, where England played Netherlands, the players were forced to roll the wicket themselves. The EWCA's World Cup Committee worried that the provision of female toilets at some venues was "lamentably inadequate", and even granted the umpires special permission to extend the innings break by ten minutes should the lack of bathrooms make it necessary.

Financing the tournament was another problem. The whole thing came within two days of cancellation, before the Foundation for Sport and the Arts agreed at the last minute to contribute £90,000. The rest of the money was secured through small-scale local sponsorship, and fundraising by the EWCA: selling souvenirs such as baseball caps, sweatshirts and headscarves. As it was, in an effort to trim transportation costs, most matches (and all of England's) were played in the home counties.

For the players, preparing for the tournament represented a significant challenge. The 14 members of the England squad, still amateurs, all had full-time jobs. The captain, Karen Smithies, worked as a manager at a bookmaking firm, Coral; the world's premier batsman, Jan Brittin, was a British Airways employee; the bespectacled top-order batsman Carole Hodges was a bank clerk; the "female Botham" Jo Chamberlain and the pace bowler Clare Taylor were both van drivers.

Over in Australia, Fitzpatrick juggled cricket with her work as a garbage collector. "I'd be up and out of the house by 5am and pretty much running behind the rubbish truck for four or five hours in the morning. That allowed me to do what I needed to do in the afternoons, whether it be around some skills training or any other sort of gym stuff." There was only one national camp, held indoors in Sydney right before going to England. The Australia captain, Lyn Larsen, recalls feeling incredibly ill-prepared. "It was out-of-season training, on the wrong surfaces. We were not prepared for England."

Given the tournament's tight finances, players stayed in dorm-style accommodation at Wellington College in Berkshire (pictured) and Surrey University

Given the tournament's tight finances, players stayed in dorm-style accommodation at Wellington College in Berkshire (pictured) and Surrey University © Getty Images

The lesser-known teams, meanwhile, had bigger problems. Ireland - coached by Brendan O'Brien, the father of Niall and Kevin - had to spend almost two years fundraising while committing to an intensive training programme. "We played a lot of games against men's teams in Trinity College," remembers the Ireland batsman Janice Walsh.

No one, though, was working harder than the England squad, under Prideaux's beady eye. Prideaux had worked as a PE lecturer in the sports science department at Chelsea College of Physical Education, and had some rather unconventional coaching methods. Players recall participating in juggling sessions (for hand-eye coordination), dance training (to help with footwork), and javelin practice (to improve throwing). Prideaux was also responsible for a dramatic change in diet. "They were very fish-and-chip girls," she said in our interview. "Some of them weren't eating any vegetables whatsoever. They were physically totally different when we'd finished the training."

Perhaps most radical of all, though, was Prideaux's initiative to introduce sports psychology. Steve Bull, a colleague at Chelsea College, who would go on to work with the England men's team, became the team's official psychologist. "They had to stand up in a classroom, repeatedly, and say: 'We will win!'" Prideaux told me, grinning. The programme was years ahead of its time, an attempt to bring an element of professionalism into a thoroughly amateur sport.

Of course, all this required deep commitment from the players. Taylor remembers her weekends for the year leading up to the tournament: "Friday nights you'd finish work and you'd get in your car from Yorkshire, four of us piled into a car, and you'd get down to Eastbourne at one in the morning. You'd get up and be at work all day Saturday, and Sunday until lunchtime, then you'd get back in your car and head back home, ready for work on Monday."

Prideaux had some rather unconventional coaching methods. Players recall participating in juggling sessions (for hand-eye coordination), dance training (to help with footwork), and javelin practice (to improve throwing)

Nonetheless, despite their commitment to the fitness aspect, many in the squad remained rather sceptical about the psychology part. The team manager Norma Izard sums it up: "The squad just couldn't cope. Chamberlain said, 'What a load of bloody crap!'"

And the question remained: would it work?

The squads arrived in England on July 12; the opening ceremony was held at The Oval the following day. The teams practised in the nets and endured a cringeworthy press call. Mick Cleary in the Observer complained about having to ignore "the alluring red mini-skirts of the Danish team" in order to quiz the other teams about their batting, bowling and other "mind-numbingly tedious subjects". It was not the most auspicious start.

