PLAYERS TO WATCH

Katie Whyatt picks her players to watch in this season’s Kia Women’s Super League, which begins today with a repeat of last year’s inaugural final between the Southern Vipers and the Western Storm


(Photo by Tom Shaw/ECB)

JENNY GUNN (AGE 31)
YORKSHIRE DIAMONDS

It could all have been so different. As the World Cup final at Lord’s ramped towards its conclusion, England needed just one more Indian wicket to win the trophy. Rajeshwari Gayakwad teed up England’s Jenny Gunn for what should have been the most routine of catches. But Gunn spilled it. It could have been a decisive moment – indeed captain Heather Knight later admitted: “It felt like Jenny Gunn had dropped the World Cup” – were it not for Anya Shrubsole’s perfect riposte, clean-bowling Gayakwad with the next ball.

All the while, however, Gunn was cool as ice. “It never got to me. I never felt like I’d dropped the World Cup. With their 10 and 11 [batters] in, I still thought we’d got it.”

Now, as the winner of two World Cups, Gunn can at last call herself her family’s most successful sportsperson. Why did it take so long? In most families, merely attaining professional status in a sport would be enough.
Not for the Gunns. Jenny is the daughter of former Nottingham Forest defender Bryn Gunn, who won the European Cup in 1980 under the leadership of the inimitable Brian Clough. Her response? “I’ve not given him any stick yet. It’s still quite impressive, winning a European Cup. It definitely helped having a sporting dad growing up. We’re a competitive family, and without them I wouldn’t be here.”


(Photo by Tom Shaw/ECB)

ANYA SHRUBSOLE (AGE 25)
WESTERN STORM

One of the more poignant moments of the World Cup came when Ian Shrubsole, father of England bowler Anya, tweeted a picture of his daughter, then ten, leaning over the boundary at Lord’s, dreaming even then of a day that would arrive sixteen years later. “@Anya_shrubsole 2001 – What a place!” he tweeted. “I’d like to play here … for England … in a World Cup final.”

It was some final, worth the wait in more ways than one. “I’ve never played in a game when you can’t hear the person fielding next to you,” Anya said of the packed house, at least half of whom were female, who watched her record the best bowling figures in a women’s World Cup final.

It was Shrubsole who salvaged a game that looked, inch by inch, to be slipping from England’s grasp. India needed 38 from 44 balls, with seven wickets in hand – a target they would be expected to reach without breaking sweat. However, Shrubsole produced a final spell that former England captain Charlotte Edwards described as “the performance of her life”. She took five wickets in 19 balls – including the World Cup-deciding wicket – and was deservedly voted player of the game.

The ten year old who had ventured to Lord’s to watch her father turn out for Bath in the National Club Championship, could surely never have imagined it would be her, all those years later, writing the most decisive chapter in English cricket history. Now, as she turns out for last year’s runners-up Western Storm, she will be seeking to write a few more.


(Photo by Tom Shaw/ECB)

NATALIE SCIVER (AGE 24)
SURREY STARS

Natalie Sciver, the 24-year-old Surrey all-rounder, has been described as “pure box office”. Judging by her performances in this summer’s World Cup it is not difficult to see why. Of all the superstars to emerge from a golden summer for women’s sport, Sciver is one of the most notable: the bruising runs, the combination of pure power with craft and guile, expertly diverting the ball between her legs with her signature Natmeg trick (more on this later).

Her itinerant upbringing played a key role. The daughter of a diplomat mother, Sciver was born in Tokyo. At the age of 12, she enjoyed playing football with grown women in Poland. There was a spell in Holland before the return to England. She dabbled in tennis, but noted: “The problem in tennis was that I wanted to hit the ball hard – but it just went out of the court.”

Sciver credits her nomadic childhood for her cool head, and Sciver is rarely given to nerves: she was one of the few England players who continued to use social media during the World Cup, apparently because “Katherine Brunt has a dog called Bailey and he has a Twitter account, which I am in charge of.” @BaileyBrunt’s Twitter bio, for those interested, reads: “Baller, lover of socks and apples.”

Like all superstars, Sciver has her own signature move, and it came while she was racking up 129 at Derby – and less than 24 hours after spending her free afternoon overseeing Bailey Brunt’s Twitter PR campaign. New Zealand’s Holly Huddlestone fired a yorker to Sciver’s back foot, only for Sciver to twist imperceptibly and knock the ball between her own legs with a sharp flick of her wrist. Players have been pulling off the draw shot for centuries, but the captivated Twitter-sphere immediately coined it ‘The Natmeg’ in her honour.

Sciver claims the move was more by accident than design – her wide stance only allows her to move her foot once, so she must readjust with her hands – but the raw talent and composure were clear.

Sciver has been hailed as the star to take the women’s game to new heights. And the Oval, where Surrey Stars open against Yorkshire Diamonds on August 13, seems a good place to continue the upward trajectory.


