Pioneering Ruth hopes the future remains bright for cricketers

Celebrating victory at Lord's
Celebrating victory at Lord's

There can be few better things in life than travelling the globe and playing the sport you love.

And for 82-year-old Eastbourne sportswomen Ruth Prideaux, that is exactly what she did.

Ruth (front left) with the World Cup winning squad of 1997

Ruth (front left) with the World Cup winning squad of 1997

Ruth was a key member of the all-conquering England women’s cricket team of the late 1950’s and early 60’s that toured, took on the world and, more often than not, won.

New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka were all dispatched along the way during a distinguished playing career. Ruth took a break from the game in 1963 where she got married and had four children. However, sport was never far from her radar and she returned to cricket as the England coach in 1987.

Ruth was a forward-thinking coach and was one of the first to apply sport science to elite level cricket. She brought in a backroom team that included, sport scientists, nutritionists, physios and sports phycologists.

All fairly standard in today’s sporting world but rarely seen in cricket in the 80’s and never before in women’s cricket.

A hugely-successful period in women’s cricket history followed and one that culminated in a World Cup triumph on home soil when England beat New Zealand at Lord’s in the final in 1993.

“We had a wonderful squad of players,” Ruth said. “The morale of the team was superb and they played some of their best cricket during that World Cup.

“To win the tournament at Lord’s was something very special and is an achievement we are all very proud of.”

Ruth retired from the international arena after the World Cup, moved to Eastbourne and began teaching sport science at the University of Brighton.

She was also regularly seen passing on her wealth of cricket knowledge around the local schools, at Eastbourne Cricket Club and at Sussex Cricket Club where she was a coach and a member of the committee.

Ruth added, “I started playing cricket at school but I also played all the games such as Lacrosse and hockey.

“I trained in Physical Education n and started taking cricket more seriously when I took up my first teaching post in Yorkshire. I was a wicket-keeper batswoman and was put forward for county trials.

“I suppose I did quite well and progressed on to England. I made my England debut against Australia at the Oval in 1957. I had a good eye for the ball and batted at number-three. I did well enough to keep my place.”

Ruth gave up her teaching position in Yorkshire and embarked on a six-month world tour with England.

She set sail and headed west across the Atlantic. They went through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean before dropping anchor in New Zealand for the first of their Tests.

The schedule also took in the South Island before heading to Australia.

Ruth said, “We played at the best cricket grounds in Australia. The SCG in Sydney, The Gabba in Brisbane and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. “We won every Test Match on tour. We had a few PE teachers in our team and we were a fit side. We always beat Australia back then.

After a short trip to Tasmania, the tour returned to Australia in the city of Adelaide before they boarded the Bone Shaker train which transported the team across the continent to Perth in Western Australia.

They polished off the Aussies at the WACCA Cricket Ground and it was back on board the boat for the long journey home.

They called in at Sri Lanka on the way for some more cricket before cutting through the Suaz Canal and back to the UK.

“It was a fantastic trip. We were young and enjoying our cricket and enjoying the feeling of travelling. It was a great time for us.”

A tour of South Africa followed in 1962-63 before Ruth gave up her playing career and married in 1963.

England continued to dominate women’s cricket in the 1960’s and amazingly went throughout the entire decade undefeated.

The current crop of players continue to shine and remain in a healthy position to inspire a new generation.

England Wome are the reigning World Cup holders after winning the tournament in 2009 held in Australia. They defeated New Zealand by four wickets in the final at North Sydney Oval.

They lost only one match in the tournament, against Australia, while they beat India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. Claire Taylor was the most prolific batsman in the tournament and Laura Marsh the most successful bowler.

Ruth, who is more likely to be found on the golf course these days rather than the crickets nets, added, “The women continue to do very well and it’s great to see so many Sussex players in the national side.

“If players can see local players doing well, it serves as a real inspiration.

“We need to get more girls playing cricket locally.

“The local clubs have to take the responsibility and help produce the top players of the future.”