Peggy Antonio was just 17 years old when selected to play for Australia in the very first women’s Test match. The factory worker with her infectious charm was an outstanding leg-break bowler who bamboozled the visiting England team with her bag of tricks.
Born on 2nd June 1917 in Melbourne, Victoria, Peggy was a leg-break bowler with a special talent. This young teenager went from working in a box factory in Melbourne to playing on cricket’s biggest stage. She made her debut for Victoria at the Australian Women’s Cricket Championships in 1932/33 against NSW in Brisbane. It’s a long way from home in those days.
In the first innings Peggy opened the bowling with Nell McLarty and took 2-18. In the second she took 4-36 including the wicket of Mollie Dive. In her second match at the same tournament the young leggie took 5-26 against Queensland.
Peggy’s First Class debut came the following season 1933/34 at the Championships in Sydney. Against NSW she took 3-25 and 5-16, including the wickets of future Test players Rene Shevill and Essie Shevill, Amy Hudson and Mollie Dive.
By the end of 1934 the England team had arrived. They had smashed every team they played. Then they got to Victoria and met Peggy. The teenager took 5-24 in the first innings and backed up with 5-24 in the second. She was immediately selected to play for Australia in the first Test match.
The Australians were soundly defeated in both the first and second Tests and Peggy, like most of the team had little to show for her efforts. On her home ground at the MCG for the third Test she took 6-49 and 2-55 to help Australia achieve a draw.
On tour for the series against England in 1937 Peggy was seen as a big threat according to England skipper Betty Archdale.
“It will be grand to meet Peggy again off the field, but I am not so anxious to meet her on. Small, dark, bright-eyed, red-cheeked and with a large grin, Peggy is an excellent all-round cricketer. Her bowling causes the most trouble to opponents, and I do not think we have any bowler as good in England.”
Peggy was quite an aggressive batter and that aspect of her game deserves a mention, for she opened the batting in the first Test with Margaret Peden on the basis of her good form earlier in the tour. At Northampton she made a duck in the first innings and 1 in the second. However she took 6-51 and 3-40 to bowl Australia to their first ever Test victory. In the second Test at Blackpool she took 3-34 and 5-31, while at the Oval just 2-56.
Following the tour Peggy stayed on in the UK to participate in Cricket Week and was selected to play in Myrtle Maclagan’s team. With Peggy opening the bowling from one end with her leg-breaks and Myrtle at the other end with her off-breaks, it was a nightmare for opposing batters and the two spin legends made merry against every team.
In six Test matches Peggy Antonio took 31 wickets at 19.90 with a best of 6-49, one of 3 five wicket hauls. With the bat, no doubt entertaining but a top score of just 37.