Katherine Brunt March 8, 2010

'I want to be the No. 1 bowler in the world'

Katherine Brunt nearly gave up on cricket before deciding to persevere on. She may not be the fastest but who needs speed when you've got wickets to show?

The 2008 World Twenty20 final. New Zealand captain Aimee Watkins, match-winner in the semis, comes to crease at the fall of Suzie Bates' wicket. She gets two runs off Laura Marsh and takes strike for Katherine Brunt's second over. The first ball swings in to the left-hander, who looks to drive but is beaten by the inswing and bowled. Brunt takes two more and New Zealand are all out for 85. England win by six wickets.

Brunt, the Player of the Match for her career-best 3 for 6, rates that wicket of Watkins as the best in her six years in the international game, but says she was lucky. "I knew she was going to come out very aggressive, and she took me on very first ball. If she had played defensive, she'd have been in, but she decided to go after me and it swung back in and bowled her," Brunt said while on tour in India. "It was probably the best ball I bowled all year - just happened to be at her."

Good fortune has been hard to come by in Brunt's career, though. As a teenager she nearly gave up the game because of her weight issues. Then in 2006 she suffered a career-threatening back injury that forced her to reassess her bowling priorities.

Brunt says she gets asked about her weight problem, and how she countered it, a lot. It is a compelling story. At 17, having played Under-15 and Under-17 for Yorkshire, she decided to give up the game because she was overweight and was not enjoying playing anymore.

"It was really hard [playing] as a teenager. There wasn't much help there in terms of nutrition and fitness. You were just left to your own devices." But being overweight and not playing was not enjoyable either. "One day I decided I didn't want to be fat and unfit anymore. I wanted to be lean like everyone else and fit and strong enough to be able to play international cricket. When I was large, I never wanted to be part of that - I wasn't confident. When I eventually decided to do it I lost it all in three months. The instant I lost the last of the four stone, I got picked for England straight away. So it proves if you want something bad enough, you'll get it."

Brunt clearly wanted that England cap badly enough, because a broken finger (2005) and a prolapsed disc (2006) didn't stop her from making another comeback. The latter injury did, though, stop her bowling at top speed. Even when she returned, she was haunted by the injury, wondering whether the next ball would be the end of it all.

"The first six months [after] I came back, I bowled slower and within myself. I didn't want to bowl that bouncer or quicker ball because that's how my injury happened - I bowled a bouncer at the captain, and although it was a good bouncer it wasn't good for me. It took me a while to bowl that quicker ball but it eventually came to me."

She got quicker but had to give up her dream of being the quickest. Brunt, who had a mixed action - "my arm was front-on and my feet were side-on" - reworked it during her rehab and returned as a side-on bowler.

"When I was a teenager I just wanted to be the quickest in the world. Now I'm 24 and I want to be the best bowler in the world. I want to be economical, I want to take loads of wickets, and I want to be the No.1.

"People can bowl as quick as they want but without control. I want to bowl controlled and with swing. And if you bowl quick you don't naturally get swing. Jhulan Goswami bowls up and down - she doesn't get much swing. That's because you either have to do one or the other. So she's quite aggressive and good with that and I'm good with my swing. I chose to do that but if I wanted to be quick I could."

After this tour to India she may never feel the need for speed again, having taken 10 wickets in five ODIs - including a career-best 5 for 22 on a slow Bangalore pitch. She got the ball moving early in the innings and reduced India to 16 for 4 in 6.2 overs. England eventually won the match by three runs but lost the series 3-2.

When I was a teenager I just wanted to be the quickest in the world. Now I'm 24 and I want to be the best bowler in the world. I want to be economical, I want to take loads of wickets, and I want to be the No.1

From here, Brunt will go to the West Indies for the World Twenty20 in May. And though a lot rests on her shoulders as the defending champions' strike bowler, England now have the strength to bear that burden. And if she fails, she has the mental strength and maturity to bounce back.

She also has a season of club cricket with her family to look forward to. As a youngster Brunt played with her father, and brother Daniel, in the Barnsley second XI. Her father, 63, is retired but has decided to pick up the ball again. Her brother, a batsman-keeper who got picked for Yorkshire but gave it up to play golf, will also play, so Brunt will return to Barsnley.

"I felt quite comfortable playing with boys more than playing with girls because they were tough. I grew up in a family of six, so I am used to not being noticed or getting beaten up because I am the littlest. I used to enjoy it with the boys and it probably made me a stronger character. So when I came to women's cricket I was a lot better for that."

Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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