By Adam Collins
It started at Worcester. Not Nat Sciver’s one-day international journey – that had begun three years earlier – but the second act of a career that on Friday will see her capped a 50th time for England in the format. It was at New Road, on that Wednesday in June 2016, that at last it ‘clicked’.
It was the first week that Mark Robinson had coached the England women on home soil. He had already overseen one limited-overs series in South Africa and a poor World T20 campaign earlier in the year, but this was where he really took control. By pensioning off the champion captain Charlotte Edwards and fellow veteran Lydia Greenway, space was made for ‘Generation Next’ to flourish but it would all be for nothing if they didn’t. Not least Sciver.
Robinson had concerns about the physical fitness of the side but not his 23-year-old all-rounder, who was always built to clobber runs and bowl seam-up. For Sciver, the problem was confidence. All the parts were in the right places except the belief in her herself above the shoulders. So he devised a plan.
Against a modest Pakistan attack, Robinson ordered that the boundary ropes be brought in to the minimum distance they can be for a women’s international – 55 yards. It was going to look terrible on television (a game shown live on Sky) and was going to be criticised by people like me in print the next day. But he didn’t mind; for there was a method behind this. It was all about incentivising Sciver to trust her strength to take down an attack.
When she walked out to the middle, it was a bewildering oddity that the right-hander had never hit a six in 15 previous ODIs. By the time she walked off an hour later, with 88 next to her name in just 33 balls in a bombastic display of striking, she had six of them. Watching back the tape, for five of them, it wouldn’t have mattered if the rope was the full boundary at the Melbourne Cricket Ground such was the way she walloped.
England walked off with their highest tally in the history of 50-over cricket, making 378 for five. In their next rubber, they piled on another 366 for four as Sciver smoked 48 from 22 at the death, this time with the boundary line back where it normally would be. Her capacity to monster an attack was no longer theoretical, she had done it for England twice in a week.
Fuelled by this experience, she was the undisputed Queen of the World Cup. Sure, others finished with marginally higher tallies of runs but nobody left the tournament with their reputation enhanced more profoundly. Indeed, nobody went viral quite like Sciver did with the Natmeg draw shot, played both times that she raised centuries in the group stages (137 against Pakistan and 129 against New Zealand). When it mattered most, the composed 51 from 68 balls she made in the final of that competition at Lord’s was England’s top score and integral to victory.
— ICC (@ICC) December 7, 2017
Despite the fact that Sciver has experienced a drop in fortunes since that magical month, she still averages 40 since her awakening of two summers ago, clearing the rope 15 times in total across that time while maintaining a strike rate of 105. Correlation and causation are often hard to unstitch, but in this instance, Robinson’s hand in crafting the weapon he now has at his disposal is indisputable.
It is much the same for opener Tammy Beaumont. When the new coach took over, her international career barely had a pulse. As she told The Cricket Paper last year, she thought it may be no more. Having been thrown all around the batting order coming in and out of the side, she averaged 17 in 23 ODIs with an anaemic strike rate of 42. That afternoon in Worcester was the first time she raised three figures for England, the day after she raised her bat for a half-century for the first time. Her next innings at Taunton she went beyond 150.
When he arrived in the job, Robinson saw what he liked with Beaumont in the nets and told her, after such inconsistent opportunities, that she would be his opener. No caveats this time: she would get a proper chance. A little over a year later, she was the Player of the World Cup, her 410 runs more than any other player. All told, 29 games at the top for England under this regime has netted her 1,314 runs at an average of 49, striking at 79.
On Tuesday, with England needing to win to avoid a third straight ODI series defeat since the World Cup victory, Beaumont struck her fourth ton for England. It was an innings defined by her whirring legs between the wickets, resourceful strokeplay behind square and defiant drives after walking to the pitch of whomever was sending them down. As a senior player, she had to step up and did precisely that.
If it was Beaumont’s turn to make a mark on Tuesday, it is Sciver’s on the milestone game having fallen cheaply both times against the Proteas.
“I’d love to end this series with a good showing with bat and ball,” she said on the eve of the decider against the Proteas at Canterbury today. “It’s brilliant to see the team come back from the first defeat and to see Sarah (Taylor) and Tammy perform as excellently as they did throughout the World Cup.
“We were better in all departments. We knew we didn’t play well at Worcester, and that can happen. South Africa are a really good side and we always knew we’d have to be at our best. The performance at Hove was more like it and it would be great if we could continue that momentum.”
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