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It's Sticky Wicket As Women Aim To Join Old Boys

Vote this month may open doors of exclusive British cricket club. Now, about that 17-year waiting list even male prospects face....

In the leafy London suburb of St. John's Wood sportswomen are knocking ever more insistently on the door of one of England's last bastions of male exclusivity. Their bid to gain right of entry to the Marylebone Cricket Club is much, much more than a local matter.

When England's cricket teams tour internationally, they do so in the colors of the MCC. The club's ground - known as Lord's - is the world's most famous venue for what for centuries has been known as the sport of "flanneled fools." And because the English invented cricket, Lord's is widely seen as the world epicenter of the game.

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If on Sept. 28 the women get their way in a vote of the entire 17,500 MCC membership, and end 211 years of males-only dominance, they will deal a palpable blow on behalf of their gender. But, judging by dozens of furiously worded letters to English newspapers, they may also persuade many male MCC members to quit the club in a mixture of sorrow and anger.

The vote on the issue will be the second this year. On Feb. 24, 56 percent of the members opted to let women join the club. But that was well below the two-thirds majority required. In the meantime, the MCC has been under pressure from Prime Minister Tony Blair's government to hold another ballot.

In a letter to London's Daily Telegraph, David Heald, an MCC member for 17 years who resigned ahead of this month's vote, typified the fury of many members. He said Mr. Knight and the committee were "posing as gallant Lancelots." But in reality they were "abjectly bowing to the diktat of political correctness."

But mercenary motives have entered the membership debate, and they appear to favor the ladies. Last year the MCC was offered 4.5 million ($7.2 million) in national lottery money for building a new grandstand at Lord's, but was told that to qualify it must drop its all-male rule. The MCC committee is now reminding members that if they vote for the status quo they will be saying goodbye to the lottery money.

Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, a former captain of England's women's team, had her application to join the MCC seven years ago turned down flat. "It is terrific to see two votes on this in one year," she says. "I shall wait with bated breath."

Ironically, waiting may turn out to be the salvation of the stalwarts against women. From a tactical standpoint, their resignations would seem to be premature. Even for men wishing to join the MCC, there is a 17-year waiting list.

That means that if there is a two-thirds "yes" vote later this month, it will be the year 2015 before the first woman passes through the hallowed portal of the Lord's pavilion.

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Bid to join London's Marylebone Cricket Club seen as more than a local matter.

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