Match Analysis

Issy Wong rides the emotions as England sense their chance on rain-wracked day

England quick feared she was surplus to requirements before reality of cap presentation

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Issy Wong celebrates after taking the wicket of Lara Goodall  •  PA Images via Getty Images

Issy Wong celebrates after taking the wicket of Lara Goodall  •  PA Images via Getty Images

Issy Wong is, quite literally, living the dream. Unexpectedly handed her international debut in England's Test against South Africa, she has twice dismissed Laura Wolvaardt, one of the world's leading batters, and helped put her side in position to push for victory on the final day in Taunton.
A 20-year-old quick who has been on England's radar for at least the past two years, Wong was again a travelling reserve - a role she has played on several occasions during that time - until Saturday when she was summoned via text to a meeting with head coach Lisa Keightley.
"I sat on my bed and I was thinking, 'oh no she's sending me home, I'm going to be driving up the M5 tonight'. She said, 'I'm delighted to tell you we're going to give you a debut.' I think my reaction was, 'yes, sound!' It was probably something that I wasn't expecting so I don't think it's sunk in yet, to be honest."
From there to an emotional cap presentation by Katherine Brunt, England's seam-bowling stalwart who has retired from Tests, to taking her maiden international wicket when she bowled Wolvaardt for just 16 in South Africa's first innings. But capping it all off was her devastating spell late on the third evening after a long day of rain frustrations that could have threatened England's hopes of pushing for victory.
Wong bowled five of the 9.5 overs possible when play resumed at 6.30pm local time following two long rain delays, the second of which lasted nearly three hours. She claimed two wickets in two overs when she had Lara Goodall caught down the leg side and then had Wolvaardt caught at gully by Nat Sciver, whose unbeaten 169 had helped England to a 133-run lead by the time they declared about half an hour before lunch.
"I've got to say I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was going to be," Wong said of stepping onto the field for the first time as an England player. "I actually felt all right. Katherine had kind of used up all my emotions in her cap presentation.
"It's probably something I've dreamed of since I started playing cricket when I was five. So just to be able to, I guess, live that dream has been really special this week. I probably didn't think it was going to happen until a couple of days ago. So I'm just trying to not think too much about it and just enjoy it but, equally, trying to try to impact the game as much as I can."
Wong's promotion came about when Emily Arlott, another uncapped quick, withdrew from the squad after struggling to overcome the after-effects of a recent Covid infection.
She found greater rhythm bowling under lights in heavy and downright damp conditions than she had on the first day and, after Kate Cross had removed Andrie Steyn before the first rain delay a few minutes before the scheduled lunch break, South Africa were 55 for 3 and facing the tough prospect of batting out the final day.
"We had a little huddle before coming on," Wong said. "Heather [Knight, the captain} said, 'just imagine the celebrations if we got a couple of wickets here,' and we'd been waiting around all day for that. So as a bowling unit we were all just trying to get that breakthrough and set up tomorrow."
More rain is forecast for the final day with Sune Luus and nightwatcher Tumi Sekhukhune set to resume in single figures although Marizanne Kapp, who made 150 in the first innings, is yet to bat also.
"We knew this session would be really important," Wong said. "It wasn't necessarily that long, but it gave us a really good opportunity to make a couple of key breakthroughs and now we can have a good crack at them tomorrow morning and really push for that win. Hopefully the rain stays away."
Despite dismissing Wolvaardt twice at international level, Wong was still full of respect for her. The pair had faced each other previously during last year's Women's Hundred.
"She's a top, top quality player," Wong said. "You look at that cover drive and you want to put it on a poster in your bedroom, don't you? That's been the fun of it, being able to run in like that under lights with a Dukes ball at some of the best batters in the world. I'd bite my hand off for that 10 years ago."
Goodall, who regularly faces Shabnim Ismail - who was ruled out of this match by a calf injury - in the nets, was also impressed by Wong. "She has quite a bit of pace but that's not something we're not used to," Goodall said. "It was challenging. She hit good lines, good lengths, she cranked it up a little bit. Kudos to her, she bowled really well and that's what Test cricket is all about, fast bowlers steaming in at the end of the day."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo