The story when England announced its touring party for the series against Pakistan was that there was no story. The selections were predictable and well merited. The team’s front-line performers and immediate understudies proven or deserving the chance to prove themselves. Settled and experienced, the team could defend its number one ranking with confidence, without the distractions of debates over who’s in and who’s out.
One account of the tour party’s announcement diverged from this line. The commentator took a step back and saw the big news and called it a ‘silent victory’. I recommend you read that post now. It impressed me. It also gave me a context (and a title) for reflecting on a cricket experience of my own – local, narrower, but something that probably should also be seen as a victory. It’s a story I have told for laughs and gasps many times. There is something comic about it, certainly it has novelty, but it ties into a bigger story too. The novelty is captured in a couple of sentences.
Ten years or so ago, as the following season’s fixtures were being finalised, our captain took a call from the skipper of a team we had played a couple of times on our annual August Bank Holiday tour. Small talk, agreement of times and dates, and then this, “By the way, I’m not Andrew now, I’m Angela.”
Turning up at the ground six months later, we were curious and nervous. We didn’t know quite what to expect from our opposition, but we hadn’t avoided speculating. The previous couple of matches with Andrew’s side had been good natured. We hadn’t spent much time mixing after the games: the grounds they used didn’t have a bar; we were keen to return to our tour base; and our teams were of different backgrounds. But we shared a desire to play friendly, declaration game cricket, giving games to youngsters and extending the careers of oldies. And now, a new element had been introduced.
I sincerely believe we behaved well that afternoon, led by our captain, whose sincere charm has smoothed our way into and through matches across the country for over twenty years. Our whispers, “Is that him…her?” were discrete. The tea that day was provided by a friend of Angela, who was also going through a gender reassignment process. Angela’s friend was tall, of solid build and anomalous in a long, red frock. Our ‘keeper thanked Angela’s friend for the tea and was surprised to be told it was the last one she would be making that season as a trip to Hamburg beckoned: for further gender reassignment surgery.
A team of 30-something graduates, professionals, cosmopolitan and liberal – yet we felt a frisson and some awkwardness at encountering our unlikely opponent and his catering friend. Angela’s team, less educated, with more diversity in occupation and native to their market town, were relaxed. They played and chatted with Angela just as they had done with Andrew – following Angela’s instructions in the field and teasing her for ineffectual slow, looping bowling. They showed complete acceptance of their captain and the choice she was making.
Angela’s leadership of her team was a small silent victory of the sort David Mutton describes in his article on Steven Davies. Her courage and presence at games expanded the reach of tolerance in cricket.