Finances dictated the tournament accommodation: dormitory-style student rooms at Surrey University in Guildford (for Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand and West Indies), and Wellington College in Berkshire (for Australia, England, India and Ireland). It was not far, in fact, from the typical student experience. Much of the players' free time was spent doing laundry. Teams mixed freely, particularly the English and Irish players, who knew each other well from Ireland's regular encounters with women's county sides in the 1980s. "It was always lethal with the Irish," laughs Taylor. "It actually got quite messy one night after they asked us to come for a few drinks!"

For the Australian players, one memory stands out: the night when, while the English team were out celebrating a win, they raided their laundry, stole as much underwear as they could get their hands on, and pinned it all to the communal notice board. "There was a bit of shenanigans!" admits Belinda Clark, a future Australia captain.

An Australian player peeks out of the dressing-room window to talk to her team-mates during the match against England at Guildford

An Australian player peeks out of the dressing-room window to talk to her team-mates during the match against England at Guildford Martin Keene / © PA Photos

Prideaux, though, kept her eyes fixed firmly on the prize. During our interview she recalled with a gleam in her eye the time when they arrived at Wellington College. "They'd put us on the ground floor and the Australians were upstairs, above us. And I said, 'Well, we're not having that.' So before the Australians came, we settled ourselves above them, and I said, 'Remember we're on top here!'"

The tournament was structured as a round robin, with each team playing one 60-overs-a-side game against the others, culminating in a Lord's final between the top two. The disparity between the traditional top four - England, Australia, New Zealand, India - and the rest quickly became apparent. In their first match, England amassed a record World Cup score of 286 for 3 against Denmark; in return Denmark slumped to 10 for 5, and went on to lose by 239 runs. Hodges claimed the last three wickets to become the first Englishwoman to take a hat-trick in international cricket.

West Indies and Ireland, meanwhile, scraped together just one win apiece, though it did not seem to dampen the spirits of the players or the supporters. Several hundred enthusiastic West Indians turned up to watch the game against England at Arundel, bringing whistles and calypso spirit aplenty, and were rewarded by the sight of Desiree Luke and Cherry-Ann Singh ripping through the English middle order (West Indies eventually lost by four wickets). Janice Walsh of Ireland remembers being thrilled to simply get a rare chance to play against the best. "Some of the teams were miles better than us, but we loved the challenge."

At the other end of the spectrum, Australia, the champions three times running, found themselves up against that old enemy - complacency. Larsen ruefully concedes the point. "There was an early function at Lord's, and people were making comments: 'We'll be back here in the final.'" The Sunday Times, too, claimed that the tournament's winner was a foregone conclusion. "In reality, it will come down to whom Australia will play and beat in the final," their reporter wrote.

Mick Cleary in the Observer complained about having to ignore "the alluring red mini-skirts of the Danish team" in order to quiz the other teams about their batting, bowling and other "mind-numbingly tedious subjects"

Nobody had given New Zealand much of a chance. Yet they dominated the group stage, winning all their matches and breezing into the final. Their perfect run included a ten-wicket thumping of the Aussies, after bowling them out for 77. Debbie Hockley, who opened the batting, remembers: "I came down the pitch and hit pace bowler Karen Brown back over her head, almost for six. It was the only time in my whole career I had the confidence to do it."

For England, a 25-run loss to New Zealand early in the tournament was a nightmare. Having restricted them to 127, England threw away the game with five suicidal run-outs and unnecessary slogging in between. That defeat was followed by the narrowest of victories against India, who, chasing 180, needed four from two balls when their last batsman was run out.

So to make the final, England had to beat their biggest rivals, Australia. After the defeat to New Zealand, as manager Izard drove to Wellington College, with the players making their own way back, she found herself wondering: "Are they going to turn up? I didn't feel like turning up myself! I thought, how are they going to cope?"

If ever the time had come to test Prideaux's theories of sport psychology, now was it.

Ireland's Sandra Dawson drops Carole Hodges of England.

Ireland's Sandra Dawson drops Carole Hodges of England. "Some of the teams were miles better than us," said Dawson's team-mate Janice Walsh, "but we loved the challenge" © PA Photos

The match against Australia, at Guildford on July 26, was hotly anticipated. According to Clark, playing her first World Cup, "it felt like it was a Test match in respect of the value that people were placing on their wickets". The game attracted huge press interest, with more photographers and reporters than ever before seen at a women's cricket match in England. It helped that, over at Headingley, England men were surrendering the Ashes urn, on a day when Graham Gooch resigned as captain. Could the women salvage some national pride?

In the lead-up to the game, Izard and Prideaux organised a series of crisis meetings with Bull. He met with each member of the squad individually, and talked through the New Zealand defeat. Smithies says it was important for the team to spend time together and reflect on their mistakes.

For Taylor it was their tactical approach against New Zealand that had been wrong. "They'd almost strangled us, they just put a ring field in. And I remember the following day, we had a bit of a debrief, and we all sat around: 'What are we going to do against the Aussies?' And I said, 'Well, we just need to start hoicking it.' Ruth Prideaux, who was a southerner, was like, 'Hoicking?' I had to explain it was a northern term for smashing it! So we went down to the nets and all practised slogging it through midwicket."

It's worth highlighting that Australia, in their previous encounter with England - the World Cup final in Melbourne, 1988 - had chased down the target of 128 with 91 balls remaining. They had been utterly dominant in all departments.

Not this time.

Australia, the champions three times running, found themselves up against that old enemy - complacency

Of all those who took on board the hoicking strategy, it was the bespectacled bank clerk Hodges, walking in at 25 for 1, who carried it through to perfection. "I got it into my head that I was going to bat like I would in a club match, and just completely ignore the fact that it was Australia," she recalls. "I was stepping across my wicket and flicking it that way, I was stepping back flicking it that way, and it just worked. And quite honestly the bowlers didn't know where to put it, because they'd never seen me bat like that!" The opposing captain Larsen's overriding memory of the day is "being on the drive and Carole kept smashing balls at me!"

Hodges finished on 105 not out, hitting her second fifty in just 46 balls. England made 208 for 5, and the medium-pacer Gill Smith then took 5 for 30, bowling short of a length on the slowing pitch.

England won by 43 runs - and reached the World Cup final.

The day of the final, August 1, dawned clear and bright. In a sign of the times, England had spent the previous night sewing team badges onto their shirts; and to save money, both teams travelled to the ground in the same coach. Smithies recalls the enormous sense of occasion. "Ruth asked me if I'd put my favourite moisturising cream on," she says, "because it gave us a bit of luck, and I said I had! I just remember enjoying walking into Lord's, feeling immensely proud. Playing a World Cup final in your home country, at Lord's, you can't get better than that."

Public and media interest in the tournament was at its peak. The BBC decided at the last minute to feature live coverage on Grandstand, watched by 2.5 million viewers: the EWCA chair Cathy Mowat was up in the commentary box alongside Jonathan Agnew. The 5000-strong crowd was most likely the highest for a Women's World Cup match until then. The other teams were all there too. "It was the most people that I'd seen in one place watching women's cricket," recalls Clark. Her team-mate Fitzpatrick was gutted: "It was disappointing not to make the final, and then we had to drag our sorry butts out to watch it as well!" One person rather happier was Hockley's mother, whose brothers had arranged for her to fly all the way from New Zealand. The atmosphere was electrifying.

Jan Brittin (right) and Carole Hodges, seen here during their partnership against Denmark at Banstead, were the two top run scorers in the tournament

Jan Brittin (right) and Carole Hodges, seen here during their partnership against Denmark at Banstead, were the two top run scorers in the tournament © PA Photos

Despite their win against Australia, England were still seen as underdogs: Smithies' employers Coral actually made New Zealand 7-4 on to win the final, which must have galled England's captain. Could her team defy the odds?

There were two things in their favour. One was psychological: all that mental training seemed to have paid off. "After the game against Australia, I don't think anything could have stopped us," says Smithies. "We believed in ourselves, and no matter what came our way, we just took it on and off we went." Their attitude was epitomised by the mixtape Taylor had compiled from the players' favourite songs. They blasted it in the coach en route to the ground on the morning of the final. "It was called See You on the Balcony," Taylor remembers, "and we played it everywhere." "Simply the Best" was on the tape. So was "We are the Champions."

By contrast, New Zealand had never played in a World Cup final, and for many players it was their first time at Lord's. As Catherine Campbell, their offspinner, puts it: "We weren't very experienced at finals, and we choked." Thus, after winning the toss and putting England in, New Zealand put down several crucial catches - including Chamberlain on 7. "I remember dropping a catch," remembers Campbell, "and someone from the crowd yelled out, 'My grandmother could have caught that!'"

Chamberlain went on to score 38, putting on 57 from 53 balls for the fifth wicket with Barbara Daniels, and was greeted by a standing ovation from the MCC members as she left the pitch.

