Feature

How USA's Tara Norris came to make history in the WPL

She claimed the first five-wicket haul in the WPL, after being bought by Delhi Capitals at the base price of INR 10 lakh

Tara Norris took the first five-wicket haul in the Women's Premier League  •  BCCI

Tara Norris took the first five-wicket haul in the Women's Premier League  •  BCCI

The city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania has a couple of pretty old ties to cricket. John Bart King, a great exponent of swing bowling, topped the English County averages in the summer of 1908 with 87 wickets at 11.01 while touring with the Gentleman of Philadelphia. The CC Morris Library at Haverford College in the city's suburbs houses the largest collection of cricket books and artifacts in the western hemisphere, including one of Don Bradman's bats.
Now, the city has a brand new link to the game. A century after King's exploits, a left-arm swing bowler originally from Philadelphia has etched her name in history, taking pride of place in the annals of American cricket.
Tara Norris, a 24-year-old who made her debut for USA in October 2021, was the only Associate player bought in the Women's Premier League auction at the lowest base price of INR 10 lakh (USD 12,200 approx). And in her first game of the tournament, Norris has more than repaid Delhi Capitals' investment, by ripping through the RCB batting line-up with the first five-wicket haul of the WPL. With no other team having an Associate player in their squad, only Delhi can make use of the rule that allows five overseas players in an XI, provided one of them is from an Associate country.
"I never thought I'd have an opportunity like this in my career, so just to be here has been absolutely amazing," Norris said after being named Player of the Match for her figures of 5 for 29 in four overs. "The fact that I got a chance to play and have a bowl has been awesome."
Norris' journey to the WPL in India is atypical for a number of reasons. Her father is from Middlesborough and her mother is of Italian heritage. Both were working in the pharmaceutical industry and were based in Pennsylvania at the time that Norris, the youngest of three girls, was born. However, the Norris family moved to Barcelona in Spain when Tara was still an infant and she grew up playing tennis, soccer and swimming.
The Norris family moved to Sussex, England in 2006 and it was there that she first encountered cricket. Her natural athleticism meant she was fast-tracked into the Sussex Women's age-group teams, making her debut with the Sussex U-13s just a week before her 10th birthday. After getting a maiden Sussex senior team cap as a 15-year-old in 2014, Norris was chosen for an England Academy side later that summer, playing alongside future international players Sophie Ecclestone and Emma Lamb.
Norris was given a full-time contract by Southern Vipers in 2020-21 and was part of the original squad for Southern Brave in the first season of The Hundred, playing five matches including the tournament final at Lord's. However, her progress on the England pathway had stalled. It was over the summer that then USA Women's head coach and former Australia international Julia Price reached out to see if Norris was interested in representing the country of her birth.
After talking with Price, Norris had conversations with Vipers and Brave head coach Charlotte Edwards, who had toured Philadelphia with the MCC in 2016 and a year later came back to Texas for some development coaching. Edwards encouraged Norris to take advantage of the opportunity, and a few days later Norris was in the US Embassy in London getting her American passport renewed.
She made an immediate impact on her debut, taking four wickets in five matches with an economy of 1.72, as she helped USA win the 2021 ICC Americas Women's T20 Qualifier in Mexico City and advance to the T20 World Cup Global Qualifier.
Norris was also included in the Barmy Army squad for the Fairbreak Women's Invitational in Dubai in early 2022. However, her opportunities began to dwindle in Sussex, both with the Vipers and Southern Brave. She was benched all season during The Hundred in 2022 and was not retained ahead of the draft scheduled for March 23. Norris has also switched domestic teams in the County circuit, moving to Thunder.
It all means that Sunday's five-wicket haul couldn't have come at a better time for Norris, whose stocks may be significantly higher upon re-entering the Hundred draft later this month. By the end of Delhi's game against RCB, the scintillating 162-run opening stand between Shafali Verma and Meg Lanning had been overshadowed by Norris' headline spell.
She started by dismissing Ellyse Perry, then took the wickets of Disha Kasat, Richa Ghosh and Kanika Ahuja, and rounded off her five-for with the scalp of England captain Heather Knight, who was also Norris' captain with Barmy Army Women. The day was made even more special for Norris because Price, the USA head coach when she had made her T20I debut, was doing commentary on television for most of Norris' spell.
"Back home, she struggles to get into the Southern Brave team so it's really nice to see her play," Knight said after the game. "I played with her a little bit in the Fairbreak competition last year and played against her a bit. In the last year, I saw the potential that she has and she is a real competitor on the pitch. She really wants to compete and win. Left-arm is super effective in T20 also. As a mate of hers, I am very pleased to see what she has done today but bummed to be on the other side."

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna