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ENG v PAK (W) (1)

Kate Cross, England's 'Mrs Consistent', finds a good time to reap her rewards

Seamer takes an emotional five-for to make her mark again after tough time on the sidelines

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Timing can be everything - good and bad - as Kate Cross well knows.
It was bad when she injured her ankle during England's warm-up for their last T20 World Cup group game back in March 2020 and, thinking it was broken, feared she would miss a second straight 50-over World Cup, originally scheduled for early this year. She had already missed being part of England's triumphant 2017 campaign while on hiatus dealing with anxiety and depression.
As it turned out, her ankle was severely sprained and, while it required a long and difficult recovery, the postponement of the World Cup until next year means her ambitions are no worse off.
But now, with England already keeping one eye on their title defence in New Zealand next March and April, Cross's stunning 5 for 34 in Wednesday's second ODI against India in Taunton was pretty well timed for many reasons.
It contained India to a 50-over total of 221 and, despite England needing a record sixth-wicket partnership of 92 between Sophia Dunkley and Katherine Brunt to see them home from a precarious position in their run-chase, Cross's performance was hugely significant in delivering the hosts a six-points-to-two lead in the multi-format series.
And, while there is still a long way to go until the World Cup, the second ODI five-wicket haul of Cross's career carried the air of a breakthrough for her personally too.
"I don't think I feel like I needed one," Cross said after the match. "If anything, I feel like I was due to have a day out, which probably sounds a bit arrogant, but I know that I've been bowling really well recently, which is one of the reasons I got to start in the XI in the last ODI.
"I knew that I had the confidence of the coaches and [captain] Heather [Knight] behind me."
Cross played no part in the T20 World Cup, or the five-match T20 series against West Indies which constituted the England Women's home international season last year, despite being part of the squad.
She took one wicket in each of the ODIs she played on the winter tour of New Zealand but, with good returns from the opening two rounds of this year's Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, she returned to action for her country against India, her ability to bowl relentless line and length highly valued.
Though her returns have seemed modest - 1 for 40 and 0 for 43 in the drawn Test that began the series with India, and 1 for 23 in the first of the three ODIs - her rhythm has been good throughout. "Mrs Consistent" was how Knight described her in the post-match presentations, and this doubtless added to her sense that the wickets weren't far away.
"It's always tricky when you're trying to cement your place in the team and this is a really difficult team to get in, so when you do get into it you want to stay in it," Cross added.
"So there was a lot of relief there, but more than anything, I'm just pleased that I could take some wickets and help the team into a good position at half-time."
She delivered those with perfect timing for her team too, breaking an opening partnership between Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma that threatened to do much more than in the first match, which England won by eight wickets after both fell cheaply.
With the pair putting on 56 runs this time - Verma's talent mesmerising as she took the lead role in just her second ODI and plundered seven fours en route to 44 - Cross was introduced into the attack in the 12th over and struck with her fifth ball, enticing Mandhana into an attempted cut which she edged onto her off stump.
Verma could have been out for 21 off Brunt but Lauren Winfield-Hill shelled a straightforward catch at mid-off, and soon afterwards, Cross was on the receiving end of consecutive Verma boundaries - the first as she danced across her stumps to turn the ball through fine leg and the second a neat placement to the rope at third man.
Cross dismissed Jemimah Rodrigues, playing for the first time on this tour as India made three team changes in a bid to claw back some ground. Rodrigues had helped herself to back-to-back fours off Sophie Ecclestone through the covers, but that was the total of her contribution after she sent a leading edge off Cross to Brunt at mid-on. India had lost two wickets for 20 runs after a bright start.
It was Ecclestone who removed Verma - the first of her three wickets - with Verma advancing down the pitch and trying to cut, a swing and a miss forcing her to almost do the splits trying in vain to retrieve her ground against the fast hands of wicketkeeper Amy Jones.
When Cross returned in the 34th over it was to break another dangerous partnership, worth 68 between Mithali Raj, the captain, and Harmanpreet Kaur, her deputy. Again Cross struck with the fifth ball of her spell, Kaur edging her high into the air, giving Cross all the time in the world to position herself at short leg and wait for the ball to drop into her hands.
In her next over, Cross struck Raj on the helmet with a bumper and, while Raj stayed on to top-score for her side with 59, she did not take to the field during England's innings because she was suffering from neck pain.
Cross had Deepti Sharma caught by Dunkley at deep midwicket and, for her fifth, there was a nervous moment as Knight juggled a straightforward catch running in from mid-off. She took it at the second grab before bouncing it away off her knee in a celebration tinged with sheepish relief before the entire England team wrapped Cross in a group hug.
It was the first five-wicket haul for England Women in England since Anya Shrubsole's 6 for 46 against India in the 2017 World Cup final. And It followed Cross's 5 for 24 against New Zealand in 2015, which she said felt so long ago, she hardly remembered it.
Today, she said, she'd remember for a long time to come.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo