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Interviews

Nat Sciver-Brunt: 'I've got more perspective. I can deal with things that come my way'

England allrounder talks about personal wellbeing and upcoming Ashes challenge

Nat Sciver-Brunt feels "in a good place" with her cricket once again  •  ICC via Getty Images

Nat Sciver-Brunt feels "in a good place" with her cricket once again  •  ICC via Getty Images

"I haven't watched the interview," Nat Sciver-Brunt says. "And I don't really want to."
She doesn't have to, either. She remembers the where - the Ageas Bowl - and when - after her Trent Rockets had fallen short of Southern Brave by two runs in the women's Hundred eliminator. And she remembers everything she said.
After striking three consecutive sixes in the final over before only managing a single when a boundary would have taken them over the line, Sciver-Brunt was standing on the outfield irate, exhausted and vulnerable. What began as cheery as a consolatory interview can be ended up with Sciver-Brunt opening up about her own internal battles.
"I'd been feeling I was putting pressure on myself and taking on more than I could handle," she told the BBC hosts by her side and those watching on free-to-air TV. "I need to learn how to switch off when at home, not think about what's coming up. I find that quite hard."
A week later, Sciver-Brunt pulled out of the limited-overs series with India to focus on her mental health. It was a decision taken following conversations with England team doctor Thamindu Wedatilake.
Fast-forward to present day and she is all the better for it. She returned to international action for the tour of the West Indies at the end of 2022, then into a high-profile start to 2023 with the T20 World Cup and inaugural WPL as a marquee £320,000 signing for Mumbai Indians. Even with all that, she finds herself as level as she ever has been. Which is as good a time as any to reflect on those words live on television last summer. The first time those beyond a select few knew something was wrong.
"It was probably the first interview in the month I had been able to get through without crying," she says. "It was a difficult time to describe how I was feeling. It was part of the journey, I guess."
She admits there was an element of catharsis to that Hail Mary knock of 72 from 36 deliveries. "I felt maybe a third of the way through if I don't start doing something know I won't get close. I guess it was probably part and parcel of how I was feeling mentally and how it came out on the pitch."
It was her second high-profile, high-class near miss in the space of nine months, following an absurd 148 not out in defeat to Australia in the 50-over World Cup final earlier that year. That was part of a rammed 2022: starting in the southern hemisphere with an Ashes in Australia and then the World Cup in New Zealand, both subject to Covid-19 restrictions. Prior to the Hundred was an all-format series with South Africa followed by the Commonwealth Games in the home summer. Close to breaking point, time away from the game was a necessity.
"The break was something I felt I needed because of the six months to year before that. Everything was not built up, but it did get on top of me a little bit. Just being able to have that and say I needed to go home from that tour and be at home and just try and feel normal again.
"It wasn't necessarily a long-standing thing. It was a circumstance a little bit on the back of touring with Covid [restrictions] and the six months before that moment just all was so busy and there was no time to reflect on anything and put things to bed. You are on to the next thing."
Together with her wife, Katherine Sciver-Brunt, who retired from England duty last month, she did all the things she had been putting off. "Normal things" like mowing the lawn and taking the dog for a walk. The menial tasks that give athletes grounding and a healthier perspective on what they have around them and what is truly important.
"It is just whether we can do it in the pressure moments. Because we don't get put under pressure unless we play Australia, really, consistently"
Nat Sciver-Brunt on facing Australia for the Ashes
She also devised ways to improve and sustain her mental-wellbeing, particularly when it came to assessing on-field matters, such as the gut-wrenching finish to the Commonwealth Games. With Heather Knight injured, Sciver-Brunt captained England to the bronze medal match, where they lost to New Zealand. As an allrounder driven by a "fine, I'll do it myself" attitude, it was a bitter pill she struggled to swallow as a leader.
"I spoke to a clinical psychologist a couple of times and tried to reflect on the Commonwealth Games and how that went and how that affected me, which is probably the main trigger for needing to go home," she says. "Since then, I haven't spoken to her but felt like I have got a bit more perspective from it and am able to, not recover from things, but just deal with things that come my way.
