Fiery Wong vows to smash the 80mph bar­rier

Pace has been the miss­ing el­e­ment in the women’s game, but a teenage English tal­ent looks set to change all that

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Nick Hoult CHIEF CRICKET COR­RE­SPON­DENT

It takes a lot to stop Issy Wong from smil­ing but there is no doubt the teenager has a nasty fast-bowler’s men­tal­ity. If she does ful­fil her am­bi­tion to be­come the first woman to hit 80mph, English cricket will have a star on its hands.

When asked if she likes hit­ting bats­men, Wong does not hes­i­tate: “Yes!” There is a slight pause. “Ac­tu­ally, that sounds re­ally mean. It is not al­ways a wicket-tak­ing op­tion, but if you can hit them, and they look hurt, then they are go­ing to be more tentative. I would not want to be a spin­ner when some­one whacks me over my head and then have to bowl it back on a spot again.”

Wong turned 18 in May and is al­ready op­er­at­ing at around 70mph. She bowled at the Eng­land women as part of their prepa­ra­tions for the se­ries against West Indies and was con­sid­ered for a call-up, but Eng­land de­cided to give her more time to de­velop and not rush her.

She is one of the first gen­er­a­tion of women crick­eters to grow up in the pro­fes­sional era, in­creas­ing her chances of reach­ing full pace with more time to work on her game and more in­tense coach­ing. She was awarded a pro­fes­sional con­tract for the West Mid­lands team, one of 40 to be handed out by the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board, and was drafted by the Birm­ing­ham Phoenix for the Hun­dred. She has trained with the War­wick­shire seam­ers at Edgbaston and, pre-Covid, was hop­ing to spend this win­ter in Aus­tralia, hav­ing put off univer­sity af­ter leav­ing Shrews­bury School, where she be­came the first girl to play in the first XI.

Pace has been the miss­ing el­e­ment in the women’s game, but the in­creased num­ber of pro­fes­sional con­tracts should re­sult in bet­ter train­ing, strength and con­di­tion­ing pro­grammes, nu­tri­tional ad­vice and more time to work on skills.

South Africa’s Shab­nim Is­mail has been recorded at 79mph and New Zealan­der Lea Tahuhu at 78mph. For Eng­land, Anya Shrub­sole is bowl­ing at around 67mph against West Indies, and it is a lack of pace that is used by crit­ics of the women’s game to tra­duce it as men’s cricket in slow mo­tion.

“Ev­ery­one talks about me reach­ing 80 miles per hour. It would be a re­ally nice thing to do but, at the same time, if I am go­ing to bowl bet­ter at 75mph, then so be it,” says Wong. “Only time will tell. I have a lot of grow­ing to do, a lot of strength to build and a lot of learn­ing to do. I have age on my side.”

She left a good im­pres­sion on Eng­land. Tim Mac­Don­ald, the team’s bowl­ing coach, is ex­cited by her tal­ent and am­bi­tion.

“When I first met her I asked her what her goals were, think­ing she would say play for Eng­land, but the first thing she said was, ‘I want to be the first English­woman to bowl 80mph.’ It was re­fresh­ing in a way and you just want to let her ex­press her­self,” he says.

“We are pretty keen to see what she can do. It is ex­cit­ing to see a bit of pace. The women’s game is dif­fer­ent. It is not all about raw pace but, when it does come along, it of­fers a point of dif­fer­ence. If we can har­ness her, keep her safe, her en­ergy

up and more con­sis­tent she is on the path­way to be­ing a good weapon for English cricket.” Wong’s fa­ther has Chi­nese her­itage, and two of her great un­cles played for Hong Kong. She took up the game at an af­ter-school club in pri­mary school be­fore join­ing Knowle & Dor­ridge Cricket Club in Soli­hull, where she was the only girl, be­fore pro­gress­ing through the War­wick­shire age groups.

“When I started to play, there was only one girls’ team in War­wick­shire, so play­ing with boys was my only op­tion. At a young age, there is noth­ing to stop a girl say­ing, ‘If they [boys] can hit it that far, why can’t I?’ Or, ‘If they can bowl that fast’ why can’t I?’ Boys cricket up to the age of 15-16 is a re­ally use­ful thing for any girls look­ing to push them

selves as far as they can.

“From five or six, I was not think­ing, ‘I can’t do that be­cause I am a girl and they are a boy.’ I just wanted to play cricket and beat them. I never viewed it as boys against girls. I just saw ev­ery­one as crick­eters.”

But did the boys see it the same way? “Get­ting hit on the head hurts your ego a bit. It shouldn’t, but teenage boys don’t tend to en­joy get­ting hit by girls or get­ting out to them. I sup­pose they would rather get hit than have their mid­dle peg re­moved.”

That com­pet­i­tive­ness took her down the path of want­ing to be a fast bowler.

“I re­mem­ber my first win­ter ses­sion in un­der-11s. There was a girl called Molly. She was the es­tab­lished open­ing bowler and I was bat­ting and she hit me in the head with a beamer. I re­mem­ber stand­ing there think­ing, ‘I’m go­ing to get her back.’ I like the pride of ‘I’m go­ing to bowl faster than them’ and it came from that.”

The Eng­land team could one day be thank­ful Molly bowled that beamer.

‘We are pretty keen to see what she can do. It’s ex­cit­ing to see a bit of pace – it of­fers a point of dif­fer­ence’

Prom­ise: Issy Wong’s raw speed ex­cites the Eng­land bowl­ing coaches

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