The 233-year-old Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and its Lord’s ground, which is hailed as the Mecca of cricket, have for most of their existence been as much about tradition as incongruity couched in perpetuity.
Formed in 1787, MCC are still the guardians of cricket’s laws, although the International Cricket Council (ICC) moved its headquarters to Dubai in 2005, and India rose to become cricket’s commercial hub.
Still, MCC stood for an unwanted colonial legacy, with veto powers for England and Australia, besides being a privileged, all-white, all-male bastion (it allowed its first female members in 1998).
Chipping away at these entitlements had been excruciatingly slow, and that is what makes Wednesday’s announcement special. MCC’s AGM made a historic decision to appoint former England skipper, Clare Connor, as its first woman president. Connor, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) managing director of women’s cricket, will take over on October 1, 2021.
- The 43-year-old is a former England women’s captain who played international cricket from 1995 to 2005
- Connor played 16 Tests and 93 ODIs scalping 24 and 80 wickets respectively. She also played in two T20Is.
- Guided England to their first Ashes victory in 42 years in 2005.
- She is the ECB head of women’s cricket
- She also holds the chair of the ICC women’s cricket committee
The 43-year-old will wait as former Sri Lanka skipper, Kumar Sangakkara, was given a second 12-month term as president due to the situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Sangakkara himself was a sign of change – the MCC’s first non-white, non-British head.
In her statement on Wednesday, Connor said: “I am deeply honoured to be named the next President of MCC. Cricket has enriched my life so deeply already, and now it hands me this wonderful privilege,” she said.
“We often need to look back to see how far we’ve come. I made my first visit to Lord’s as a starry-eyed, cricket-obsessed nine-year-old girl at a time when women were not welcome in the Long Room. Times have changed.”
The fight to get women into what was a strictly male preserve, a “gentleman’s club”, has been long and hard. It took 211 years before the issue even came up; the MCC put a proposal to to include women to vote in 1998 after increasing pressure from many quarters, including sponsors, and with all eyes on England as it prepared to host the 1999 World Cup. It did not pass. Even Tony Blair, then the British prime minister, called the club “out of step”. After the widespread condemnation, the club reluctantly put the issue to vote again later that year. This time, it came out in favour of admitting women. On March 1999, the first ten women members of the MCC – including England’s legendary world-cup winning captain Rachael Heyhoe Flint, who had campaigned hard for the change since 1991 – walked into the Long Room at Lord’s. Till that day, only one woman was allowed into the Long Room – the Queen.
“We haven’t invaded the place with knitting needles and breastfeeding like they said we would in the 1990s,” BBC commentator and MCC member Isabelle Duncan told espn on the 20th anniversary of the club allowing women. “They’ve realised that we’re not aliens!”
In 2012, Charlotte Edwards, then England captain, became the first woman appointed to the MCC World Cricket Committee, heralding the inclusion of women in administrative capacities at the club.
Connor, an all-rounder, who made her England debut in 1995 at 19, and became captain in 2000, will now take that fledgling legacy forward.
“Now I find myself entrusted with this remarkable opportunity, the opportunity to play a part in helping MCC, cricket’s most influential club, to thrive and grow in an even more modern and inclusive future,” she said.
Sangakkara said: “The club has a significant role to play in cricket’s global appeal and with her influence, I am sure she will make a considerable contribution to MCC. With the extended lead-in time until she takes office, she will have an important part to play as President Designate.”
Connor’s appointment comes amid the global ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests that have found resonance in sports that is still fighting for equality at various levels.
Cricket’s take-a-knee moment is likely when England face West Indies in the first Test, starting in Southampton on July 8.