A-levels to Ashes
Teenage Sophie Ecclestone signs up for duty
For Sophie Ecclestone, the game of life trumped the game of cricket when it came to World Cup selection this year. But having completed her A-levels rather than lifting the trophy with England, the left-arm spinner is more than eager to make up for time lost in the middle.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph as the Women’s Ashes moves from white ball to pink in the one-off Test of the multi-format series from Thursday, the 18-year-old looks right at home in an England shirt, commanding immediate respect from her Australian adversaries.
“We all came to the decision,” she said of the education-first approach taken, precluding her from turning out in the triumphant home tournament. “I will have to have a career after cricket so to have my formal education done means I can just concentrate on my cricket.”
In this era of professionalism for women in the game, that she can. Almost all of this side began their journeys as semi-professionals at best, balancing conventional careers with cricket. Now, it is only a matter of time before Ecclestone earns her first full-time England contract.
“It’s quite unbelievable to have kids come up to me and ask for my autograph and know what my name is,” she said. “It feels a bit unreal.” On the available evidence of six internationals played in three different countries, she had better get used to it.
It was a major call for team management to dump the experienced Laura Marsh in favour of Ecclestone, the former an integral member of the side that won the World Cup. But they know the latter is a match-winner.
This was highlighted in her one-day international debut last year in Jamaica last October. On that occasion, Ecclestone picked up both West Indies openers, vital in England’s ability to defend a paltry 149.
Fast-forwarding to last week, she learned of her Women’s Ashes call-up the night before the second ODI, told she would partner fellow Lancashire player Alex Hartley as England’s newest spin twins. “I couldn’t sleep that night,” she recalled.
Earlier in 2016, Ecclestone’s T20 debut came two months after her 17th birthday. She looked the part immediately on and off the field, speaking enthusiastically to reporters. She doesn’t lack for confidence. “I am definitely out there,” is how she describes her personality.
While at the bowling crease, comparisons to Kiwi champion Daniel Vettori are natural for the height she delivers from, typically coming around the wicket. “It is so nice being compared to people like that,” she said. “I looked up to him when I was younger.”
The comparison extends to the variety she offers as well. It was a stealthy arm ball that earned Ecclestone her maiden Ashes wicket, shooting through the defence of Australian opener Alyssa Healy when she was well on the way to three figures, hitting the top of off stump.
“I was buzzing with it to be fair,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe that my first Ashes wicket was Alyssa Healy’s. To know I had got her out, with a good ball as well. It just makes me happy and my family proud.” Family forms a major part of Ecclestone’s life so she is thrilled her parents are en route to watch her Test match debut.
Paul, her dad, is a life member of Alvanley CC in Cheshire and has packed his St George’s flag with the club’s name emblazoned across it.
As is the case for many women in this England side, her father and brother introduced her to cricket. After coming through the ranks at Alvanley, Ecclestone made history as a 15-year-old, chosen in the men’s First XI. Sure enough, she began with a match-winning three for 15.
On this tour, Ecclestone has another family to support her too: the Lancs girls. With Kate Cross added to the squad, it makes three. That swells to four if counting Sarah Taylor, who represents the county in the T20 Kia Super League competition.
“I am so lucky to have them here,” she said. “I wouldn’t have met them had I not been playing cricket. So to have my best mates that I can travel the world with is just amazing.”
Yet for all the glamour of travelling the world playing cricket for a living, she can rely on her pals from school, now studying at university, to keep her grounded as she makes her way.
“They give me some stick saying that I just play cricket while they are working hard so they can get a good job,” Ecclestone said.
“They can’t believe that I am playing cricket and travelling the world. But they support me all the way. It is just a dream.”
One that has only just begun.
Testing time: Sophie Ecclestone took her A-levels rather than go to the World Cup