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Can Issy Wong hit 80 clicks?

Meet the teenage Warwickshire player who might end up as one of the fastest bowlers in the women's game

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Getty Images

Getty Images

Issy Wong doesn't just make solving a Rubik's Cube in a matter of seconds look easy, she makes it sound like the simplest thing in the world too.
When a spectator at last year's Kia Super League Finals Day was spotted with a Cube - that 3-D puzzle that ranks alongside Pac-Man and Space Invaders as the quintessential icon of a 1980s childhood well spent - someone in the Southern Vipers' dugout dropped their team-mate right in the spotlight: "You should see Wongy, she can do it in 30 seconds."
So there she was, a teenager who had barely played a handful of games for the Vipers, on live TV, reeling her way through a complex puzzle as her team cheered her on. For the record, she solved it in 33 seconds, smashing her previous personal best of 35.
"I think we can call that performing on the big stage," Wong says with a laugh. "I was the most nervous I've ever been, I was shaking like a leaf in the wind."
Asked how she does it, she responds with the most astute of analogies.
"With most things, if you know what you're looking for, it becomes a lot clearer, so there's certain patterns, certain things you can look for, and once you see that, that's almost like a trigger for the next pattern of moves," she says. "Like in cricket, if you see a half-volley outside your off stump, you know the next step is a cover drive. It's almost the same thing but on a much smaller scale."
Wong is not just quick with a puzzle in her hand. Put a cricket ball in it and she is seriously rapid too. She hovers around the 70mph mark at the age of just 17, and has her sights set on going much faster.
"It's obviously a long way off at the moment, but the 80-clicks mark has never been hit by a girl yet, so it's certainly an ambition of mine over the next few years," she says. "Hopefully I can keep getting stronger, keep getting quicker. I just want to keep going, and that's in the back of my mind."
Clever, ambitious and precociously talented, Wong has created quite the buzz among some high-profile peers, and the excitable chatter accompanying her emergence on the elite scene has been recognised with a call-up to play for Birmingham Phoenix in the Women's Hundred.
There, presuming the tournament goes ahead despite the current uncertainty over what impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on the English season, Wong will be captained by New Zealand captain Sophie Devine.
"Issy Wong is a name that really stands out for me," Devine says. "I've heard a lot of her name thrown around the last year or two. Any bowler that can bowl at some decent clicks is certainly going to catch your eye over a lot of people.
"Word of mouth is that she hits the deck hard and hurries batters up, which I think is a really exciting thing in the women's game.
"We're seeing a lot more of it now - bowlers bowling with real pace. And she's certainly going to offer something slightly different for us in having that extra pace. She's obviously a pretty smart cricketer as well, so there's lots to work with there."
Born in London to English parents - her father has Chinese heritage - Wong acknowledges the cricketing traditions of her mother's native Yorkshire, but her only real connection with the sport lies with her grandfather "who played a bit when he was younger".
"When I was in trouble and it was a bit awkward, I always used to say, 'So Grandad, how's the cricket going?' to change the topic," she says. "But apart from that no one in my family really played."
The Wongs moved to Warwickshire when Issy was five, and she started playing the game at an after-school club. One of the coaches suggested she join her local club, which she did around the age of seven and from there she joined Warwickshire.
Progressing through the county's youth pathway, she was part of the Warwickshire women's side that lifted the county T20 trophy last year, and then she was named in the England Women's Academy squad.
Now in her final year at Shrewsbury School, where she became the first girl to play for the 1st XI in 2019, Wong plans to delay going to university so that she can focus entirely on cricket for a few years "and see where that could take me".
Paul Greetham, Warwickshire's high-performance manager, describes Wong as a "major success story" of the county age-group system.
"From a very early age she had this obvious desire to bowl quicker than anybody else, particularly, and as her batting's developed, she's learnt she can hit the ball quite a long way as well, so she's always had a bit of X-factor about her, and always shown a high level of ambition without coming across as arrogant or cocky," Greetham says.
"I can remember as a 12- or 13-year-old she was stating that she wanted to be the fastest women's bowler ever. She's always had that about her.
"The other thing that I think sort of set her apart is that she always seemed very comfortable playing amongst boys, and she wasn't just satisfied with playing alongside them, she wanted to beat them. I've always admired that about her."
A smooth run-up and energetic attack on the crease, combined with a good technical bowling action, lend Wong the speed that has so many people talking about her, but Greetham believes desire plays a big part too.
"Not everybody's got that," he says. "She still is a developing athlete. I genuinely think she can get close to 80 miles an hour at some point, and I don't think there has been a female seamer that has reached those heights. She's got that ambition to do it. "
Bowling aside, at this early stage of her career there is still the prospect of Wong developing into an allrounder given the enjoyment she derives from hitting the ball a long way and her lack of inhibition when it comes to hitting in the air.
"My batting is, um, hit and miss, I'd say," Wong says. "When it comes off, it's, I think the word is 'entertaining'. I'm certainly more of a bowler, but looking to keep developing my batting and hopefully develop into an allrounder as I get older."
Greetham believes her batting can reach a high level. "I think she's better than a lower-order batter," he says. "I think she could develop into definitely a middle-order batter, there's no two ways about that. She's got enough about her and she loves batting as well."
Should the English season get underway in some form or other, and the inaugural Hundred goes ahead as planned, Wong will have the opportunity to expand her cricketing education among some of the best in the business.
"It will be a big step for her in terms of who she'll be playing with or against," Greetham says. "Any 18-year-old would be relatively inexperienced, but the thing that she won't be is daunted. She'll just see it as another game of cricket and one that she wants to have an impact upon."
It seems Issy Wong is making something of an impact on the game as a whole already.