4th October 2021
I fear that, for some, this essay might appear to have been written by an anti-woke curmudgeon who has no tolerance of progressive thinking. That has not been the intention.
Should I be fortunate enough – courtesy of good health and fine weather – to watch Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance in action for Yorkshire CCC next season, it will be the case that their principal roles in the team will have changed. This is because the Marylebone Cricket Club – the custodians of the Laws of Cricket – announced towards the end of last month that, with immediate effect, their skills will be employed not as batsmen, but as “batters”.
It is the case, of course, that women’s cricket is making rapid strides. This has been aided by the increased media coverage being given to international matches and, this year, the introduction of a women’s competition in The Hundred that ran in parallel with that of the men. This is a healthy and hugely welcome development.
It is against this background that the MCC has decided that the term “batsman” represents an unacceptable gender-specific term that does not sit happily with the direction of travel of the game and of the wider society. Its official statement in announcing the change was that “MCC believes in cricket being a game for all and this move recognises the changing landscape of the game in modern times”. Hence “batter”, which has now been written in the laws applying to all forms of the game.
In her accompanying statement, Clare Connor – the new President of the MCC – drew on her experience as Director of Women’s Cricket at the England and Wales Cricket Board: “Where the game is now, an eight year-old girl doesn’t want to be a batsman, or a policeman, or a postman, or a fireman – why would she want to be anything that has the word man in?”
I think this is a mistaken approach – for three reasons.
First, although the word “batter” might sit happily with “bowler” and “fielder” (though, even then, “fieldsman” was commonly used until relatively recently), the word is unattractive, if not downright ugly. I know that it was formally employed in the promotion of The Hundred – and uniformly used in the consequent hype of the television coverage. However, I have to say that when its usage was then transferred to the BBC’s evening test match highlights programme – especially by Michael Vaughan – it jarred horribly. As reportage on the highest level of the game, it was the equivalent of the fingernails being scraped down the blackboard.
It is here that the MCC’s official statement is particularly revealing. It refers to the last redraft of the laws in 2017 when it was agreed, following consultation with key figures in women’s cricket, that the terminology would remain as “batsman” and “batsmen”. It then goes on to say that “[t]he changes announced today reflect the wider usage of the terms “better” and “batters” which has occurred in cricketing circles in the intervening period”. I am having difficulty interpreting this as anything other than The Hundred tail wagging the game as a whole’s dog.
This leads to the second reason. The synonyms for “batter” include “bludgeon”, “pummel”, “abuse” and “clobber”. Its all-embracing use in a cricketing sense is inappropriate. Ok, it might apply to Liam Livingstone hitting the ball over the Football Stand at Headingley, but there is surely far more to batting than that.
During my lifetime, the great batsmen have included Graeme Pollock, Tom Graveney and David Gower – to name but three. To my mind, they were not “batters”. They played with elegance, grace and panache. They were craftsmen. They were batsmen. Kumar Sangakkara, VVS Laxman, Zaheer Abbas…
And so back through the earlier generations. To give the retrospective label of “batter” to Victor Trumper, KS Ranjitsinhji or Wally Hammond – and countless others – seems to me to reveal a disturbing lack of respect for the game’s history. (And this from the MCC, let us not forget). Was Herbert Sutcliffe a batter? I don’t think so. Besides, what do I now do with his How to Become a First Class Batsman, purchased when I was in short trousers for three shillings from his sports store in Leeds?
My third reason is a practical one. There are several sports – for example, tennis, triathlon, darts, show jumping and eventing – in which men and women compete for the same prize in the same arena. It makes sense for gender-neutral terminology to be applied in these spheres. But cricket is not one of these sports. The men’s and women’s games are separate, as emphatically demonstrated by The Hundred’s double-headers.
Accordingly, I can see no reason why the nomenclature used in the laws of the game has to be exactly the same in both cases. Put simply, why not “batsman” and “batswoman” – to be used, as appropriate? The latter might initially seem a little clunky, no doubt, but that is surely a function of its unfamiliarity. (I note, incidentally, that, in American court and field sports, “linesman” and “lineswoman” are each widely recognised terms for the relevant officials).
I recognise that I am swimming against the tide with all this. In cricket, the “third man” fielding position and the tailender batting as a “nightwatchman” will surely be the next to go. Indeed, in the case of the former, I’m already surprised that it has survived the combination of Harry Lime selling adulterated penicillin in post-war Vienna and Kim Philby being denounced as the next in line of Soviet spies following the defection of Burgess and Maclean.
I also fully acknowledge that the interests of the “eight year-old girl” identified by Ms Connor should be taken into account. I would like as many eight year-old girls – and boys – as possible to take an active interest in the game. But this doesn’t prevent me from putting forward a point of view from the perspective of a different member of the cricket family: the 60-something, who has followed the game for half a century and who played it for 20 years, but whose interest is now waning and/or moving elsewhere.
Of course, it’s only a word. “Batter” for “batsman”. So what? Nobody will die as a result of the change.
But, for me, it all represents another tear in the fabric. It’s another (small) step in the current journey of English cricket that appears to be characterised by the search for transient populism, the abandonment of subtlety and tradition, and the easy recourse to dumbing down. And, after all this time, I’m afraid that it’s also a further strain on my attachment to the game.
Still, here’s hoping for 2022. I look forward to watching Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance at Headingley or Scarborough and being reminded that they are – that they remain – two really good batsmen.