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Katherine Brunt will not go quietly

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'I consider myself an allrounder now' - Katherine Brunt (4:56)

Katherine Brunt speaks about her injury-ridden career, and taking her batting more seriously (4:56)

"I'm stubborn. I always make that choice to come back and not be quite done yet."

As Katherine Brunt details a timeline of her injuries through her 15-year-long international career, she gives off a sense of dispassion that may register as stoicism. Injuries, after all, have been a defining aspect of her playing days, though she has not allowed them to set the boundaries of the player or the person she has come to be.

Now, "at the tender age of 33 and a half", the wryness of her words complements the fortitude that has been a hallmark of her career as a stalwart of English cricket through three world tournament-winning campaigns in the years before and since the professionalisation of the women's game in that country.

That spirit came to fore during her remarkable comeback on the recently concluded tour of Asia that kick-started England's Ashes year. Returning to top-flight cricket after time on the sidelines, Brunt, one of two surviving players from England's 2009 limited-overs world tournament double alongside Sarah Taylor, turned back the clock at the Wankhede Stadium in the third ODI of the India leg of the tour. Her five-for and batting rearguard from No. 9 fetched her the Player-of-the-Match Award, and England their first win on the tour, setting them on course for a ten-match limited-overs winning streak, including back-to-back bilateral T20I whitewashes of India and Sri Lanka.

There were travails of mind and body to be navigated in the period ahead of that comeback. Twice in the space of four months last year, a long-standing back injury grounded Brunt. The first incident, which by her count was her fifth major injury since her England debut in 2004, came soon after the Kia Super League, and convinced her that her body was giving up. The second brought to an end her attempt to regain full fitness ahead of what she thought would be her swansong: "a good ending" at the first ever standalone Women's World T20.

"It just got to the point - something changed in my back," she says of the fifth delivery she bowled last November in a pre-tournament warm-up against India, in Guyana. "I didn't want to push myself to the point from where I couldn't come back." A scan later, her tournament was over before it had begun.

The roots of the problem, though, lay in her earliest days in the competitive set-up, when the game was still more than a decade away from turning professional.

"When I was 16," says Brunt, "I had a mixed action. I had not been seen by anyone in terms of bowling and how I aligned my body. It always looked like a good action, so nobody noticed it wasn't quite right.

"I had open shoulders, fairly front-on but very side-on. Obviously the twist in the lower back was quite extreme. Our physio at the time didn't know anything about anything - whether it be core stability or having the right sort of treatment. I've been struggling with my back since then. I have a slipped-disc bulge in my back, and I've had one or two bulges for the best part of 15 years now. It's something you [largely] feel while doing things."

It wasn't until the end of Brunt's teenage years that Paul Shaw, the former head of England Women's Performance, got a good look at her. Four months of drills followed, focused solely on getting her shoulders and hips aligned. "It was the longest four months of winter ever, but by the end of it, I had a proper bowling action," she says. "But the damage had already been done." The bulge in her disc had come about by then; it had become "a ticking time bomb".

In the aftermath of the flare-up of the injury during last year's World T20 warm-up, the problem was aggravated to the point where the bulge was affecting nerves in her spine. "At one point, I did end up in a wheelchair," Brunt says. "It wasn't the most fun experience of my life, and for a long time I had a lot of pain on my right side into my calf and sometimes to my ankle."

It pushed Brunt to a point where she began questioning the purpose of it all - "whether or not I could push through or whether at all I wanted to". But the time away from the game also brought some perspective. "These are times I try to learn from," she remembers telling herself.

Given her history of injury, the sight of Brunt on song, leading the England pace attack against India and Sri Lanka earlier this year, was one to behold.

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All guts and anger, there she was, fuming at unfriendly footmarks at the Wankhede, gobbling up India's top five to deny them a series sweep, then silencing a 5000-strong crowd in Guwahati when she became the oldest woman to claim a T20I three-for. Later, she would go on to pick up a total of five wickets in two appearances in Sri Lanka, although she was originally scheduled to return home after the India leg.

A part of her resolve to overcome physical distress, says Brunt, is down to having learned to face adversity head-on since she was little. The youngest of six siblings, she was bullied in school for being overweight, for being a loner, not having good fashion sense - as she recounted in a 2018 ECB documentary. Not that she was always at the receiving end: her nickname, Nunny, comes from the time she set off a fire alarm during a residential cricket course at Bendictine-run Ampleforth College.

"I had a lot of tough times as a kid, had a lot of things to fight for, and fight back at, which made me headstrong, gave me a lot of resilience," she says. "You don't really know that as you get older, but all that helps. It paves the way for who you are meant to be and how you go about doing things.

"For me, every time I've had a setback with my back, it's not been small, it's been quite major at times, you know - couple of surgeries. Having that [spirit] has helped me move on to the next stage, and having the will to do it all again, because you have that and [it helps when] you wonder if you can put yourself through all of that again."

The physical downsides aside, the injuries, over time, have robbed Brunt of some of the simple pleasures of life. Routine activities ("I can't go do some gardening") have had to be curbed. Squats in the gym have had to make way for leg presses ("I used to love to squat. I haven't for eight years"). Bending over to pick up her dog, Bailey (who died in an accident earlier this year) or holding her little nephews and nieces in her arms for long - they all became a strict no-no as she embraced a "life of small but smart adjustments".

"You still enjoy all the things in life, just within reason, while doing the things you love. Sometimes you think, 'Oh, I could do that, but I could also miss the next year of cricket if I did do that.'"

Aside from her own mindfulness about her body, Brunt credits her longevity, especially over the past five years, to the England team management, and particularly physio Susan Dale, "who has been man-marking me, and helped me achieve everything I've set out to do."

At home, in the house she owns - "Alan" - where she rents rooms out to fellow cricketers Natalie Sciver, Amy Jones, Beth Langston, and "a few tag-alongs", the support of her fellow inhabitants has been indispensable. "They're constantly dragging me out of any [unfavourable] situation that I find myself in," Brunt says. "I literally think I wouldn't be able to carry on if I didn't have them. I owe a lot to those girls."

Had it not been for those around her, she admits she might not have been able to be playing in what she describes as a "historically vital" phase in the women's game, when the opportunities available to female cricketers are tenfold as opposed to five years ago, in her assessment.

Speaking of which, does she perhaps fancy herself as England women's first female head coach?

"It would be lovely to see a female coach down the line," Brunt says. "In my experience, I've never really loved being the head coach. I love [providing] inputs and being able to have my own little thing. Maybe me being the seam-bowling coach? I'd love that. I'd love to mentor people, telling them things I wish people had told me at certain points in my career."

The England women's domestic game is due for a restructuring in 2020 - with the introduction of The Hundred - and Brunt believes more opportunities in coaching and cricket administration might open up for women. "There will be managers' roles, directors' roles - plenty of career opportunities. Not just things that you do on the side or a hobby but something you can make a living out of. And the opportunity to do it abroad as well - at the Big Bash or an IPL [for women]."

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Brunt hopes the next generation of coaching staff entering the women's game, regardless of gender, have the knowledge and skills to help young female cricketers taking up the sport avert a destiny like hers. It is a valid concern, given England are currently faced with putting in place a succession plan for the replacement of the likes of Brunt, while also tackling the injury issues of several promising young talents, such as spinners Kirstie Gordon and Sophie Ecclestone and fast bowler Katie George.

Mark Robinson, the England head coach, is hopeful of being able to groom youngsters in a mould similar to Brunt's, but he admits filling the hole left by his premier fast-bowling allrounder when she hangs up her boots will be challenging.

"She is a champion, and they come once in a lifetime often, don't they?" he says. "Katherine is a hard player to replace because she's never quite out of a match - she bats and bowls, and at times is the heartbeat of this team.

"With senior players, the thing that often goes is that enthusiasm - to do the hard yards, to do the rehab, do warm-ups and all those things that you have to do to get back from setbacks. Katherine hasn't lost that. She's a fantastic trainer, leads the group by example in terms of what she does in the gym and her determination to get back."

Having coached England to two straight world tournament finals, including a title win in one, Robinson takes heart from how his bowling attack as a whole is starting to come into its own.

"Anya [Shrubsole, vice-captain, and deputy to Brunt in the fast-bowling contingent] is leading in Katherine's absence at times. Nat Sciver has stepped up with the ball. We've got Kate Cross. There's Katie George - she was quite impressive this summer. Quite a long way off to fill the shoes of Katherine at the moment, but we hope that'll happen in time."

Less than a year out from the T20 World Cup, Brunt says she has no plans of stopping now. Especially in light of her evolution as a utility batsman. "In the last couple of years it's really been Mark Robinson seeing the batsman in me. He's honed me to get the batsman out of me, giving me the opportunities. Batting at No. 5 in T20s, and 6-7 in ODIs been awesome. I've absolutely loved the opportunity.

"Before those last two years, it actually felt I was a bit of a joke. Your opening bowlers aren't regarded as your batsmen, or people that can bat. 'Oh, we are into the tail-end now, the bowlers are in.' Do you know what I mean?"

This England collapse in Worcester last year against South Africa gives weight to Brunt's claim that her batting has been underrated. They slumped to 64 for 6 inside 17 overs, but Brunt, in at No. 7, batting as if all the demons had gone out of the track, smashed eight fours, top-scoring for the hosts with an unbeaten 72 - her career high score. The next best score from her team-mates was 19.

"We dug ourselves in a bit of a hole on a seaming wicket where we expected it to be a road," she says of the surface where she put together a knock that in her appraisal is "right up there".

"I'm a quite protective person at heart, I'll do anything to win, and I don't like to lose. So my protective side was like, 'I will die if I don't do something here.' I wanted to get ourselves to a total we'd not be embarrassed of on a tricky surface. We didn't deserve to be all out [for a low score]; we're not that team."

Much of the making of batsman Brunt 2.0, she puts down to three factors: "a) Me massively changing my mindset; b) Mark seeing that and exposing it; and c) just going and doing it, not being afraid to."

Although she still thinks of herself very much as a bowling allrounder, Brunt is delighted at her belated acceptance of her own batting skills. "[Initially] you kind of laugh at yourself, and you don't take yourself seriously. Over the years you totally believe you're not a batsman, which is totally ridiculous because it's your own choice.

"In the last couple of years, all the girls have completely changed my mindset. I'd be like, 'I can't bat in the top six,' and they'll be like, 'What are you even talking about?! You really are a batsman and you can do it.' So, slowly but surely, I've had that self-belief that I'm a batter, I can back myself as an allrounder."

Five shy of her 200th international appearance, with her name already up on the Lord's honours board for bowlers, Brunt wonders if her credentials as an England cricketer would have read differently had all of the factors now favouring her batsmanship aligned themselves earlier in her career. "I wish I had had that mindset ten years ago."

Perhaps she might have earned a place on the batsmen's honours board? Then again, for someone as unwilling to "be quite done yet", could that ever be beyond reach?