Let us have the experiment

“My guess is that women will improve if they compete directly against men, that it is worth a trial and that, protected by body armour and a helmet, no one will get hurt. It might even persuade manufacturers to experiment with better material for gloves, says Ted Corbett.

I have just realised that I ought to be leading the debate about women trying their luck in men’s cricket. I have actually played in several mixed matches and, believe me, it was not a lot of fun, for the male side in particular.

I was growing boy of 12 and a member of The Junior Boys’ XI. We did not get much in the way of match practice because my rural grammar school was more than 30 miles from the nearest neighbour so the headmaster arranged for us to play The Senior Girls plus one.

Mr R. C. Shorter — yes, one doesn’t need to be a specialist in nicknames to understand what naughty 12-year-olds called him behind his back — devised the game and he was always the Plus One. As well as being the loud-mouthed umpire.

(This tiny man had been a hero and won a medal in the First World War, come back to teaching and decided he would have no corporal punishment in his school but he learnt high class shouting instead. I was not sure the shouting was kinder.)

In his version of boy-girl cricket the batsmen had a stump to score their runs and the bowlers were given a tennis ball which Mr Shorter — left handed at tennis, right handed at cricket — could make swing and swerve and spin so fiendishly they reminded you of his English grammar posers and as soon as I made an appearance at the wicket he put himself on with a cry of “You’re supposed to be able to play, Corbett; see if you can cope with a Senior Girl.”

I remember being bowled by one I left alone and caught behind off a full toss. I was no better at that form of cricket than the head’s other crazy invention — indoor cricket, played with a ruler, a wastepaper basket and a table tennis ball in the assembly hall on rainy days.

After the outdoor version of Shorter’s Cricket he would make a rare appearance at Assembly and announce that the girls had won again and he used to read out the scorecard with suitable comments. “Corbett hits the ball into the allotments against his own sort — can only manage a tickle to the keeper against the girls. Is he frightened of the girls?”

It was always the worst day of the summer — little lads being pummelled by the brawny sixth formers and told they would never make cricketers until they could play all forms of the game.

That is why I had a lot of sympathy for Mike Atherton, 15 years ago, one night in New Zealand, when he took part in an early form of T20 in front of a huge crowd, all stoking up on beer, sausages, hamburgers and other picnic goodies, in a mixed match.

I am afraid I could not take it too seriously but soon after I arrived Atherton was caught in the deep and the press box went into the sort of frenzy that happens were Mike Gatting is bowled by the ball of the century from Shane Warne.

You see — the catcher was a girl.

I am not sure whether Michael — not a drop of sexist blood in his body — was aware of the gender of the catcher until he was confronted by her identity at a press conference afterwards.

He laughed it off but somehow the booming voice of R. C. Shorter stuck in my head for a day or two afterwards and I was glad for once I was on the outer looking in rather than the victim.

Now the subject of Men v Women is everywhere thanks to a wish from a few England Test players to turn out for Sussex and debate on a pretty low level is underway.

Would a girl in country cricket be able to cope? Would a 6ft 6in fast bowler like Steve Finn dare let the ball go full pelt if a petite blonde was wearing the pads? Would a tough batsman line up cover point and drive the ball through her, just to prove how tough he was?

It reminded me of similar, historic discussions. The Victorians worried about train travel when, as they began to run in the middle of the 19th century, it was thought people would not be able to breath at 40 miles an hour.

Remember that until 50 years ago girls were not allowed to race more than 800 metres in the Olympics lest their delicate frames collapse under the strain. Now in marathons they put together times just as memorable as those recorded by men.

My guess is that women will improve if they compete directly against men, that it is worth a trial and that, protected by body armour and a helmet, no one will get hurt. It might even persuade manufacturers to experiment with better material for gloves.

In my long life mixed snooker has been much discussed and although the ideal of a girl playing snooker sounds attractive it has never taken off. Girls’ football has its own audience and is much more law abiding than the men’s game. A pal of mine left men’s Rugby to watch the female version and, of course, women’s tennis is a global attraction.

So let us forget the quibbles and have the experiment. So long as R. C. Shorter is not both umpire and 12 {+t} {+h} girl against the men.