Fan, player, administrator, and fan again, the octogenarian's passion for the game shines through her many tales.
As she gets up to leave the press box at the County Ground in Derby during New Zealand’s ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 game against India on Saturday, there is a request for Mary Brito to pose for a photograph. The octogenarian jokes that she is not elegant. Witty, sharp and with the memory of an elephant, Brito’s love for the game continues to take her around the globe. The president of the International Women’s Cricket Council from 1995 to 2000, she has been to 10 Women’s World Cups in different capacities, missing only the 2013 event in India. An honorary life member of the Marylebone Cricket Club and a raconteur who enriches the game with her storytelling, she regaled Wisden India even while keeping a close eye on the new generation of White Ferns.
Spotting Dickie Bird
I was brought up with around 13 boys in Yorkshire. We went to Wakefield Cricket Club and they told us that we could all play cricket on the rugby field without being thrown out if we became junior members. The men had come back from the World War II and it took them time (to return to a normal routine). Wakefield realised that they didn’t have a team, so they looked on the sidelines and found that there was more than a team. All the rest became a part of the club, but I was not allowed to play because I was a girl.
There was a very kind man on the committee who asked me if I would want to be scorer, manager or coach or whatever, which I did. Our very first game was in Barnsley. They were all burly boys – sons of miners – except for one wheelie chappy. We were beaten hollow, but I saw the one who would still be there in the middle long after the others have dispersed from the Barnsley team is that chap. He became the No. 1 umpire - HD Bird. I never of him as an umpire, I was referring to his cricket ability. He was a very good batsman. That’s how my career in administration started sometime in the 1950s.
I was about 22 when I joined a women’s cricket club in Leeds. I was a left-arm spinner. Then I was one of four people to start the Wakefield Women’s Cricket Club, which became very successful. My grandparents had a family drapery business, and although I loved the business, I could not stand the English winters. I could stand the cold if I could see the sky. I immigrated to Australia in 1967 and played for South Australia against the visiting English team in 1968. After two years, I decided to tour the whole of New Zealand. I had some friends in Lower Hutt and 48 years later, I am still in Lower Hutt. My career ended when I was around 40 and I managed the Wellington Second XI team. I then became the chairwoman of the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council from 1974 to 1985-86.
Starting the Rose Bowl rivalry
The Australians said we [should have] a trophy we can play for. I thought I should do something. I went to Shell Oil. They were very big in New Zealand at that time and sponsored the men’s team. I knew the advertising manager and I asked him for a trophy. He came back and said he can give us a trophy but can’t give any money. I said I would just like the trophy. There was another manager also and then the retail manager of the Wellington division; the three of them took out $500 each out of their advertising budget and gave me $1500. So, the first time we played Australia for the trophy, we had $1500 towards expenses. By the time I left in 2000, we had $12,000 from Shell.
Shell have now left New Zealand and Australia, so now it is just the Rose Bowl trophy. We have won it once, and I told the girls, ‘I want our name on there before I pop off underground.’ I am still waiting.
Getting Bird to officiate
We are old friends, so I just rang him up before the 1982 World Cup and said, ‘Dickie, how are you doing? Would you care to come to do our World Cup?’ I asked him how much umpires were getting paid those days, and when he said the figure I said, ‘Dickie, we can’t afford you. That’s beyond our pocket.’
Air New Zealand paid for his airfare. They sponsored him. He did a bit of public speaking around clubs. Even if we did pay, it was just peanuts. He did it because we were friends. He always mentions me in all his books. He was first impressed with my knowledge of cricket.
Shantha (Rangaswamy) was a very good captain. Diana (Edulji) and Shubhangi (Kulkarni) were there. Shubhangi met me a few years back and asked if I could recognise her. Of course I did. Sharmila Chakraborty was a very good spinner. It was a difficult tour (of New Zealand in 1978, India's first overseas tour), but they had very good players. They had not played many matches. They stayed with Indian families. There was no money. We had a terrible storm and we had to come back to Wellington, and a friend and I had to stay with two Indian players for the night. We could not get into the hut, the roads were blocked.
When I saw them in England for the 1993 World Cup, I told them that they were not going to score 200 until they improve their running between the wickets. There were four (three) run-outs and I thought I better keep my mouth shut. But they have improved. India’s captain (Mithali Raj) has been a wonderful cricketer. I am really impressed with her.
In that 1993 World Cup game (between India and New Zealand) in Ealing, Debbie Hockley played the finest innings I have seen. I have seen her since she was 16, and have seen her score centuries but that was her best innings in my estimation. A piece of grass on the pitch was loose. They had lifted it out but had not filled the hole and put back the grass on it. The spin bowlers targeted it and Debbie batted through the innings to make an unbeaten 64 (53). She batted virtually from one end to stop anyone from facing the spinners from that end. She helped us win the game. India should have won that game.
There were only four teams for the 1978 World Cup – India, New Zealand, Australia and England. At a function in Patna, the New Zealand girls changed their name clips with the Australians. So, when they called one name, the other one went. In Jamshedpur, we stayed at the guest house that belonged to the Tatas. It was beautiful. I could have stayed there for weeks.
The 1997 World Cup
When I took over IWCC in 1995, we were planning for the 1997 World Cup, which Hero Honda sponsored. We had Pakistan and Sri Lanka wanting to be members. I am indeed proud to see how they have developed over the years.
We should have had 12 teams in that World Cup. I don’t remember but either Bangladesh or Canada withdrew. We divided the teams into two groups and played the tournament. From then on, we decided that we will have eight teams. The bottom teams would play for a trophy, and the top two teams from there would be promoted.
That game between New Zealand and India in Indore was an exciting game. I was there. Sirupa (Bose) was the manager and she was walking around the ground. Someone took a brilliant catch. That tie made us eligible for a top-four finish.
Outside the Delhi stadium, there was a corrugated iron gate the night before at 10pm. And next morning when we came at 8am it was all done in roses. People couldn’t believe it was done overnight. This is the photo I show everyone to say how India can produce anything out of nowhere.
The final was a horrendous experience! We had not experienced 78,000 people. They came from everywhere. The New Zealand players got nervous. The love for cricket in India, wherever you went you got support.
The final act
The 2000 edition was the best World Cup because we won (laughs). Canterbury organised most of the matches. It was well organised, it was all held in Lincoln. It didn’t go around New Zealand.
The girls would like to play Test matches again. Only India, England and Australia play. We should now, but they say cost is a factor. I said at least play the series at different cities each year, so that more people get to watch. It has started to happen.
I retired after that World Cup altogether. I have friends around the world, and the people I have met have been a wonderful experience.