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From friendly knockabouts to a second Ashes series win in the space of six months. It's been an action-packed time for England allrounder Nat Sciver
March 17, 2014
Whenever an exceptional talent comes into the sporting world, the temptation is to look for the story. Not so much the pleasantries of why they play the game, but the extra, grimy bits. You know, the backstory that turns a vigilante billionaire, with time and army-grade trinkets at his disposal into the Dark Knight. A compelling fable that speaks of a past that serves as a well of emotional fuel for the toils of top-level sport.
For England allrounder Nat Sciver, that moment may have been the passing of her beloved rabbit, Floppy.
The scene is Poland, where Sciver grew up between the school years of six and nine. Central Europe is on the cusp of winter; in the space of a week, summer turns to winter with little fuss, and temperatures fall dramatically from 30 degrees to minus 20.
"We kept the rabbit outside for most of the summer," remembers Sciver, with a glint in her eye and fondess. "I sensed it was starting to get cold: 'Ermm, mum - we should probably bring the rabbit in.' The next morning, I went out to feed it and it was just stuck there, not moving." Sciver crooks her neck and cocks her elbows, clenching her fingers into the tops of her palms to resemble paws. She then scrunches her face into what presumably resembles Floppy's final expression. "It was traumatic."
In truth, it was not a vow to avenge the demise of Floppy that set Sciver on the trail she now blazes. Quite simply, it was the desire to excel at one sport.
Originally it was football, which she first played in Netherlands as part of a mixed team. She kept it going upon moving to Poland, before taking up tennis, which she enjoyed before a pushy coach soured her affection for it. Cricket was her third choice.
"I can't really say that, as I've gone and played for England now, can I?" she asks. "I have always been a very active person, so I needed something to do - a sport to be competitive at. It was only when I came to England that I started playing cricket. My dad played at school and throughout university. Every summer after he left he'd have this weekend where he would get back together with his mates and play.
"I used to go along with him, but they don't like it much when a girl bats. Particularly when she does as well as I do!"
From friendly knockabouts to a second Ashes series win in the space of six months. It's all happened so quickly for Sciver.
Making her senior England debut against Pakistan at Louth in July 2013, she earned the Player-of-the-Match award in her second outing against the same opposition for an impressive 3 for 28 on her university ground at Loughborough. She then played five of the six limited-overs matches of the summer's Ashes series, seeing out the third T20 with a finisher's knock of 37 not out.
Prior to the winter tour of Australia, Sciver became the first English cricketer to take a T20I hat-trick, completing the feat during the tri-nation match against New Zealand in Barbados.
Then came an Ashes defence, and her first taste of Test cricket. "How great was that?!" She's a fan.
And who wouldn't be after that match at the WACA; ebbing and flowing into a final day before England won and secured the six points on offer. Sciver's contribution to the match was a notable one, coming into the England first innings at 96 for 4 and taking the score to 189 before she departed for 49.
"It was annoying to get out so close to a fifty and fall short, especially after batting for what, like, a thousand balls . But it was just amazing. Every day, a different team would be on top. I was quite nervous during day four when [Ellyse] Perry was in and threatened to take the game on her own. She showed later in the series just how destructive she can be."
The opportunity for this chat comes in the aftermath of England's defeat in the final T20 of the Ashes tour, at Stadium Australia in the Sydney Olympic Park. England have already won the series and at the end of the game are presented with the trophy.
|What strikes you with Sciver is her humility and exceptionally dry wit. She's funny and engaging enough for you to forget you're talking to a 21-year old, jugging studies - she's currently in her final year of a sports-science course - and the demands of international cricket|
Sciver has just excused herself from the raptures of her family, who have been here for the duration, aside from her mother, who had to return home for work the day before this match in Sydney. An employee at the foreign office, it is Nat's mum's work that had her jumping from country to country (Nat was born in Tokyo).
It's hard to imagine her kicking up a fuss about uprooting. What strikes you with Sciver is her humility and exceptionally dry wit. She's funny and engaging enough for you to forget you're talking to a 21-year old, jugging studies - she's currently in her final year of a sports science course - and the demands of international cricket.
Paul Shaw, head of England women's performance, believes Sciver will be the best allrounder in the world in 12 months. Sarah Taylor rates her the most naturally talented player she has seen. Sciver seems to take all the comments in her stride, swatting away praise while appreciating it. Our chat is broken off for a young girl who has been waiting patiently for the last five minutes, desperate for a lull in conversation to ask for Sciver's autograph. "That's always pretty cool," Sciver remarks later.
In the second ODI, at the MCG, Sciver played the innings of her career so far. Coming in with 116 still needed, and a required rate of near 7, the game had been set for an England fall. To be honest, Australia should have won at a canter, but Sciver's thumping shots, particularly through midwicket, shook them.
As partners fell at the other end, Sciver recognised it was almost entirely down to her, and batted smartly to retain as much of the strike as she could, then making it count. It was compelling to watch and she was rewarded for her application with her first half-century for England.
She was unable to finish the job, becoming the final wicket to fall, 27 runs shy of the target. Another partner or two and she would probably have finished the job.
"Honestly, I couldn't tell you what I was thinking in the moment - I just zoned out. It's probably my main strength - coming in and taking advantage of the licence to hit boundaries at the end of the innings. In our team meetings we talk a lot about responsibility and players taking that responsibility to bat all the way through or take wickets. When more wickets fell, I had to take it upon myself to be the person at the end. To be honest, I'm a bit pissed off I couldn't finish it.
"That being said, I did quite enjoying paddle-sweeping Ellyse Perry, twice."
The next port of call for Sciver is the World T20, her first international showpiece event. The intervening period consisted of course work and enhancing her boundary options, which she feels need reassessing on slow, unfamiliar Bangladesh wickets.
England are one of the favourites for the title they won in 2010. They also arrive buoyed by the announcement that the team will become fully professional. A few days earlier, the Chance to Shine programme reached the 1 million mark in terms of girls benefitting from the scheme since its introduction in 2005. Women's cricket in the country is at an all-time high in terms of stimulus and financial backing.
Thanks to players like Charlotte Edwards, Sciver has the opportunity to play most of her career as a professional. The tireless work of those who came before her is not lost on Sciver, but there is still plenty work to be done for the women's game to attain the extra credit it deserves.
In Australia, England were presented with the women's Ashes trophy, with nothing but the blaring of a nondescript dance tune. No fireworks, no ticker tape - they were not even called up individually, despite the two-and-a-half hour gap between theirs and the men's T20 later in the evening.
They promptly vacated the stage, which was packed up quicker than it had been erected, leaving Giles Clarke to amble around and hand out medals individually, like a geography teacher accounting for his class on a field trip. It left a bad taste in the mouth.
Sciver had a theory: "My guess would be, had it been the Australians winning, they might have had a bit more fanfare. Ah well, it's okay - I took a massive divot out of the field earlier, so they were probably upset about that."
Nothing seems to faze this young woman. She is a fearless new talent who is more than capable of taking women's cricket further forward in their exciting new world.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala