Wisden Cricketers of the Year 2016

Anya Shrubsole

Anya Shrubsole, Chris Rushworth and Tom Curran celebrate their success at the PCA awards function, London, September 29, 2015
Anya Shrubsole, Chris Rushworth and Tom Curran celebrate their success at the PCA awards function © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Anya Shrubsole
Teams: England

Anya Shrubsole folds up five foot ten into the large marshmallow doubling as a chair in an ECB meeting room. It is lunchtime, and already she has done a couple of interviews to camera, been to the gym, grabbed a paper bag of food from Pret. This evening it is frock up and away, off to another December awards dinner.

It has been quite a year, one in which women's cricket in the UK was catapulted from semi-obscurity to front page - and Shrubsole with it. She was the face of England's World Cup success, belting the winning boundary in the semi-final against South Africa, then conjuring the best bowling figures - six for 46 - in a final.

That extraordinary Lord's Sunday in July, when the stands were packed with colour - vivid anoraks, brazen umbrellas - and women and children were everywhere; when the noise was swelling into every elbow and every knee, so that the players were deaf to each other; when, from the gloaming, with India ticking towards victory, Shrubsole produced her spell. Heather Knight had brought her back for the 43rd over, and her first two balls disappeared for four, but with her fifth she trapped the dangerous Punam Raut. It was the first of her five wickets for 11 in 18 legal deliveries.

In the penultimate over, so nearly there, India needed ten with one wicket in hand, and Poonam Yadav ladled to mid-off, where Jenny Gunn put down the catch. A ghastly silence descended, but Shrubsole was phlegmatic. "I had the ball in my hand, and I knew the No. 11 was on strike. I'd just got four quick wickets, and if you're not confident at that stage, I don't think you ever will be." Next ball she charged up, her fluid policeman-plod action at full surge, and yorked Rajeshwari Gayakwad. Lord's erupted. Shrubsole ran down the pitch and roared, arms outstretched, body arched, hazel ponytail hanging down, a symbol of female power echoing out to those watching girls: this game, this game is for you too.

ANYA SHRUBSOLE was born in Bath on December 7, 1991, and spent her childhood in the same city, in the same house, until she moved to Loughborough University to study psychology. She is the middle child of three, squeezed between older brother Tom and sister Lauren. Their postage stamp garden was the setting for hours of football, tennis, rugby and cricket - with four for a hit to the back wall, and one for hitting the cage of the guinea pigs, Joey and Chandler. Sam, her mum, looked on in resignation as her older daughter and husband Ian competed over absolutely everything, with sulks to match. Anya was an all-round sportswoman, swimming for her club and playing football for Bristol Rovers, but cricket came calling first, offering a clear pathway for progression.

By 12, she was playing for Somerset's first team, and age-group cricket for Somerset boys. There were comments, of course there were, but luckily she is "a water-off-a-duck's-back kind of person". She was the first girl to be selected for the Somerset Academy at 13, picked by Kevin Shine, now the ECB's lead fast-bowling coach: "She was so much better than any other girl - it wasn't even close. She was quicker, had more control, knew what she wanted to do and was incredibly dedicated." Education was at Hayesfield, a local state school. She loved the work, but didn't fit in. "I was leading a different life, because I was playing for England while others were worrying about fake ID."

There was a World Cup tour just before her A-levels, but she still managed an A and two Bs. Her England debut came in 2008 as a 16-year-old, and she won the match award in her first Twenty20 international nine days later, but injury slowed her progress. The fitness required by England was a shock, and she struggled. But in early 2012 she had a good tour of New Zealand, topping the Twenty20 averages with ten wickets at 4.80. Things started to fall into place.

The most important phase of her development, though, came on a whim during the World Cup in India the following year. It was February, and England were playing West Indies in Mumbai. The morning dew was still wet on the ground, and Shrubsole was trying her usual awayswing to two lefthanders, but the ball wouldn't deviate a stubborn inch. Despondent, she turned it round: "It hooped!" She took four for 21, then three for 24 in the next match, against Australia, and five for 17 against South Africa. "I bowl quite front on, so naturally I'm the inswing side of the ball. I fought it for years. What a waste of time!" She didn't look back: her 70mph induckers have become her most potent weapon.

The biggest slump came just before the biggest triumph - the early stages of the 2017 World Cup. In her first four games, she took a single wicket. She convinced herself she was going to be dropped, and it was only when coach Mark Robinson called her in and told her firmly that "she hadn't become a bad bowler over a few games" that the tide turned. At 26, the years ahead are rich with possibility. Her standing could hardly be higher. She won the 2017 CMJ Spirit of Cricket Award for her compassion in victory in that World Cup semi-final; was nominated for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award, coming top of the female contenders (who all finished in the bottom four - women's sport still has a way to go); and earned an MBE in the New Year's honours list.

If last winter's Ashes tour didn't go to plan, this winter brings the World Twenty20, not her favourite suit but her best: she was Player of the Tournament in 2014. She's intrigued by what the future will bring women's cricket, the new players that will emerge, the changes to come. She relishes the vicecaptaincy, and she and Knight make a terrific pair: the hey-hold-on-a-minute details woman and the action skipper. Shrubsole is not one for fuss. Her broad shoulders tether her to the things that matter: family, the team. The attributes that kept her going as a girl in a boys' team, a teenager in a women's team, an introvert in a team of extroverts, have helped her cope with the sudden fame, the nominations, the media. The future? Bring it on! But with a cup of tea first. She smiles, content to be a square peg, whatever shape the hole.

© John Wisden & Co.