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Sciver's story

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Nat Sciver was four months old, an English baby born in Tokyo because of her mother's job in the UK diplomatic service.

Her father, in the best tradition of proudly embarrassing dads, likes to recall the story of how someone rolled a football towards the tiny girl as she lay on her back. Surprising everyone, she kicked it back firmly. Surely, then, she was always destined for a sporting career.

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At 12, Sciver was back in England for a stint at home between her mother's postings to the Netherlands and Poland. From that innocuous first encounter with a ball, her interest in sport, spurred on by a natural athleticism, had grown. Football was a favourite pastime, as were netball, basketball, hockey and tennis (she was selected for junior regional squads in the Netherlands); and her father's long-held interest in cricket - he was a keen club cricketer and once trialled for an England school boys' side - was having an effect. That summer, Sciver packed up and set off for camp in Yorkshire with her brother and sister.

"There were all sorts of sports," says Sciver, speaking in Australia ahead of the Women's Ashes series. "You could basically choose your activities - drama and dance and all that kind of thing, but I chose cricket on the first day. There was an Australian guy who was coaching and I had a go in the first session and I enjoyed it so much that I went back every day, wanting to get involved."

That Australian was from Perth, she recalls, though the hazy fog of childhood memories frustratingly obscured his name. Her parents remember, though, and after a week, when her mother, Julia, came to collect her from the camp, Ross Stephen - that Australian guy - told her Natalie Sciver would one day play for England. Surely, then, she was destined for a cricketing career.

Of course, once they have come to fruition such proclamations are readily glimpsed in history's rear-view mirror. At the time Sciver didn't pay much attention to Stephen's prediction and cricket remained one of many pastimes for a teenager who was juggling sport, school and life between England and Europe.

As with a few other currently successful female cricketers, Sciver's skills and competitive nature were tested and honed playing in a schoolboys' side. As a 14-year-old, when she was studying at the co-educational Epsom College in Surrey, she rocked up to her first nets session and promptly bowled one of the most experienced batsmen in the boys' side: she was in. While the school had a girls' team it rarely played any matches and Sciver was hungry for more. But while a naturally shy and reserved Sciver felt fully accepted by her team-mates on the field, there were unavoidable logistical challenges.

"Playing in a boys' team was fun but it was difficult at times because you travelled away to schools where they didn't expect you to have a girl in the team, and so the changing rooms situation was you know, they'd all go into the changing room and I had to run off to the girls toilet, put my whites on and run back over and go out with the team," Sciver says. "But they were all very supportive and always had my back. The opposition hated it if I got them out. I was more of a bowler in that team because I could swing the ball and they really hated getting out to a girl.

"I guess they were surprised, most teams we played, but after we played and I'd shown my skills, they were less surprised and more accepting, or they'd just give me a bit more respect. But when I'd go in to bat I'd get a bit of chat about being a girl and things like that, so I guess I had to be a bit more resilient."

Her shyness and reserve - her father, Richard, puts it down to extreme modesty - made each step up to a new team particularly intimidating. After attracting attention playing for Surrey Women's first team, the soft-spoken teenager was selected to play in the junior super fours - the best county players divided into four teams.

"That was a very daunting thing to do because I didn't know anyone. I must have been very quiet and didn't really speak to anyone and just kept to myself.

"From that I got to play in the senior super fours, which was a step up and you were playing with current England players and the better girls out of that bunch."

In the senior competition, the 17-year-old suddenly found herself padding up and nervously walking out to the middle to bat with Claire Taylor, one of England's most feted batters.

"I hadn't really followed women's cricket that much. Obviously, I knew that she was one of the best batters around at that time.

"So I was just batting and I hit a shot but it was to a fielder, so obviously I didn't run. I didn't say anything because that's what I was used to. She came down at the end of the over and said, 'Look, mate. You're going to have to call, even if it's not a run.' I said, 'Okay, okay, fine!'

"I guess socially it was the same. Being with new people and in a new environment, I just hadn't really found my feet. So it was very scary."

But her fears were hardly debilitating; Sciver made a half-century in that same match.

She was still finding her voice on and off the field, and Sciver's international career started quietly, with one wicket and three runs on her England debut, in an ODI against Pakistan in 2013. In an established batting order dominated at the top by the likes of Charlotte Edwards, Sarah Taylor and Lydia Greenway, Sciver started batting at eight, though she soon moved into the more established allrounder position of six.

The theme of her first few years was one of obvious potential not quite fulfilled. Often not required to bat, or limited in her options when she did, Sciver posted just three half-centuries in her first 20 ODIs, all played before 2016.

When England exited the 2016 World T20 to a backdrop of harsh criticism from new coach Mark Robinson, the subsequent shake-up led to the departures of captain Edwards and the experienced Greenway, and also pushed Sciver front and centre in the new line-up. Promoted up the batting order first to three and then four, the transformation in results and runs was clear.

From her debut until the start of 2016, Sciver had scored 342 runs in 14 ODI innings, at an average of 34.20 and a strike rate of 90.47. She had no centuries to her name and, while she had struck 36 boundaries, had never hit a six in the format. From after the World T20 to the conclusion of this year's World Cup, Sciver scored 864 runs in 21 ODI innings, at an average of 50.82 and a strike rate of 110.2. In that period she hit two centuries and six fifties, though the most notable stats are for her boundaries: 90 fours and as many as 15 sixes.