ELLYSE PERRY (AGE 26)
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING

Ian Botham was famous for combining a football career playing for Yeovil and Scunthorpe with scoring fourteen Test centuries and taking 383 wickets. Australian Ellyse Perry spent the first six years of her cricket career imbuing ‘all-rounder’ with new meaning. She made her debut for the Australian national team at sixteen. The following month, she made her international football debut for Australia.

Perry is one of the most recognisable – and marketable – athletes at home. Her records alone reveal why: to date, she remains the youngest player, of either gender, to represent Australia in cricket. She was also the first Australian to perform in both a cricket and football World Cup.

The balancing act continued for six years – Perry frequently negotiating fixture clashes – until then-Australia coach Hesterine de Reus suggested that she was not playing enough football to maintain world-class standards. But football’s loss was cricket’s gain. Perry is the ICC’s top-ranking ODI all-rounder, averaging more than 50 in ODIs and, on home soil, helped herself to nine national cricket titles in 10 years with the NSW Breakers.

Now gearing up for her second season with Loughborough Lightening, and still only 26, it is incredible to think of what Perry – and women’s cricket – will have achieved by the end of her career.


(Photo by Tom Shaw/ECB)

DANIELLE HAZELL (AGE 29)
LANCASHIRE THUNDER

It would be easy to forgive Durham-born Hazell for not quite understanding the depth and nature of the rivalry that separates the white rose from the red. She spent last year representing the Yorkshire Diamond side who finished next to bottom; this year, she will captain the Lancashire Thunder side who finished behind their neighbours.

But the significance of the leap across the border is not lost on Hazell, not least because her first match for Lancashire is a War of the Roses clash on Yorkshire soil. The TV cameras will also be in attendance. “I could hardly have a better one to start with – but I might keep myself in the [fielding] ring and not get too close to the boundary,” she jokes.

Hazell was first called up to the England squad in 2009, and formed part of the victorious Ashes squad. Back then, aged 21, she was the only female player in the Durham Senior League, representing Durham City. She played alongside her Australian husband, Shane, though she admits: “It gets a bit competitive when we are out there in the middle together. It turns into who can hit the ball the furthest – which is not ideal, at times.”


(Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images)

SARAH TAYLOR (AGE 28)
LANCASHIRE THUNDER

Sarah Taylor first made national headlines more than a decade ago, at seventeen, after invoking the wrath of MCC president and former cricketer Robin Marlar. Taylor’s crime – along with another future England cricketer Holly Colvin – was to turn out for Brighton College’s first XI, which was otherwise comprised entirely of boys. Marlar received widespread approbation when he said: “If there’s an 18-year-old who can bowl at 80mph, and he’s been brought up properly, then he shouldn’t want to hurt a lady at any cost.”

Both Taylor and Colvin subsequently became the youngest members in the travelling party to play India that August, and thus began the association with England that, for Taylor, continues to this day. But the road – though comprising almost 6,000 international runs – has not been straightforward. In May last year, Taylor bravely announced she had been suffering from anxiety and took an 11-month hiatus. At her lowest point she admitted: “Literally getting out of bed was the highlight of a day.” She added: “From a purely anxiety point of view, I’m not done at all. I’m not the finished article. Where I’m most comfortable is out in the middle: batting, wicketkeeping and being around the girls. I’ve made great strides to be able to be in the position I am now.”

Great strides in more ways than one. At the World Cup this summer, she and Tammy Beaumont set the record for the highest second-wicket partnership in women’s World Cup history, and Taylor’s innings of 147 was an ODI career best. She capped the summer off by helping her country to the game’s ultimate prize, and will continue to ride the crest of that wave when she turns out for Lancashire Thunder this season.


(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

TAMMY BEAUMONT (AGE 26)
SURREY STARS

Three years ago, Tammy Beaumont found herself at a crossroads. Then aged twenty-three, she had flown out to Bangladesh for the 2014 World T20 Cup. For Beaumont, it was a trying tournament, and she managed a paltry ten runs over four innings. The result? “I genuinely came home having doubts about whether I was good enough to be an international batter. Was I wasting my time?”

How close was she to quitting? Close. “Am I even good enough to be here? Why am I bothering putting in all the hard work if it never comes off?” Those were her words to England assistant coach Carl Crowe, discussions with whom, thankfully, offered some glint of optimism. The target was to be the world’s best opening batter. She worked closely with England coach Mark Robinson in the intervening three years and credits much of the turnaround to his unfaltering belief in her.

It was this summer that Beaumont fully erased the doubts. She shattered records like broken china: she set, with Taylor, the highest second-wicket partnership in women’s World Cup history of 275. With Natalie Sciver she put on 170, the record fourth-wicket partnership for the competition. Beaumont’s haul of 410 runs was the most from any batter and the player of the tournament accolade was inevitable.

Beaumont struggled domestically in 2016, failing to register a single half-century. However, with a World Cup winner’s medal round her neck, and the runs coming thick and fast, now is the perfect time to maintain her momentum into the Kia Women’s Super League.


You can find eight games of the Kia Super League live on Sky Sports and every round will be covered on BBC Test Match Special. For more information and to buy tickets go to www.ecb.co.uk/super-league

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katie Whyatt. Katie’s latest articles

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