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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Jonathan Liew

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

end.”

Sleight of hand: Natalie Sciver plays her trade­mark ‘Nat­meg’ be­tween her legs

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