Wisden Cricketers of the Year 2016

Natalie Sciver

Isabelle Westbury

Natalie Sciver receives her first cap from Charlotte Edwards, England v Pakistan, 1st women's ODI, Louth, July 1, 2013
Natalie Sciver receives her first cap from Charlotte Edwards © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Natalie Sciver

Pick a stroke to define last summer, and few would quibble with "Natmeg". Pick a player, and you won't go far wrong with its exponent, Natalie Sciver, the linchpin of the England side which earned World Cup glory in front of a full house at Lord's. If the tournament proved a turning point for women's cricket, it was a coming of age for Sciver.

Her early international career had shown promise with bat and ball across all three formats - a true, and natural, all-rounder - but consistency had been elusive. Then, after four years without a hundred for England, two came along at once in 2017. Already boasting an ODI strike-rate of over 100, Sciver smashed 137 off 92 balls against Pakistan at Leicester. It was an innings described by captain Heather Knight as the best she'd seen - better even than Sciver's 80 off 33 balls against the Pakistanis at Worcester the previous summer. Two weeks after Grace Road came 129 off 111 against the fancied New Zealanders at Derby. To prove it wasn't all brute force, she then made awell-crafted fifty against India in the final to help deliver the World Cup.

"I feel I can now produce that kind of innings," she says. "Before, I had gone in, and just wanted to score quickly. But Robbo [England coach Mark Robinson] and the coaching staff have taught me a little bit of patience - taking the easy runs when they're on offer, but learning how to build an innings." For someone who has spoken about the difficulty of overcoming the selfdoubt and batting demons she feared would plague her game - "Am I going to get out? Am I even good enough?" - Sciver has flourished. It helps that under Robinson's guidance, England are more relaxed and assured than ever.

In a team of quietly spoken individuals - Sciver among them - she is able to channel her energy straight on to the pitch. While it's futile to compare women with men, the players themselves look to what they know. Growing up, Sciver dreamed of emulating David Beckham or Andrew Flintoff, while England team-mate Jenny Gun says of her batting: "She hits balls so hard, she hits like a man." Meanwhile, Knight had no qualms after that hundred against Pakistan in hailing her "our Ben Stokes", though Sciver is quick to point out that this is confined to the field.

The Natmeg, a deft clip between the legs, initially arose to overcome a technical defect: her stance is so wide she struggles to adjust her feet quickly enough against the yorker, finding it easier to flick her wrists instead. She was playing the shot during the inaugural women's Big Bash in Australia in 2015- 16, so the attention that came with it last summer took her by surprise. "I'd just scored a hundred against New Zealand, but no one asked me about that," she says.

"They only wanted to know about the shot through the legs." Sciver's story is so compelling because it mirrors the game itself. Just as the World Cup did more to raise the profile of women's cricket than years of hard graft by those before it, the Natmeg elevated Sciver on to a platform almost overnight. Richard, her father, tried to persuade his daughter to copyright the term. Typically self-effacing, she refused.

NATALIE RUTH SCIVER was born in Tokyo on August 20, 1992. If variety is the spice of life, Sciver's is a dish full of flavour. Her mother, Julia, is a diplomat, so the family travelled in Nat's early years, from Japan to the Netherlands, then to Poland. She didn't reach England until she was 14. She was raised amid an eclectic mix of sports, depending largely on what was on offer at the time: tennis (she couldn't stop hitting the ball out of the court), basketball, football, and only later cricket, which she finally settled on because she "got on more with the girls at the cricket club in Stoke D'Abernon". Sciver quickly made her way up the ranks from school (Epsom College) to county (Surrey). By the age of 20, she was playing for England.

She made her international bow as a skiddy, exciting bowler who could also drive the ball hard, very hard. And she showed early promise, taking three for 28 to win the match award in only her second game, a one-day international against Pakistan at Loughborough in July 2013. A few months later, against New Zealand in Bridgetown, she became the first - and so far only - English cricketer to take a Twenty20 international hat-trick.

Despite cementing a regular spot in the England side, there was a sense Sciver had more still to offer. Katherine Brunt - her team-mate, best friend and, of late, her landlord - has witnessed her growth. "For Nat, it has been a bit of a learning curve," she says. "She came into the squad while at Loughborough University and you know what that can be like - you're young, immature and having fun, not taking anything too seriously. But Nat was just going about it her way; being able to express herself has made her the player she is today. It's not like it didn't work for her previously, but it was a case of putting that all together and learning when to play shots and when to take risks."

A contract with Melbourne Stars saw her billed as one of the big names at the 2016-17 WBBL. She struggled with the bat, but the added responsibility and expectation meant that, by the time the World Cup came around last summer, Sciver knew exactly what she was capable of. As her father points out, it was her all-round package - as much as the batting feats and Natmegs - which did the job: three for three against West Indies, an athletic catch to prevent a near-certain six by Australia's Ellyse Perry, then the run-out of Indian captain Mithali Raj in the final. In years to come, perhaps the next Ben Stokes will be taking tips from Nat Sciver's highlights reel.

© John Wisden & Co.