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Katherine Sciver-Brunt: 'When you're giving everything you have, all your emotions are raw'

The ups-and-downs of a 19-year England career, and the exponential growth of women's cricket

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Katherine Brunt retires after 19 years and more than 300 wickets across formats  •  ICC via Getty Images

Katherine Brunt retires after 19 years and more than 300 wickets across formats  •  ICC via Getty Images

One of England's greatest competitors who gave her all is how Katherine Sciver-Brunt wants to be remembered.
Sciver-Brunt, the most prolific bowler in English women's cricket, called time on her international career after 19 years on Friday, ruling her out of the home Women's Ashes series starting next month. In reality, she would only have been available for selection in the T20 leg of the multi-format series, having announced her retirement from Tests nearly a year ago and played what was to be her final ODI during South Africa's tour of England at Northampton last July.
She never officially announced her retirement from the 50-over format, not wishing to re-live the experience of her Test exit only to have to do it all again when she bowed out entirely. But, having also retired from regional cricket before this season and announced that February's T20 World Cup in South Africa would be her last, and after noting that she'd been asked about what was left for her to achieve in "every interview" in recent times, Sciver-Brunt has made peace with the fact that few players end their careers on a massive on-field high.
What remains for now is the Women's Hundred in August and, speaking at a recent media event for a tournament which epitomises the vast changes she has experienced over a long and decorated career, Sciver-Brunt was able to reflect on how she wanted to leave the international stage.
"I'd like to be remembered as one of England's greatest competitors," Sciver-Brunt told ESPNcricinfo. "And I'd like people to think that I was very consistent, that I gave everything that I had in the way I played and the way I went about it, that I was a fighter… just doing what it took and giving everything I've got is the most important.
"I think every cricketer who's played a long career or played international cricket has probably wanted to go out with a bang. It's probably the thing that sits the nicest, I guess, in your head. You've got to fight with yourself as to whether that's important or whether that matters because you just hope people remember the legacy you left, or the things that you did, or how good you were in your career when you were at your best. That bit's important to me. Not that I've had to compromise with myself that going out with a bang is not important. What's important is the things that I've done and how I contribute, playing or winning games for England."
The rise of international franchise cricket for women has been the biggest positive change in Sciver-Brunt's career, which began with a Test against New Zealand in 2004 and involved 267 international matches during which she claimed a total of 335 wickets across formats. Her 170 wickets from ODIs and 114 in T20Is were both record hauls for her country and she took a further 51 in 14 Test appearances.
Sciver-Brunt was not picked up in the inaugural WPL auction, where her wife and England team-mate Nat was the joint-highest-earning overseas pick, going to Mumbai Indians for £320,000.
"The money thrown around in the WPL is going to be life-changing amounts of money for a lot of girls and women within our game and hopefully that can only get bigger and bigger and encourage all the other franchises to up their salaries," Katherine Sciver-Brunt said. "That creates then, not only a career while you're playing, but enough security to protect your life outside of the game moving forward if then you find yourself moving on with not many options.
"That's an absolutely mind-blowing change and hopefully that just grows year on year and that will obviously have a knock-on effect for participation and the diversity in the sport."
But the growth in the women's game has been overwhelming at times, too, as both Sciver-Brunts found first hand last year when they took time out from the game shortly after England's disappointing fourth-placed finish at their home Commonwealth Games. Nat's absence for mental health and wellbeing reasons became more publicly noted when she had to leave an England training camp after a couple of days. Katherine says she took time out for the same reasons but, being older and more experienced, had made the call before the England squad convened in Durham ahead of India's September tour because she didn't feel the same guilt over "letting people down".
"I just chose not to go on tour, I couldn't convince her to stay," Katherine Sciver-Brunt recalled. "I'm at the point and I guess maturity in my life where I know that me being there is actually less helpful to them, because I'm there but I'm not mentally there, whereas she could only see the letting-people-down bit and not the fact that staying behind would help them more.
"We were both going through a tough time. We'd had an incredibly busy schedule that year, a bit unprecedented actually from when I started playing, and obviously that will be the future of cricket which needs to be managed very carefully. It just went to show what can happen if we have to do too much… I think it gave the ECB the knowledge they need about the scheduling and how to best go about that moving forward and how to get the best out of their best players. So it was good for everyone."
"Living out of a suitcase for 11 months of the year is extremely difficult," she added. "Trying to build a career outside of cricket or build a family is sort of non-existent. Also just the touring life and just having to go again and again without that grieving period, if you like, is what I call it, because you lose a tournament like a Commonwealth Games and you finish where you absolutely did not expect to finish, there's no time to get over that. There's two days and you're on to the next tournament. It's like baggage, you just carry it and carry it until the point where you take a break in September because you've had enough, but then that limits your opportunity to earn money in other avenues because you just can't do it.
"There's always ups and downs isn't there? It's about learning from them because this is new to us now. We're learning how to cope with that and get the most out of ourselves and play our best cricket for our country."
Just as she expresses her desire to always do her best for her country, Katherine Sciver-Brunt hast made no secret of the fact that she expects the same of her team-mates. During what turned out to be her last match for England, the T20 World Cup semi-final loss to South Africa, former team-mate Alex Hartley criticised her while commentating on the match for BBC Test Match Special for punching the ground and gesturing to a fellow player amid a rash of fielding errors. Sciver-Brunt also received an official reprimand and one demerit point for using an audible obscenity when she had a catch dropped off Deepti Sharma during England's Commonwealth Games semi-final loss to India.
"At the end of the day, it's international cricket," Sciver-Brunt says. "This is not village cricket, club cricket, which I did grow up playing in Yorkshire which was pretty savage and probably where I've learned most of my, you know, antics growing up. But it's like I say, it's international cricket and it is serious. This is professional, we're paid to do it. But when you are out there and you are expressing yourself and giving absolutely everything you have, all your emotions are raw.
"Unless you're out there, doing what we do, you can't possibly imagine how it feels and what it takes to become someone that can do the things that we do. And with that is a bit of vulnerability and not being able to control some emotions, especially if you're the type like me. We're all not very assassin-like and patient like Natalie. We're all a bit red-mist and a warrior-like like me. So I'd say for 99% of the time I can control that and sometimes it pours over in a passionate way, never in a malicious way and my team-mates know that and that's the most important thing.
"Whether it's understood to the wider world is a different kettle of fish altogether and people always have their comments. But as long as my heart's in the right place and my team-mates know what it is and where it comes from, that's all that matters."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo