In the 1980s, whenever an Indian team was doing badly, especially in Bangalore, the cry would go around, part-mockery, part-fantasy: "Drop so-and-so, and pick Shanta Rangaswamy." In those politically incorrect days, that call came with a dual message. It was like telling a batsman that he played like a girl (an insult to the batsman those days, but to the speaker these days). It was also an acknowledgement that Ms Rangaswamy was good enough as a batter and mediumpace bowler to play in the company of men.
Shanta Rangaswamy's role in changing the perception, especially among men, of women's cricket and women cricketers has never been given its due. In the early days of women's cricket in India, the response was rather like Samuel Johnson's analogy of a dog walking on its hind legs – not that it walked well, but that it walked at all.
Shanta was also the spokesperson of the sport, with a fine line in humour. Asked what the essential difference between men's and women's cricket was, she said, "Women don't wear boxes."
Yet, there was never any serious consideration given to Shanta Rangaswamy and others of her generation like Diana Eduljee, turning out for teams in men's cricket; certainly not at the first-class level but not in the local leagues either.
Women competing with men was, and remains, unusual except in chess. Judit Polgar, the Hungarian Grandmaster, was so superior to women players that she had no competition and quite early became a fixture on the men's circuit. Her record includes victories over Garry Kasparov and Vishwanathan Anand. Her older sister Susan first played in the circuit and observed that she never beat a healthy man. This was because every time she won, her male opponent would put his defeat down to a headache or a stomach upset.
Women jockeys compete with men, and as far back as in the 1930s, Babe Zaharias became the first woman golfer to play a PGA tournament. More recently, Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie have played on the PGA Tour. Professional basketball, professional hockey and the Indy 500 have all seen women competing with men. But these are rarities.
That puts into perspective England cricketer Sarah Taylor's possible debut for the Sussex second XI later this year. At 23, she is already being touted as one of the greats for her batting as well as wicketkeeping. Taylor's progress will be watched with a great deal of interest, both by the men's cricketing world as well as by psychologists and sociologists.
When she broke into the boys' team at school (Brighton College), Robin Marlar, the then MCC President called it "outrageous", arguing that fast bowlers would hesitate to bowl full throttle at her.
But women who play alongside men do not expect any favours. You only have to watch the mixed doubles in tennis to understand this. No man eases up while serving; no woman hides behind her gender. Still, it will be interesting to see how easily a woman cricketer is accepted in a men's citadel. Perhaps with more of them in a team, there might be a call for separate dressing rooms as in the days of the amateur/professional divide.
A woman playing a first-class match might be some years into the future. But already, Sarah Taylor's cover-drives have been compared to those of Hashim Amla and Ian Bell by Mike Selvey, who says she has a well-developed offside game.
As Selvey says in his column in The Guardian, "(Taylor's) dual skills as wicketkeeper-batsman are of a standard that might one day allow her to play first-class cricket. I don't see any female being able to make that level as a frontline batsman or bowler, but a wicketkeeper of her skills, with her batting ability, could be an asset in the late middle-order."
As women cricketers are fond of reminding us now and then, they had a World Cup two years before the inaugural men's event in 1975. The first double century in 50-over cricket was scored by Australia's Belinda Clark, more than a decade before Sachin Tendulkar got there. And the game itself was turned around by the woman who first bowled over-arm because her skirt kept getting in the way of under-arm bowling. Bowling as we know it today was the result of one woman's creativity. That might be apocryphal, but it is a story that deserves to be true.