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Feature

Ryana MacDonald-Gay is living the dream at Under-19 World Cup

The England allrounder talks of her six-for against the senior India team, and what she learnt during her time at the Hundred

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
24-Jan-2023
Ryana MacDonald-Gay: "To be able to say at the end of this month that I played a World Cup would be phenomenal. I don't think half the people my age can say that about a competition that big"  •  Nathan Stirk/ICC/Getty Images

Ryana MacDonald-Gay: "To be able to say at the end of this month that I played a World Cup would be phenomenal. I don't think half the people my age can say that about a competition that big"  •  Nathan Stirk/ICC/Getty Images

Ryana MacDonald-Gay is a normal teenager, in that she enjoys spending time with friends and loves watching Grey's Anatomy. If you consider her impressive two-sport career, though, the 18-year-old comes across as anything but.
"Playing cricket is one side of my life," says the England Under-19 allrounder. "The other half is playing hockey."
In the last four years, MacDonald-Gay, a hockey midfielder, has represented England women's U-16s, U-18s and U-19s sides in that sport. The past 12 months have put her cricket career in the fast lane too: as a seam-bowling allrounder she made her debut for two-time champions Oval Invincibles in the Hundred last summer, took a six-for, which included a hat-trick, against India last September, and now has a chance to win the inaugural U-19 Women's World Cup in South Africa, where England have qualified for the Super Six.
"To be able to say at the end of this month that I played a World Cup would be phenomenal. I don't think half the people my age can say that about a competition that big," MacDonald-Gay, who bats and bowls right-handed, said before the start of the tournament. "I just want to keep embracing all the moments and opportunities I get here. If we win the World Cup, it would be another dream come true."
Among the many highs in her budding dual-sport career, MacDonald-Gay considers the six-wicket-haul for the England Select XI side in the warm-up against India in Durham last year "at the top of the list". Introduced to close the powerplay, MacDonald-Gay topped and tailed her run-less double-wicket opening over with the high-profile dismissals of Shafali Verma and India captain Harmanpreet Kaur with her inswingers. In the 18th over, she got the No. 7, Pooja Vastrakar, with another incoming delivery, and in the final over of the innings, she dismissed Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana and Renuka Singh off successive balls.
"None of us were aware that it was a hat-trick ball," MacDonald-Gay says. "I had a little inkling but someone said, 'Nope, it's not,' so I told myself, 'Well, just bowl your ball.' But, then, when I came off the pitch and rang my mom, she was like, 'You took a hat-trick; you have to check out the livestream.' And I was, 'What? Oh, my god. I did.'"
The feat, a departure from what she says is a propensity "for bottling the third", marked her first hat-trick in any cricket since she got one at the U-11s club level for Addington Cricket Club in West Malling, Kent.
"It was a very new environment for me, that practice game," she says. "I didn't know a lot of coaches and I really wanted to try and do well and show that I could do well and get my name in for more opportunities and for this Under-19 World Cup, especially."
India folded for 149 in 19.5 overs in that match, which was eventually washed out, but MacDonald-Gay's figures of 3.5-1-18-6 made heads turn. It was quite the step up from her debut at the Hundred two months earlier - her 40 deliveries across seven matches in the tournament fetched her five wickets, the first of which was of Northern Superchargers' Indian recruit, Jemimah Rodrigues.
"Looking back on that six-for - I've never done anything quite like it," she says. "I bowled against some big names in the Hundred and got a few of those, but to get the six-for, the hat-trick, and the big names out all in one day, it really was just the icing on the cake.
"I definitely think from there I took momentum. Throughout the Hundred my confidence went up and then when I went into that [warm-up] game, it was definitely amazing, and furthered my chances for the World Cup."
MacDonald-Gay remembers acknowledging to herself that the six-for was going to be the centrepiece of her career for a while, but she resolved "not to get too hung up on that" and not allow it to "set the standards because that's pretty high". She saw merit in keeping her expectations realistic and in keeping her long-term goals in sight while also sustaining the momentum heading into the winter; England announced their U-19 World Cup squad in October.
"A part of a dream came true with that call-up: to represent England at a first-ever edition of a world event in cricket," she says. "I remember we had a talk from Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver when we were at Loughborough for our World Cup preparations and the England Women squad were also there ahead of their tour of West Indies.
"They explained how lucky we were and how they wished that they had opportunities like this. They give us a few tips and tricks for touring, like, for a long period of time - a lot of us haven't been away for a month before. That's been nice [to bear in mind] here."
Named vice-captain to Grace Scrivens, MacDonald-Gay says leadership duties have imparted an additional dimension to an experience that was going to be special anyway.
"It's such a memorable journey, considering we have been playing with each other since we were really young kids, since our U-11s; we were captain and vice-captain back then too," says MacDonald-Gay. "I'm honoured to be vice-captain and help Grace lead the team in such a great environment. It takes us back to the old days."
MacDonald-Gay grew up surrounded by cricket, in a sense both literal and figurative. Living across the road from Addlington Cricket Club meant the sight of a match or drills was a given most days of the week. She started playing the game at four and followed her older brother into training at the club.
"I played with the boys until I was U-11s, when I got in the county, at Kent Cricket," she says. "From there, my coach, David Sear, worked with me for about three years and definitely had a big hand in nurturing my passion for the game.
"He was very enthusiastic, very passionate, and so involved in the women's cricket world. I really admired that. And he worked a lot with Charlotte Edwards and Lydia Greenway, so in a way, I started looking up to them both as my idols, both home-grown Kent players like me."
Among the coaches MacDonald-Gay has trained under, former first-class cricketer Jonathan Batty has also given her career a leg up. A coach with Surrey Women, Batty was in charge of both of Invincibles' title-winning campaigns and led South-East Stars in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy in 2020. He approached MacDonald-Gay last year to play in the Hundred.
"That was a big opportunity I got because there were so many big names at the Hundred who helped me throughout, gave me a lot of advice. We had Suzie Bates, Shabs [Shabnim Ismail], Marizanne Kapp, and Dane [van Niekerk], and they were all great. Suzie really helped me with confidence; she's so upbeat, a great character to be around.
"Shabs helped me with my bowling because she is a seam bowler like me. Dane, with all the knowledge she has, advised me, just before my debut when I was very nervous, to back myself and that really helped me. And to play at a big event like that, at The Oval, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford… it was an experience I had never imagined, let alone experienced, before."
A first-year student in sports psychology at Loughborough University, where she is on the hockey team, MacDonald-Gay describes herself as someone "who backs herself to bowl in high-pressure situations, towards halfway and the death". That's where, she says, she thrives the most.
An admirer of Ben Stokes - "an exceptional allrounder and has so much passion for the game" - MacDonald-Gay can pack provide batting muscle in the middle order too. Her goal for the next five years, she says, is to develop her all-round skills to a point that allows her to be a more of a main character in regional and senior cricket.
"The aim would be to try to push for an England call-up in due course and see how it goes," she says.
And what about her hockey career?
"They are quite similar sports, in hand-eye coordination, and hockey's helped me a lot in my cricket that way," she says. "But it's been a bit tricky to juggle them both, though I love the life I have. At this point it's 50-50 and I would love to continue both simultaneously as long as I can. But at one point I know I will have to choose one, one that benefits me more, and it looks like it would be cricket for me."
If England go all the way at the U-19 World Cup, MacDonald-Gay might have more reasons than ever to stick to cricket.

Annesha Ghosh is a freelance sports journalist. @ghosh_annesha