A shot at glory England’s women take on India at Lord’s in the World Cup final
England all-rounder can unleash a whirlwind of interest by helping to beat India in World Cup final
Nat Sciver does not, if we are going to be perfectly honest, look like a woman about to play the biggest game of her life. Less than 48 hours out from a World Cup final at Lord’s in front of 27,000 people, England’s star all-rounder is cracking jokes, joshing with reporters and lamenting the shortage of decent builders in the East Midlands (“The one we want is going on holiday, do you know any?”). Simply put: where are the nerves? Where is the tension? Where is the terror?
When England’s band of sisters take the field at Lord’s in front of the biggest crowd ever to attend a women’s cricket match in this country, they have an opportunity not just to change the course of the sport, but of their own lives too. Of course Sciver is nervous. But at this stage, apprehension is running a clear second to anticipation.
In their way stand India, still bathed in the golden glow of their spectacular semi-final win over Australia in Bristol on Thursday, of Harmanpreet Kaur’s brilliant 171 off 115 balls. They have power and guile, youth and experience, one of the best batsmen of all time in Mithali Raj, one of the best new-ball bowlers of all time in Jhulan Goswami.
It is, in many ways, the perfect final: the game’s establishing power against its coming force. For India, a first ever World Cup could have the same transformative effect on women’s cricket as their World Twenty20 win in 2007 did on men’s T20, unlocking the passion and untapped potential of 1.3billion people, unleashing a whirlwind of interest that even the game’s ham-fisted administrators would struggle to squander.
England, for their part, also have a product to sell. And there are few better sales reps than Sciver: the diplomat’s daughter with a cosmopolitan upbringing, the multi-talented athlete who plumped for cricket, the high-octane entertainer who can bludgeon the ball straight or shuffle it between her legs like a sort of children’s party trick. (The “Natmeg”, it was dubbed on social media when she unveiled it against New Zealand last week.) She is the only woman in this World Cup to score two centuries. She is the only woman in one-day international history to average 40 at more than a run a ball. She hit the first ever six in the women’s Big Bash.
In short, Sciver is pure box office, and when England coach Mark Robinson describes her as “our Ben Stokes”, you suspect he means more than a handy contributor with bat and ball. It describes the journey of a maturing all-rounder not just exploring the faraway boundaries of her own talent, but coming to terms with her destiny: the thing in life she was put here to do, above all others.
For Sciver (pronounced Sivver), it is a journey that has taken her from Tokyo to Lord’s, via Amsterdam, Warsaw and Surrey. Her mother worked in the diplomatic service, hopping from country to country. Sciver reckons her baseless childhood helped her adapt, survive, think quickly on her feet.
“I’ve been to a few embassy parties where you have to smile and make small talk,” she says. “I’m good at mingling.”
There was an early sporting talent, too. At the age of 12, she was playing football with grown women in Poland. Tennis and basketball also caught her eye. But only cricket gave her the tactile satisfaction of belting something miles. “The problem in tennis,” she explains, “was that I wanted to hit the ball hard, but it went out the court. In cricket, you can aim for the boundary.”
When Sciver first made it into the England team in 2013, she found it hard to channel those natural impulses. Standing 5ft 10in with long levers and a skiddy bowling action, she had all the talent in the world, but little understanding of it. “She didn’t know why she was good,” says Robinson, who took over in 2015. “She’d do things very naturally, but not understand why she did them, so she couldn’t repeat them.
“She hits such a good ball that she overhits at times. She came with a vulnerability to full and straight deliveries, and we’ve done a lot of work on hitting down the ground. Now she hits powerfully down the ground, she hits powerfully square, and now we’ve talked about going up through the gears in an innings. She’s maturing all the time. And she’s such a quick learner.”
Sciver, meanwhile, is keen to deflect the credit back on to Robinson, and the atmosphere he has created in the side over the last year. This is one of the closest, tightest-knit England sides in many years, defined by their team motto, “No sister left behind”. Sciver is close friends with fast bowler Katherine Brunt, and the pair have even gone into the property business together, doing up old houses. Hence her hankering for a reliable builder.
It is three years since English women’s cricket took the plunge into professionalism. And the teenage Sciver who played in the boys’ team at Epsom College, getting changed in a toilet cubicle, would scarcely have dreamed that one day she would not only be able to earn a healthy living from the sport she loved, but buy her own house from its proceeds.
Now, the gates to cricketing immortality lie ajar. Victory would offer Sciver and her team-mates a volume of celebrity few female athletes in this country have ever experienced. But neither Sciver nor any of her team-mates are really aware of this. Knotted together in their happy bubble, all that really matters is the next game, the next eight hours, the next 100 overs.
“I’ve not really thought about the possibility of losing,” says Sciver. “I don’t want to think about it. It’s just an exciting time. Robbo is always saying that we’re on a journey. And it might not be the
Sleight of hand: Natalie Sciver plays her trademark ‘Natmeg’ between her legs