Cricket: Playing at Lord's

Cambridge University Cricket Club, Helen Webster

It’s the return to grass, rather than the arrival of swifts or swallows, that signals the approach of summer for Emmanuel’s second­ year engineer Helen Webster.

Charlie Troman for CAM

At the beginning of the Easter term, the current crop of 20 members of the Women’s Cricket Club get together at Fenner’s for Cricket Week. “It’s a week of intense training to sharpen up our fielding and make sure we’re ready for the season,” Webster explains. “We get some practice on the grass, which is a bit different from indoor nets during the winter. And we really enjoy getting back outside.”

Wicket­keeper and batsman Webster took on the role of club captain this year after a very successful 2011 season, which culminated in a win against Oxford in the 50­over Varsity Match at Lord’s Cricket Ground. “Last year we bowled Oxford out for just over 50 and then knocked off the runs pretty quickly. Two of our bowlers took nine wickets between them – they were on top form,” she says.

Indeed, playing at Lord’s – as well as beating Oxford – was one of the highlights of her first year. “Varsity was on one of the hottest days of last year,” she remembers. “When we arrived at Lord’s, England captain Andrew Strauss was having a net on the nursery ground with Graham Gooch – you get a feel for the prestige of the place. It’s the home of cricket. It’s a privilege to play there and we’re very fortunate they invite us in.”

Despite the sport’s elegant image, it is the tension and team work that Webster appreciates. “It’s such a great game, and it’s never decided until the final ball’s bowled,” she says. “It’s a game that can swing very quickly from one side to another and everyone needs to be at their best to pull off a win. You can’t just rely on one or two people, because if an opening batsman gets out, the rest of the team has to step up and score runs as well.”

But it is her brother she has to thank for first getting her interested in the game. “I went to a girls’ school where cricket wasn’t really on offer, but when my brother started going to our local cricket club, I wanted to go too. He seemed to be enjoying it a lot and it looked fun.”

Even though Webster has 10 years of cricket under her belt, the women’s club at Cambridge welcomes those who have never picked up a bat, as well as more experienced players. “We always want to encourage new people to play,” she says. “It’s an easy way to get into the sport compared with joining a local club, which can be quite intimidating because everyone’s good. And because the Cambridge women’s squad is small, even newcomers to the game stand a good chance of making the team.

“The standard of men’s cricket at Cambridge is extremely high. While we might have a couple of players who aren’t very experienced, if they train hard, they can still make the Varsity squad – whereas in the men’s squad there are very experienced players who are still only in the second team,” she says.

Differences in power and strength, too, set the women’s game apart from its male counterpart. “You often see quite a high standard of technical ability in the women’s game because we’re lacking the brute force,” Webster explains.

“Because we don’t score as many fours and sixes, there’s a lot more running between the wickets, so you need a reasonable level of fitness. You’ve also got to bowl consistently good lines and lengths because unlike the men, we can’t rely solely on pace to get batsmen out.”

And coming as it does in the Easter term, the cricket season also provides welcome relief from revision. “It’s a really good way of escaping from the stress and hype of revising for exams,” she says. “I love getting out there – it’s a good break and relaxing, and the results of the cricketers last year show it doesn’t do any damage to your grades. You just need to hit the right balance.”

For more information about the Cambridge University Cricket Club, visit cucc.net/pages/women

This first appeared in the 66th edition of the Cambridge Alumni Magazine (CAM)