England's attitude was epitomised by the mixtape Clare Taylor had compiled from the players' favourite songs. "It was called See You on the Balcony," Taylor remembers

There was one other important factor. New Zealand had fielded first against all four of the "minnow" sides. The middle and lower order had not been able to try out their techniques in English conditions - and it showed. Now, chasing 196, they collapsed from 51 for 1 to 71 for 5: Chamberlain was again the star, running out Hockley with a direct hit from cover. "That was the turning point," says Taylor. "We went absolutely mental when that happened."

Fittingly, Brittin, who in the course of the tournament became England's highest international run scorer of all time, took the winning catch, as New Zealand were all out for 128. The spectators flooded the pitch to watch Smithies and her team lift the trophy, hug each other and shed tears of joy.

Accounts of what precisely happened that evening are a little confused. Smithies remembers that Coral sent 12 bottles of Moet & Chandon champagne into the dressing room, which her players drank as they sat and tried to take in what had occurred. Taylor remembers "Simply the Best" blaring out on a ghetto blaster in the Harris Garden. Walsh swears that she watched Smithies and the Ireland vice-captain at the post-tournament dinner at Lord's "throwing grape pips into the World Cup". Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one remembers much after about eight o'clock.

Whatever transpired, the England players awoke the next morning to find their faces on the front and back pages of all the newspapers. It was all rather a shock. Many journalists seemed suddenly converted to the delights of the women's game. Peter Johnson in the Daily Mail praised "the whooping girls who gave English cricket a rare moment of international glory", and said, "the female of the species is deadlier than the male". John Etheridge declared England "Queens of Lord's" in the Sun. Mike Selvey in the Guardian said he had witnessed "high quality skills with the bat, old-fashioned virtue with the ball, superb fielding… and not a single no-ball to blight the memory". "Make no mistake," he concluded, "these are terrific cricketers."

Class of '93: England women are all smiles after their triumph at Lord's. Coach Ruth Prideaux is at far right

Class of '93: England women are all smiles after their triumph at Lord's. Coach Ruth Prideaux is at far right © Getty Images

The response was unprecedented for a women's tournament, and on a much bigger scale than when England won the inaugural Women's World Cup at home in 1973. Smithies was taken by surprise. "It changed my life completely for about six months. Literally I didn't work from August until December that year. The shows, the parties that I was invited to. I had hundreds of letters saying congratulations. It lit up women's cricket again."

Even now, many of the players remember the tournament as a transformative one. For Smithies, captaining her side to a World Cup victory on home soil is, unsurprisingly, "the best thing I've ever done. It still gives me goosebumps now thinking about it." Even those on the losing side have fond memories. Campbell concurs: "It showed that we were contenders at the highest level, and set us on the path to going on and winning the World Cup in 2000." Irish women's cricket, too, received a boost. "We were beaten but that didn't matter," Walsh says. "All the games were reported in the newspapers. We can see the benefits of that in Ireland even now."

Several of those players still remain involved in cricket. Smithies now lives in South Africa and works for the Titans franchise. Fitzpatrick went on to coach the Australian women's team, and is still part of the CA coaching set-up. Clark works for CA as a senior manager of team performance. Campbell serves as NZC's general manager of cricket operations. Last year Hockley became the first woman in history to be elected NZC president.

Accounts of what precisely happened on the evening of the final are a little confused. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one remembers much after about eight o'clock

Prideaux - whose calm, quiet, assured presence was a constant throughout the tournament - had proved without question the success of her new coaching techniques. Chamberlain, who had denounced sports psychology as "bloody crap", told Izard afterwards: "If it hadn't been for the sports psychologist I would never have gone on. I would have given up after that loss to New Zealand."

Prideaux passed away last year, at the age of 85; mine was one of the last interviews she did. And yet her impact is ongoing: much of her work with the England squad between 1988 and 1993 now serves as the foundation for the elite coaching within both men's and women's cricket. Daniels, who helped create the ECB's premier Level 4 coaching qualification, describes being coached by Prideaux as "a defining moment in my life".

In the long term, of course, women's cricket was still years away from achieving the kind of status that Prideaux was always pushing for. And yet, as she told me, "I think we supplied a good grounding for women's cricket to develop. And set an example of what can be achieved. Which was all good, because it meant everything moved forward."

That is quite some legacy, I told her. "Yes," she agreed. "I'd rather leave that legacy than any other."

Raf Nicholson is an England supporter, a feminist, and has recently completed a doctoral thesis on the history of women's cricket. @RafNicholson