BOOK REVIEW: Enid Bakewell: Coalminer’s Daughter by Simon Sweetman

£15.00 (ACS Publications) – Click here to buy

There are few bigger characters in cricket than Enid Bakewell, so who better to feature as the first female subject in the ACS’s Lives in Cricket series? Still playing cricket in her mid-70s, this book is a welcome and long overdue biography of the “coalminer’s daughter” from Newstead, a (former) mining village in Nottinghamshire.

The book revolves around the words of Enid herself: “it is her recollections that have driven this book”, writes Sweetman. This is one of its strengths. Amusing anecdotes are interspersed throughout, like the time she was “bribed” for every five-fer she took on the 1968/9 tour of Australia and New Zealand with port and lemon: “Dad was a Methodist so I had no experience of drink. When you get port and lemon here it’s mostly lemonade but it’s wine growing country round Adelaide so it was the other way round. But I managed to realise when it was getting a wee bit over the top.” Whether you have had the pleasure of meeting the great lady or not, she will jump right off the page at you as you work your way through Sweetman’s text.

The title Coalminer’s Daughter is an apt one: some of the most interesting sections in the book are those which deal with Enid’s background. Born on December 16, 1940 to parents Thomas and Mabel, she grew up in somewhat constrained circumstances, sharing a bedroom with her parents in their small village house until she was 17. Forbidden from playing cricket at school, Sweetman relates how she fell into cricket rather by accident, introduced by a teacher to the lady who ran the Nottingham Women’s Club. Attending grammar school then led onto a place at Dartford College of Physical Education, and to Enid becoming a PE teacher, which enabled her to continue with cricket. This is one of the most intriguing parts of Enid’s story: amongst the sea of middle-class, wealthy female cricketers that populated the sport up until the 1980s, she was the exception to the rule.

Throughout the text, there runs the theme of barriers to Enid’s cricketing journey which she had to overcome.  At Dartford, we learn, she overcame serious injury – “wounds on her ankles that turned septic” – before being able to return and qualify as a PE teacher. Cricket in her world was “unladylike” and she tells of not being able to teach it at school after she qualified as a teacher for this very reason: unperturbed, she formed an after-school club to teach the girls in her own time.

Motherhood, too, failed to get in the way of Enid’s dreams of playing for England: according to Sweetman she was still playing cricket at 5 months pregnant with her first, a daughter, who she left behind while still a toddler to go on the 1968/9 tour of Australia and New Zealand. It was time well spent: that was the tour that made her name as an international cricketer, during which she became the first cricketer to score 1000 runs and take 100 wickets in the same tour.

Enid’s close relationship with her father shines throughout the text. Thomas Turton, we learn, “had studied midwifery in case of need” when his wife became pregnant with Enid – not something one might have expected from a miner in the 1940s! Clearly supportive of Enid’s journey to the top levels of women’s cricket, he was himself at one time the president of the East Midlands Women’s Cricket Association; and when Enid became involved in politics later in life, elected to Ashfield District Council, she makes it clear that she was following in her father’s footsteps.

At times there are frustrations, particularly for the historian. Sweetman is above all a statistician, and his high regard for numbers means the text is populated by long lists of scores that break up the flow of the text, sometimes without proper contextualisation. It’s mentioned, for example, that Enid played cricket for the “Green Circle”, without any explanation as to what this organisation might have been (I was already aware that it was a reunion club for WCA members who had travelled overseas: other readers might be somewhat puzzled).

This also means that any controversy is quickly glossed over: the 1977 affair whereby Rachael Heyhoe-Flint was dismissed as England captain and became embroiled in a huge falling-out with the Women’s Cricket Association is dismissed in a few lines. One feels that Enid is rather let off the hook in the chapters on the “rebel” women’s tours to South Africa in the 1980s in which she participated, in flagrant disregard of the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement. Sweetman quotes Enid unproblematically saying that conditions in Soweto were “not as bad as the press made out”, an interpretation that is somewhat hard to swallow.

There are a couple of glaring errors, too, that I’m surprised weren’t picked up pre-publication: Sweetman claims that the 1968/9 England Women tour to Australia and New Zealand was the first in 20 years, when in fact they had toured there in 1957/8. He also suggests that South Africa’s last women’s Test was staged in 1961 when in actuality they have played plenty more in the modern era, the most recent in India in November 2014.

But ultimately the book, which concludes with Enid’s induction to the ICC Hall of Fame in 2012 alongside Brian Lara, itself serves as another form of recognition for a woman who undoubtedly deserves it. As such, it’s well worth a read.

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