"I have reflected a lot of with our England team psychologist as well and checked in with her quite a bit before and during the South Africa trip [for the T20 World Cup], voicing the expectations and how I thought it was going to go during the WPL and what would happen if I didn't perform.
"I guess just really voicing what you are actually feeling. So many people say that it is better to talk, which it is. Even I can relate that to batting. When you are batting in a pair and in your mind you think I am going to do this or that but if I don't say it I will probably do it instinctively and things will happen out of my control."
That last bit might be the hardest for Sciver-Brunt to deal with. Because throughout her career, she has been the one looked upon to deliver glory. Not just for England. She led the line as Mumbai Indians won the WPL, scoring 332 runs - the second most in the competition - and taking 10 wickets. Those performances, she says, came from "feeling in a good place" with cricket.
"And, as a person as well, being really happy," she adds. "I didn't have to dwell on it too much. I didn't have to think about that, just concentrate on the cricket.
"I guess for me I have probably put that expectation on myself for a lot longer than you have been saying it [that she is a match-winner]. That has been the role I want to play. I want to be in the difficult moments and affect the game every time I am touching the ball or whatever it is. It is probably a little bit my own fault as well. That is just the way I want to play. It seemed to work most times but not all."
That Sciver-Brunt is so open about all this is vital given her position at the forefront of women's cricket's rapid evolution. With the WPL, she admits to trepidation before it all got going. Even off-field duties, such as the scale of media and marketing requests cricket in India brings, took a bit of getting used to.
"It was a little different to England where the sponsors get a two-hour or three-hour appearance with some players. I did an advert for suncream in which I was understanding Hindi very well," she says, smiling.
"Playing the actual cricket, it did feel like you were taking part in something really big and something different. I think because the way the crowds work. Playing at home [in England], in front of a crowd that really want you to do well and politely clap other things that happen in a game - whereas [in India] you have Mumbai chants versus whatever other team it is. Everyone is going with so much loudness and passion and everything."
Even if she still can't fathom just how spectacular the first edition of the WPL was, the money has landed in her bank account to confirm as much. While no big spender - "a bit tight," as she puts it - she has bought herself a new phone and a watch. She also has a new Apple watch, though that was a gift from Nita Ambani, co-owner of Mumbai Indians.
On the horizon is a multi-format Ashes series, starting on June 22 with a five-day Test match at Trent Bridge. Sciver-Brunt will be integral to England's hopes of beating Australia in such a series for the first time since her maiden tour in 2013-14.
The squad, she says, are in a good place. A group in transition have now had the best part of a year to gauge the responsibilities they must now carry forward. But can they close the gap on the holders and dual World Cup champions? How does she rate England's chances of beating one of the most complete sides in history? She is understandably cautious.
"We haven't played Australia in the last two big tournaments," she says. "[But] since the Ashes before the 50-over World Cup [won 12-4 by Australia], in my mind, I have felt closer than I have before, in terms of skill for me.
"It is just whether we can do it in the pressure moments. Because we don't get put under pressure unless we play Australia, really, consistently."
As for herself, Sciver-Brunt is optimistic whatever the stresses and strains of the summer, the coping mechanisms established along with an open dialogue with England head coach Jon Lewis will hold her in good stead.
"For this immediate time, I guess I have been communicating with the England staff and working how best to get me ready for the Test match for the Ashes and the rest of the summer and being in a good position for that.
"For me that doesn't mean playing cricket right away. We hardly get windows where you can work on your strength, work on your fitness, something in your technique. We have to hold on to them when you can get them. Lewy [Lewis] has been very supportive in that and being able to have that time to work on that to benefit me and the team later in the year."
More open and just as settled, Sciver-Brunt's best days could well be in front of her. That is only good news for England and cricket as a whole.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo