The term ‘batsman’ has been amended to the gender-neutral term ‘batter’ in the Laws of Cricket to stress the importance of the women’s game, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) announced recently.
As an avid cricket aficionado, I have been in recent times turning my mind over to the subject of cricketing nomenclature. In particular, I am greatly exercised over this tendency of our cricket correspondents and commentators going all gender-neutral, calling those who wield a cricket bat, men and women, ‘batters.’ Let me state my position, straight off the bat as it were, that I am not in favour of said mode of address. Call me old fashioned and conditioned, but as I see it, that is just plain batty. What is more, batter does not sound right. The resonance is simply not there. Cricket is an elegant and refined game. The word batter puts me in mind of inelegant things like a battering ram or the semi-liquid flour-mix which forms the cooking base for baking various items of confectionery, not forgetting our own staple idli and dosa. You cannot blame me if I cringe every time I hear Graeme Swann or Sunil Gavaskar going, ‘the new batter taking guard is Dhoni.’ This batter abomination has been going on for a few years now, tentatively at first and rapidly gaining momentum, but the final nail in the coffin was hammered, or rather, battered in by the MCC and seconded by the International Cricket Council (ICC) just a few days ago. From their lofty perch at Lord’s, cricket’s officialdom formally blessed the term batter, in the overall interests of gender-neutrality. Which pretty much seals the issue, regrettably.
Lest you, dear reader, should be under the false impression that I am some kind of MCP who hates the idea of women playing cricket, perish the thought. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am very much the preux chevalier in this regard. Women have been playing cricket since the mid-18th century, and the first officially recorded women’s Test match was played in December 1934 between England and Australia in Brisbane. They’ve been around, the cricketing ladies. I yield to no man (or woman) in my admiration for women’s cricket. The in-born grace and elegance they bring to the game is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Mind you, some of the girls from the countries who play the game at international level, have taken avidly to the gym – (weights, sit-ups, bench-presses et al) in right earnest and developed beefy physiques the better to batter the ball to all parts of the field. In particular, those from the western hemisphere who are preternaturally well-endowed. In contrast, petite sportswomen (sportspersons?) like our very own Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj are fine exponents of the delicate art of batsmanship. A subtle late-cut here, a delicate leg-glance there, a veritable feast for our eyes. And there, almost serendipitously, I chance upon my primary point d’appui. In the natural flow of my argument, I employed the term ‘batsmanship.’ Under the new dispensation, would that be considered an unpardonable solecism? Should I have properly said battership? I rest my case. ICC, what say you?
Now my mild rant against the use of the term batter will obviously raise hackles and the pertinent question as to how we should actually address girls who wield the willow. Fortunately, the term bowler is inherently gender-neutral anyway, so there’s no issue there. I think conventional wisdom avers that ‘batswoman’ or ‘batsperson’ is too unwieldy, and that we should arrive at a common terminology for both sexes. Well-intentioned which, as everyone knows, is also the road to hell. To draw on a parallel, has the corporate world agreed on what the Chairman of a company should be called if the post was occupied by a woman? My superficial research informs me that such a person is also widely referred to as Chairman! On occasion, Chairperson. Or simply, the Chair, and you cannot get more neutral than an inanimate object for sitting purposes. ‘The Minutes of the Meeting clearly states that the Chair was most displeased with the second quarter financial results, as she pushed her chair back violently and stalked off the board room to powder her nose.’ Bully for you, Madam Chair.
Here’s the thing. If I were sitting on the executive committee, or whatever it is called, of the ICC, the meeting might very well have proceeded on the following lines. The President or the Chairman (it is a he), would have called the meeting to order.
‘Gentlemen and Lady, since we have just the one present, we are called upon to take a decision on this vexed issue of the correct descriptor to be used to address women cricketers when they go out to bat. This will be viewed as a permanent guideline for cricket writers, commentators and the cricket world in general. After considering all options and painfully protracted deliberations, we have come to the conclusion that the term BATTER best meets the case. On the assumption that we are unanimous on this matter, I propose that we adopt this as a formal resolution. All in favour please raise your hands.’
I wade in here aggressively. ‘Not so fast, Mr. Chairman. You were too quick off the blocks to assume unanimity. I beg to differ. I think batter is such an ugly, unbefitting term. It goes against all the canons of this great game of cricket. It semaphores aggression and in time, will inculcate a crude and pugilistic mindset amongst our men and women cricketers, to say nothing of the boys and girls. God knows there’s enough adrenalin and testosterone visible on the field of play whenever a decision goes against a player. Must we encourage further pugnacity by using common nouns like batter with all its pun-induced negative associations?’
The Chairman was getting hot under the collar. ‘Do you have a better idea? It’s all very well for you to come over all high and mighty, but we have been threshing this subject out for three years now without reaching any positive conclusion. Batter is the one word that embraces both the sexes without the need for complex prefixes or suffixes. It is not only a better idea, but the batter idea. I am putting it to the vote.’
‘Just hold it right there Sir, if you please.’ It was me again, horning in. ‘Notwithstanding your better and batter idea, I have what I think is a fair suggestion. Which is that we continue to address the men as batsmen and you can call the women batterinas, which will subliminally remind us of graceful ballerinas. Come to think of it, all these years we called the ladies batsmen as well and they had no problems with it. Now all this neutrality shoo-sha has muddied the waters, and the ladies feel they should be called something else, and if batter is the best you can come up with, it’s just not good enough. Really! And kindly refrain from quoting out of context Shakespeare’s A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’
The Chairman then continued, ‘We are all impressed by your erudition, but why don’t we ask our sole good lady representative on the board what she thinks. Dear lady, can we have your considered view on the matter, please? Do you fancy batterina?’
‘Mr. Chairman, your rather patronizing way of saying “Dear lady” irresistibly reminded me of the fictional Sir Humphrey Appleby from the Yes Minister / PM franchise, but I am going to let that pass, like the idle wind. On reflection, I do rather fancy batterina, as suggested by our friend from India. I can even now hear Harsha Bhogle, “Smriti dances down the wicket like a ballerina and straight drives for four. What a batterina!” A novel, innovative and decidedly feminine term. The girls will love it. Let’s go for it, I say.’
‘We can’t just “go for it” dear lady, sorry, madam. We have to take a vote of all the members present and that is the only democratic way of arriving at a proper decision.’ Under his breath, the Chairman was heard hissing, ‘Batterina, my foot. Over my dead body.’
The vote was duly taken, the proposal to change the terminology to ‘batters’ was passed by majority vote with only two dissenters. That is how matters stand. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I shall continue to call male cricketers at the crease batsmen. I have yet to decide on the female of the species, but for the nonce I will go with batters, just to show there’s no ill feeling. If my writing and commentary contracts are all withdrawn as a result, so be it. See if I care.