From the moment she bludgeoned a breathtaking 33-ball 80 against Pakistan, in her second innings after the WT20 reshuffle, all mention of potential disappeared. This was the arrival. There was a mental shift; batting up the order she was learning to shore up her defence and construct an innings. She developed release shots and widened her scoring zones, increasingly hitting down the ground rather than favouring midwicket.

Now Sciver is, along with the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Meg Lanning, leading the next generation of female power-hitters, who are key in attracting new audiences.

Richard never doubted his daughter's athletic prowess but once she started playing more seriously, even primarily as a bowler in a boys' team, her naturally powerful batting set her apart. "When I saw her playing in a team for the first time it was obvious to me that she was hitting the ball harder than anyone else," he says. "You could see that she had the timing and she could smack the ball, even in the backyard. It also suited her temperament; she enjoyed smacking the ball hard."

One reason her ability to clear the rope has dramatically increased may be the fairly recent changes in strength and conditioning coaching for women. When Sciver first entered the England set-up, strength training was a comparatively lower priority than time in the nets. Players mostly performed perfunctory exercises that reflected the still amateur status of the women's game.

"When I started, we'd do lunges [in our strength and conditioning training] because you'd obviously be lunging when you bat and things like that," Sciver says. "But these days it's more power exercises, so stuff like power cleans [an explosive barbell lift which builds full body strength and power], which is more whole-body not just one movement.

"I think that's because it's more important than just having strong legs - so whether you can have that strength throughout your whole body during movement and how much power you can put through the ball using your whole body. It's not just about your arms or your legs."

Perhaps because of her enhanced batting responsibilities, Sciver's bowling hasn't developed equally; her average has risen slightly and her strike rate more, from 28.1 to 36.7 over the same period in which her batting figures improved so dramatically. But she remains a key member of England's attack and her natural athleticism has now established her as one of the best fielders in the world.

Women's cricket is still finding its voice within the sport. Comparisons to the men's game remain common and perhaps even understandable, as new audiences look for barometers. Few people can liken current players to those of the past because hardly anyone has seen them, not to mention the fact that strength and power in the women's game has developed so rapidly in modern times such comparisons may be unfair, so instead commentators turn to male equivalents. It's easy to see why, when coverage increased exponentially in the 2017 World Cup, that Sciver was suddenly England Women's Ben Stokes. Not because there is any similarity in their batting or bowling techniques, but rather because of their shared prodigious all-round talent, the ability to break open a match, and the flexibility they give selectors.

The World Cup had many moments; the Rumi-reading cool of Mithali Raj; the giant-slaying innings of Chamari Attapattu; the destructive and audacious power of Harmanpreet; and Anya Shrubsole, arms spread wide, celebrating her match-winning wickets in the final at Lord's. Sciver had her own, including two centuries at better than a run a ball. But it was the nonchalant way in which she executed the draw shot, a deliberate on-side clip between her legs, that cemented her place in the tournament's highlights reel. Very few players have a shot named after them: time will tell if the Natmeg becomes a lasting addition to cricketing vernacular.

In the ensuing media hubbub Sciver demurred when asked to demonstrate the Natmeg, unwilling to make a fuss over the shot. Perhaps that boils down to the fact it didn't emerge from a desire to entertain or innovate as much as the simple need to overcome a potential technical flaw. Sciver has a naturally wide stance, the base aiding her balance and power. But it also makes her occasionally vulnerable to a well executed leg-stump yorker. Essentially the Natmeg was an unorthodox defensive response that didn't require her to change her stance; she could rely on quick hand-speed. The agility with which she executed it, not to mention the chutzpah to pull out the shot in a high-pressure situation on the world stage, caused a fuss Sciver would rather ignore.

"I don't really take much notice of articles or things that are written about me," she says. "I don't go searching for them but I do sometimes see things that are tweeted at me. I don't like to read much stuff about myself."

When England last played an Ashes series in Australia, in 2014, Sciver had barely been in the side for six months, but there were glimpses of what she would become. In her Test debut, at the WACA, when England were 96 for 4, Sciver contributed 49 runs in a vital first-innings partnership with Arran Brindle in an eventual narrow victory.

"Each day a different team looked like being on top, but also then it would change," says Sciver. "The media manager, Beth Wild, would have a press release all written up and all fine to go before five o'clock, and then that last hour would just change everything each day. It was crazy.

"It was a great Test to be part of, really. I remember that partnership with Arran. Annoyingly, I got out on 49 and I didn't really think I was out but to just get out there and experience Test cricket for the first time and experience the WACA and the heat and all that comes with it, it was a great start to an Ashes series."

This time the Test will be played on the east coast, at North Sydney Oval, but Sciver will journey west after the series to join Perth Scorchers for the WBBL. The move from Melbourne after two seasons with Stars will give her more time to spend in a city where she hopes she can track down the man who successfully predicted her future 13 years ago in Yorkshire: Ross Stephen.

"Maybe this article will help me reconnect," says Sciver. "My mother has been trying to find him but it hasn't worked so far."