Issy Wong breathes 'sigh of relief' as England women train in New Zealand for first time
Birmingham Phoenix retention is on tour to help her development as a fast bowler
England Women have trained for the first time since reaching New Zealand, which fast bowler Issy Wong described as "a big sigh of relief" after seven days of isolation at their hotel in Christchurch.
England's touring party arrived in the country last week ahead of a limited-overs series starting on February 23, and have been tested regularly for Covid, including in the weeks before their departure. They have been split into four bubbles, and were allowed to train in those groups on Wednesday at the high performance centre at Lincoln University.
On Friday, they will merge into two bubbles as they draw closer to the end of their quarantine period, and if their final round of Covid tests come back negative, they will travel to Queenstown on Tuesday ahead of warm-up fixtures on February 14 and 16 against a New Zealand XI.
"It was a real sense of freedom to be training and playing on grass," Wong said. "It's a big sigh of relief to get out and do something. We'd prepared for the worst [with quarantine] and been pleasantly surprised. We have an outside area where we go can on socially distanced walks, which has been really good to get out of the room, and I've got my PlayStation with me so I've been playing a bit of NBA 2K on that."
Wong, the 18-year-old fast bowler, is not part of England's squad for the tour but has travelled with the group to help continue her development. She will continue to work closely with Tim Macdonald, the team's assistant coach, and admitted that the prospect of being able to live normally after quarantine has been a major incentive.
"I think Heather [Knight] described it as the carrot dangling in front of us, and that carrot is getting closer. We're all going to be very excited when we can get out and be free.
"This tour was a really last-minute thing for me, which hadn't even been on my radar. It's such an amazing opportunity to get outside first of all, but also to be around the squad and learn off this dressing room because there's so much experience in there. I'm just thrilled to be here and be a part of it."
Wong was speaking to ESPNcricinfo after being retained by Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred, having opted to roll her contract over to this year. Having played only three games in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy - part of the new domestic structure - for Central Sparks last summer after heading in and out of England bubbles, she is relishing the opportunity to have a longer run of games in the new competition.
"There's been some criticism of women's cricket that teams don't score enough runs and bowlers don't get enough bounce but actually when we get onto those Test grounds, teams were scoring 270 or 300 in 50 overs, and the ball was getting through a lot more"Wong thinks the standard of pitches will be a major positive in the Hundred
"How often do you get the opportunity to represent your home city in the first year of a major competition? It's not escaped me how big it is, and I'm really looking forward to playing for all the people that have helped me get there.
"Fundamentally I love cricket, so for me to go out and play and be able to express myself while doing something I love is massive. There's a real structure to women's cricket now and it's really nice to have a similar group of girls playing in the two teams [Central Sparks and Birmingham Phoenix]. It feels like there's a pathway - a way to progress.
In particular, Wong is excited to get the chance to bowl on good, fast pitches, with all fixtures in the women's competition due to be staged at Test match venues. She forms part of a strong squad which includes Amy Jones and Sophie Devine, and which will be finalised in June ahead of the tournament's start date in late July.
"I've played against [Jones] in the KSL and she whacked me round the park, so the prospect of having her and Sophie Devine on my side this time is very exciting," she said. "Even just taking in your surrounding at the top of your mark is definitely special, especially at a ground like Edgbaston. I've been going there to watch cricket since I was eight or nine so to be bowling there is amazing.
"The quality of pitches was something we noticed last year in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. There's been some criticism of women's cricket that teams don't score enough runs and bowlers don't get enough bounce but actually when we get onto those Test grounds, teams were scoring 270 or 300 in 50 overs, and the ball was getting through a lot more.
"There's always half an eye on the speed gun for me but I want to bowl well. It's always nice to be feeling quick but at the same time there are other things to focus on. Hopefully I'll build on my experience from last year and work on my skills to make the most of it."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98