Thoughts On The Batter / Batsman Debate

The first time my PhD supervisor read a draft of my thesis she highlighted the following quote, from Women’s Cricket magazine’s article on ‘Courtesies’ in 1954:

“If the backing-up batsman leaves his crease before you bowl, it is quite legal to run him out, but it is only sporting to warn him the first time.”

“Interesting choice of language,” she noted. “Why batsman?”

The debate over the choice of language in cricket has recently raised its head again on Twitter, after the commentators at the Women’s World Cup Qualifiers in Colombo queried use of the term “batsman” in the women’s game:

Snehal Pradhan’s view, eloquently expressed in this piece for Wisden India, is that use of the term “batsman” might send a message to young girls that cricket is really a man’s sport, and ensure their continued exclusion.

I’m not convinced – and I’m as feminist as they come.

I, too, was initially surprised to find – when I started researching the history of the women’s game almost a decade ago – that the language used by the English Women’s Cricket Association, from its foundation in 1926, was riddled with references to “batsmen” (not to mention “third man”, “twelfth man” and “man of the match”). This was particularly interesting given that in so many other ways the WCA were the epitome of conservative femininity. They were obsessed with their appearance on the cricket field: there were rules about skirt length and sock colour, and caps were strictly forbidden. When there was a push for players to be able to wear trousers, as recently as the 1990s, there was enormous resistance to a move which would mean that female cricketers “no longer looked like women”.

And yet use of the word “batsman” did not bother them in the least.

Why? Because – just as with the terms “third man” and “twelfth man” – it was seen as part of the terminology of the game. Former international Megan Lear summed it up pretty well in Pete Davies’ book on the 1997 World Cup:

“You don’t call third man third woman, do you? It’s a fielding position, and it’s called third man, and a person with a bat in her hand’s a batsman.”

This was the approach adopted by the WCA in the 1920s; and since then female players have in almost all cases referred to themselves as “batsmen”, indiscriminately using words that – to the casual observer – might look rather gender-specific.

So where has this move towards using “batter” come from? The minutes of the International Women’s Cricket Council tell an interesting story. The issue was first tabled for discussion at the 1985 IWCC meeting, held in Melbourne, and was debated as follows:

“As the media is concerned with altering the cricketing terms for women’s cricket to ‘batters’ etc, a determination by IWCC was requested. After discussion it was agreed that the conventional cricketing terms be retained (eg batsman, manager, 12th man).”

This is extremely telling. The point is that it was the media who insisted on trying to alter the terminology of the women’s game from that of “batsman” to “batter”. It was the media (and still apparently is the media!) who seem determined to pigeon-hole female cricketers into the “batter” box, somehow uncomfortable with the idea of labelling them as “batsmen”. “The press,” the IWCC reported at their subsequent 1987 meeting in London, “still finds difficulty in coming to terms with the present terminology.”

And yet the players themselves rejected this pigeon-holing by the media. To them, “batsman” was the conventional cricketing term – so why should they not use it to describe themselves?

None of this is to deny that language matters. But, by taking up the term “batsman”, the WCA were attempting to ensure that the word (just like actor, waiter and author) would become gender-neutral. In fact the WCA rather anticipated the issues that we seem to be dogged with at the moment: they recognised that trying to insert a word like “batter” into the cricketing lexicon would simply mark the women’s game out as different and strange. Why overcomplicate things? Do we really want those commentating on the women’s game to have to stumble over odd and intrusive new terminology?

I’d rather just take my cue from the WCA founders and continue with the term we’ve got.

In any case, given that we’ve now been using the term “batsman” to describe female cricketers for nearly a hundred years, as far as I’m concerned the WCA have been successful: “batsman” doesn’t suggest a man to me, but any cricketer of either gender holding a bat. Perhaps what we really need to do is to educate the people who don’t know any better about the fact that our sport has its own long and interesting history – and that throughout that history, none of women’s cricket’s pioneers ever felt the need to call themselves “batters”. That’s what I always try and do, anyway, when asked – which I often am – whether it’s okay to use “batsman”.

I guess if people want to use “batter”, then I’m not going to try and stop them (although you will find short shrift with me if you try to use “batswoman” or “batsperson”, I’m afraid). But the people who seem determined to use it – often journalists who pay little attention to the women’s game generally – aren’t those who it really affects.

If the players are okay with it… if the founders of our sport were okay with it… then “batsman” is good enough for me.


7 thoughts on “Thoughts On The Batter / Batsman Debate

  1. Thanks for this article. My 4-year-old has just started following cricket, and I’ve been wondering which word to use when talking to him, even in the men’s game.

    You’ve persuaded me: in general (when discussing cricket with other grown-ups) I’m going to keep using ‘batsman’ for women’s cricket but start using ‘batter’ for men’s. As you say, ‘batter’ only works if it truly is a gender-neutral term, not one only used for women, so it doesn’t make sense to use it for women right now. But the only way it’s going to become gender-neutral by people using it for men, so I’m (counter-intuitively) going to do that too.

    Doesn’t help for talking with the 4-year-old, though: using different terms for each with him would be too weird. Guess I’ll stick with ‘batsman’ for now, and if custom changes as he grows up, he’ll surely cope, just as I did with ‘fireman’ changing into ‘firefighter’ sometime in my childhood.


  2. Batter is something you make Yorkshire Pudding from. Batsman is a generic term and I have never seen a woman object. If we want a gender neutral term it has to be for all. Are we going to make all clubs change their scoreboards and books too?
    I think women’s cricket has other, more pressing, issues than this – my daughter will have a fit, she is still recovering from the suggestion, at the recent women’s coaching conference, that mature women would be more likely to play with a soft ball.


  3. I was delighted when listening to the excellent Charlie Dagnall on the radio saying of (I think) Katherine Brunt “yes, she’s got her man, she’s bowled her”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I got a very odd look from the Irish Media Manager last year, when I referred to Kim Garth as “the man of the moment” 😬


  5. One obvious solution :-

    Write it Bats-Man, Third-Man, Nightwatch-Man

    It will be spoken exactly the same but Man (with its capital letter) refers to Homo-sapiens (the whole human species) so no one can any longer claim discrimination and everyone can get on with dealing with the real issues involving men’s v women’s cricket..


  6. Vicky Fleetwood “when we went down to 13 men” (in interview after England v Italy).

    Perhaps those who don’t play the game should defer to those that do (or perhaps certain commentators (not RN I stress) should just zip up when they’ve got nothing interesting to say).


Comments are closed.