Janette Brittin: Star of England’s World Cup-winning cricket team

Jan Brittin bats during a one-day match against Australia at the County Ground in Derby in 1998. Picture: Craig Prentis/Allsport
Jan Brittin bats during a one-day match against Australia at the County Ground in Derby in 1998. Picture: Craig Prentis/Allsport
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Janette Brittin, MBE, cricketer and coach. Born: 4 July, 1959 in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. Died: 11 September 2017, aged 58.

Janette ‘JB’ Brittin, England’s all-time highest international run-maker and highest ­century-scorer, played a pivotal role in England’s 1993 Cricket World Cup triumph over New Zealand at Lord’s; she was the tournament’s leading run scorer, with 410 in eight innings and top-scored with 48 in the final while also ­taking the winning catch. A talented sportswoman, she also played international hockey for ­England.

Having already played in the 1982 New Zealand Women’s World Cup, she was a stalwart in the side featuring in a ­further two – 1988 Australia and 1997 India – and in later life played a vital part in developing and promoting women’s county cricket, particularly in Surrey as a coach.

Former New Zealand wicketkeeper Ingrid Jagersma described her as the “Jonty Rhodes of women’s cricket” due her concentration when batting but particularly “her fantastic fielding”.

Perceived as “quiet and unassuming”, in a career spanning almost 20 years, Brittin scored 4,056 runs – with 1,935 in 27 Test matches and 2,121 in 63 One-Day Internationals (ODI); her five Test centuries are the most in women’s Test cricket history and she was England’s most capped player and the world’s second most capped player behind New Zealand’s Debbie Hockley.

She did, on occasion, have a fiery temper when frustrated with her own performance. This was highlighted in one match against Australia, angrily swinging her bat at a group of players after they goaded her while indicating the route back to the pavilion.

Debuting for Surrey in 1976 alongside the pioneering Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, Brittin demonstrated grace, timing and concentration with the bat from an early age, as well as her trademark drives and, in addition, she was a brilliantly athletic cover fielder.

Brittin’s first Test series against the West Indies at ­Canterbury in 1979, was Flint’s last. She played in both ­women’s Test Matches staged at Guildford CC in 1996, opening the batting and scoring a memorable 146 against ­Australia.

However, she called time on her career after the 1998 ­Ashes match against Australia at Worcester, when her opening partner was the 18-year-old Charlotte Edwards, now ­England ­captain, who described her as “my idol growing up”. Other future England stars who also played were Claire Taylor and Clare Connor, now the director of England Women’s Cricket.

In her final series and as the oldest player, at the ripe old age of 39, Brittin amassed an impressive 450 runs at an average of 112, and her Test best of 167 came at Harrogate in her penultimate match.

Despite all her successes, Brittin’s highlight was playing in the 1993 World Cup final at Lord’s, the home of cricket, where a few years earlier women were not even allowed in the pavilion; females were finally allowed to become members of the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1998/99.

Of the match, she reminisced: “Never before have I gone out… with tears in my eyes, caused by the wonderful ovation from the members who lined our path through the Long Room, followed by the crowd’s reception as we walked out to the middle.”

Born in 1959 in Kingston-upon-Thames, Janette Ann Brittin was the only child of Kevin, a materials clerk at the aircraft production ­company Hawker Siddeley and a former Tottenham Hotspur junior footballer, and his wife, ­Maggie, a comptometer (adding and subtracting machine) operator.

Brittin attended Fleetwood Secondary School where she showed ability in a number of sports; she regularly played with a tennis ball for hours at home. Following a trip to a fête where the local cricket club had a stall, she was invited to Tadworth CC, where she played her first game for the club aged 13. Shortly after her 16th birthday, she opened the batting for the England ­Junior Women’s team. Soon after, she headed to Chelsea College of Physical Education, in Eastbourne, where she was fast-tracked into the full national side.

After her international cricket debut, batting at No 7, she slowly made her way up the batting order, eventually playing in her preferred position as opener. In 1984, she scored a sensational unbeaten 144 at Headingley, Leeds, against New Zealand. In the six matches, three Tests and three ODIs, Brittin notched up 600 runs, and found herself on the cover of The Cricketer magazine, an unprecedented honour for a female player at the time.

Upon returning from an overseas tour when she was younger, Brittin received an offer from Lord King of Wartnaby to work in the ­British Airways sports department at Heathrow; she accepted and remained there for next 25 years while also playing sports. She then returned to teaching and took up a coaching role at Danes Hill School, a prep school in Oxshott, ­Surrey, leading them to a national under-13 hockey title.

Despite never playing hockey at school, when younger, Britten had joined Chelsea hockey club and was an immediate success slotting in as a defender. During the late 70s, she played in the European Club Championships in The Hague, after winning the inaugural national clubs title the previous year. In 1980, she joined Ealing HC, enjoying further success and representing Surrey, the South and the England indoor team,­­ ­winning three caps in 1987. Her athletic prowess came to the fore here too when she ­regularly replaced the goalkeeper for penalty shootouts due to her lightning reflexes and agility.

Brittin once declared that one of the greatest thrills about playing hockey for England was “lining up before matches with the national anthem being played. It’s something we never did in cricket”.

One commentator asked, “With a player of such outstanding ability, what might she have achieved if she had played in the professional era?”

In 2000, she was made an honorary life member of the MCC. In retirement, she took up golf and won trophies off an eight handicap at the Pyecombe Club in Sussex.

Brittin died following a battle with cancer. She is survived by her parents and her partner of more than 25 years.

MARTIN CHILDS