Lynne scored the highest score of the tournament with 134 but for a long time did not realise she held a record that will never be broken
On 23 June 1973 Lynne Thomas scored 134 not out at Hove against an International XI in the third match of the inaugural Women’s World Cup, but it wasn’t until over 40 years later that she realised its significance.
Thumbing through the Guinness Book of Firsts one day, her eagle-eyed niece, Ruth, noticed that her aunt was the first person to score a century at a Cricket World Cup.
In 1973 the Women’s World Cup was launched by the Women’s Cricket Association – thanks to the perseverance of the late Rachael Heyhoe-Flint and the financial support of businessman Sir Jack Hayward – two years before the men’s version was held.
England’s opening game of the eight-team event was against an International team at the County Ground, Hove on June 23, 1973 and Lynne Thomas opened the batting with Enid Bakewell – a member of the ICC’s Hall of Fame.
Lynne scored the highest score of the tournament with 134 but for a long time did not realise she held a record that will never be broken. Lynne, who was inspired to take up cricket watching her father, Raymond Thomas, play for Dafen Cricket Club in her home town of Llanelli, said: “We didn’t really keep statistics in those days.
‘We just played the game and only afterwards did we realise if we had scored a 100 or a 50. I didn’t used to really bother about those milestones – nor did many of the team – we just enjoyed playing.’
Their opening partnership that day of 246 was to stand as a record for England until 2008 when Caroline Atkins and Sarah Taylor set a new best of 268 against South Africa at Lord’s – fittingly it was the year Lynne became an Honorary Life Member of the MCC.
Lynne had made her debut for England after being spotted by Sussex County Cricket Club while studying and playing for Chelsea College in Eastbourne. She said: “I had played at Cardiff Cricket Club – which had the only side in Wales in those days.
‘While playing for Chelsea College I was asked to join Sussex and in those days, there was already a county championship. The selectors saw me and I played in a trial match at The Oval and made my debut for England in 1966.
“It was against New Zealand.We only played Test matches – in 1966 there were three Test matches against New Zealand. The first was at Scarborough, the second at Edgbaston and the third at The Oval and then in 1968-69 there was a tour to Australia and New Zealand – it was a four-and-a-half-month tour.
‘We played three test matches in Australia and then three more in New Zealand. We also played matches against local area teams.’
Lynne was to play 10 Tests and 24 One-Day Internationals for England in an international career which spanned 13 years – and two Women’s World Cups. The second being in 1978 in India when England finished runners-up to Australia and Lynne was England’s leading run scorer.
But she wasn’t finished with the Women’s World Cup returning in 1982 to captain the International XI in New Zealand and playing against some of her former colleagues. She scored no less than 383 runs - including half centuries against India and England – to finish second to England’s Jan Brittin in the run scoring table.
Lynne recognises that without the determination of Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, the first woman to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in 2010, and the support of Sir Jack Hayward, a Wolverhampton businessman who was later to own the local football club, the tournament may not have taken place.
Lynne said: ‘It was something that Rachael thought of. She thought it would be a good idea and her good friend Sir Jack helped to fund it all. It just went from there. She was an exceptional person and so was he.
‘Rachael was the captain all the time I played. She was a very good leader and tactician. She was just one of the girls on and off the field. I stayed in contact with her and used to meet up around cricket in the summers. We also both played hockey but as she played for England and I played for Wales there was a bit of rivalry then.’
The record-breaking style of Lynne and Enid was ‘just like we played in Test matches.’ She added: “We had no experience of one-day cricket really. The first time we played it was our first match in the 1973 ICC Women’s World Cup. There were no specialist teams then – the best 11 just played whether it was an ODI or Test match.’
Lynne is a regular figure around the England women’s tours and will be in Australia again this winter. She knows the girls and has been delighted at the development of the players and the style of play but adds: “You cannot compare men’s and women’s cricket.
‘Women don't have the same strength as the Men but that is just as it is in tennis. They do have technical skills and abilities though. I think that was the same when I played but now they have a greater variety of strokes. The girls are professional players so they get structured coaching and that has to improve the quality.’
And for someone who played in three Women’s World Cups - is Lynne looking forward to the 2017 edition in England? She said: ‘I think that not only the ICC Women's World Cup will help inspire girls and women to play cricket but also the publicity that Women's Cricket now gets will help the game grow considerably.’
* The lead image was captured by Don Miles.