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Anya Shrubsole gives up trying to catch up, but will always be at the head of the pack

England seam-bowling great knew the time was right to step away

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Anya Shrubsole's six-for secured England the World Cup in 2017  •  Getty Images

Anya Shrubsole's six-for secured England the World Cup in 2017  •  Getty Images

In the lead-up to the Women's World Cup, one passage of play was broadcast on loop, in England at least. It was Anya Shrubsole's match-winning performance at Lord's in 2017 as the hosts defeated India in the final to lift the trophy. Upon taking the final wicket - Shrubsole claimed a tournament final record 6 for 46 - she runs down the pitch, arms outstretched and looking skyward in triumph, shouting "yeeeeesssss!" Even to a neutral observer, it doesn't get old: the exhilaration, the excitement, the undeniable warmth of feeling towards someone who had played a blinder.
But, in the aftermath of England's failed title defence against Australia less than a fortnight ago, another series of images endures. With England nine wickets down and still needing 79, Shrubsole joins centurion Nat Sciver in the middle. When she sends the fourth ball she faces high into the air towards mid-off, Ash Gardner claims a comfortable catch, letting out a jubilant scream at the precise moment you can see - even feel - the hot pinprick of tears appear in Shrubsole's eyes. By the time the camera pans back, Shrubsole has pulled her helmet so low over her face she has almost achieved her aim of disappearing, although the burning flush of emotion is still visible on what little skin you can see.
It was to be her last moment on the world stage that, in her words, had delivered "many ups and downs" in an illustrious 14-year career.
On reflection, as she stood there seemingly frozen in time, Australian players haring around on fast-forward to congratulate each other, Shrubsole's reason for announcing her international retirement on Thursday, sounds apt: "To have been involved in women's cricket at a time of such growth has been an honour but it has become clear to me that it is moving forward faster than I can keep up with, so it is time for me to step away."
Not that this particular game had got away from her personally. Shrubsole had been the pick of England's bowlers, taking 3 for 46 against an Australia side led by their indomitable top three with Alyssa Healy's 170 the highlight. The fact that Shrubsole's haul was half that of her effort five years prior served as another reminder of the gulf that now exists between Australia and the rest of the world.
There were to be more tears as she and Sciver trudged into the comforting arms of their team-mates and, after Shrubsole announced her retirement, the tributes flowed too. Many used the hashtag #ThankYouAnya to express their gratitude on Twitter less than 24 hours before another of England cricket's great servants, Joe Root, resigned as Test captain.
"One of the very best to play our game. An absolute privilege to take the field with you and I'm going to miss all the jokes from mid-off. Congratulations on an incredible career... you should be incredibly proud," wrote team-mate Kate Cross.
Sophie Ecclestone, England's premier left-arm spinner, added: "One of the greatest of all time, thank you for everything you did for me and the game! Good luck on your new adventure"
While for Root the writing was on the wall after England's 1-0 series loss in the Caribbean - if not before, in the aftermath of their Ashes drubbing - there were signs Shrubsole may be nearing the end of her international career last year. Sciver took over as England vice-captain when Shrubsole was sidelined for the tour of New Zealand in early 2021 with a knee injury, and was awarded the role permanently ahead of the home summer, beginning with the Test against India in Bristol.
Shrubsole played in that match and all three ODIs against India, but her last T20I appearances remain against West Indies during their post-lockdown series in Derby in late 2020, when she took one wicket from four matches. She did not play either of the first two T20Is against New Zealand towards the end of last summer before winding up on crutches for the third at her home ground of Taunton, having sprained her ankle in training. She recovered in time to play the fourth and fifth ODIs against the White Ferns at the end of September.
Shrubsole took one wicket in the drawn Ashes Test at the start of this year and two across the three ODIs in Australia before finishing with nine wickets from eight World Cup matches, where she had an average of 26.66 and an economy rate of 4.68.
As England began their remarkable World Cup revival from three straight losses with victory over India - their first of five wins on the trot to reach the final - Shrubsole's 2 for 20 made her the only England bowler to bag 100 wickets in both women's ODIs and T20Is.
Aside from her memorable performance in 2017, Shrubsole had many more. Her 5 for 17 against South Africa at the 2013 World Cup kept England's tournament hopes alive, and her 3 for 11 against the same opponents at the 2018 T20 World Cup comprised a hat-trick, no less, to help propel England into the semi-finals. That was six years after she recorded her best T20I figures with 5 for 11 on England's 2012 tour of New Zealand.
In eight Test appearances, her best figures of 4 for 51 came during the 2014 Ashes, when she claimed seven wickets for the match, which England won by 61 runs.
Her lethal inswingers troubled batters throughout, accounting for the dangerous Laura Wolvaardt and Lizelle Lee in England's World Cup semi-final victory over South Africa last month.
Still only 30 years old, Shrubsole will continue to play domestic cricket in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, Charlotte Edwards Cup and the Hundred.
And as thoughts return to last year's sight of Shrubsole hobbling round the picturesque home of Somerset, the county she first represented at the age of 12, memories abound of admiring talk of her wonderful cricketing brain, an asset many in the game are keen to call on still. Clare Connor, ECB managing director of women's cricket, made a point of saying upon Shrubsole's retirement announcement: "...we look forward to retaining her expertise and passion as she embarks on her next chapter".
Watch this space.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo