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'I've been having 14 years of calling me a chucker'

England allrounder Jenny Gunn on becoming the first player to play 100 T20Is, being nicknamed 'Chucky', the secret to her longevity and the evolution of the shortest format of the game

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Jenny Gunn does not like talking about her longevity in the game.
"Gah, that makes me feel old. I'm 31. Is that like old old?" she asks in jest, ahead of becoming the first player in the game to play 100 T20Is. Earlier this week, in Mumbai, she passed Shahid Afridi to become the most capped player in the format, and she certainly didn't look "old old" while running out Delissa Kimmince with a full-blooded throw from deep midwicket, or while picking up 3 for 26 with her variations, which includes the very slow ball, named the "Whiff" by her captain Heather Knight.
When discussing her bowling, the topic of chucking often surfaces. "I've been having 14 years of calling me a chucker," she guffaws while narrating the origin of the Whiff. "But literally, it was just about playing around, and [I] found the slower ball, something that really worked. I don't know how I bowl, I don't watch much of that. It would get too much into my head and I'll then focus too much on it. Literally, it just happened by accident. I'll have to give that [credit] to Heather. She only asks me to bowl that."
Tammy Beaumont describes the Whiff: "It's the extreme slow ball which often doesn't get clocked on the speed-o-meter on the TV. She [Gunn] is not that pleased about it because it's so slow. But that's part of cricket these days and it's certainly very effective. We love it."
It's evident that Gunn's team-mates admire her not only for her achievements in the game - she's England's leading wicket-taker in ODIs and second on the list in T20Is -but also for her self-deprecating humour in the face of having to constantly prove the legality of her action.
Wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor calls her "Chucky", a nickname that doesn't bother Gunn.
"Women's cricket is something that new people are watching and say that my action is dodgy, I chuck it, it's ugly," Gunn says. "So I'm like, 'It was 14 years ago!' You know you're doing something right if more people are remarking on my action. Isn't it positive in a way that we're getting new people?"
An 18-year-old Gunn played in the first ever T20I - in 2004, between England women and New Zealand women at Hove, a year before men took to the format.
"You have people tell you that you belong in the kitchen. They would be saying pretty much behind social media. You want them to go to the nets and face us and actually prove they can do better than us"
"No one knew what to expect." Gunn recalls. "The 11 of us were making our debut at the same time, which is quite strange. But it was fun. It was just a different format. It's only 20 overs [a side], so just literally only around for an hour and 15! It didn't really matter about the result because nobody knew what to expect."
The ongoing tri-series in India features three of the top four teams in the world, and Gunn calls it "a shame that people back home couldn't watch" England's eight-wicket rout of Australia, and that they will have to follow the scores online.
On her T20I debut, though, visibility wasn't an issue.
"It's quite weird that [team-mate] Fran Wilson said, 'Oh yeah, I watched it on TV!' I was like, 'Oh my God, I didn't even realise it was on TV back then, that long ago.'
"I'm surprised no one took the rights for it [England's tri-series opener]. It was probably one of our best games. What can I say? I just try and play cricket, and let the rest of the people sort that other stuff out."
Looking back on her playing career, Gunn says the central contracts, introduced in December 2016, were a major reason why she could "just try and play cricket". But even more vital to her longevity has been her renewed commitment to fitness.
It was this change in approach that helped her hone her all-round skills and weather the storm that rose out of the retirements of the team's bedrocks - Charlotte Edwards and Lydia Greenway - following England's semi-final defeat to Australia in the 2016 World T20.
"Fitness has been massive. Our trainers, physios, nutritionists, we have such good support back in England. They have helped me stay on the pitch. I was a bit of a chubby kid in 2004. Getting fitter so I can actually run long-off to long-on - for some reason, my captain makes me do that."
Gunn was born into a sporting family, with her father a retired professional Nottingham Forest footballer. In the household, Bryn's 1980 European Cup title rivals her three global trophies (the World Cup and World T20 in 2009 and the 2017 World Cup).
"My dad is one of those laidback people. Every time we meet, he shows the one-handed catch he took at the boundary off Anya Shrubsole , and I think he has become more famous for that than he was in his playing career.
"I just have a really supportive family. They have never really put any pressure on me. Just enjoyed being around and making me the best player I can be."
Her competitiveness comes from those early days of playing with her family.
"If you see in our team, barring one of us [Danielle Hazell], we've all got brothers. So we're very competitive. We didn't want our brothers to beat us. We've played with our dads, also w with our mums. We're very lucky that we come from a background where sports is okay, we can play.
"And the best thing is to get a man out and see him hating on getting bowled by a girl. From a very young age, we've had that and that's why probably we knew we can do this. We're lucky in England. I've played for 14 years. Year by year, it has got so much better."
Opportunities for women players have improved over the years, as has the attitude towards the game, but Gunn says the prejudice remains.
"You always have people tell you that you belong in the kitchen and you shouldn't be playing cricket. They would be saying pretty much behind social media. They wouldn't say it to you on your face. Half the time, you want them to go to the nets and face us and actually prove that they can do better than us. That's something we will always find. But I say if we can be more successful and show what we can do, I think we can have things going our way."
Among the many highs of her T20I career, she rates the 2009 World T20 semi-final win against Australia as the most memorable.
"We chased down 160, which at that time was unheard of in women's cricket. And to do that against Australia, was brilliant just to go through to the final. Also, to do that in England was special. Probably that's going to be up there."
But it is last year's 50-over World Cup triumph that she counts as the pinnacle of her professional journey so far.
"I'm surprised no one took the rights for it [England's tri-series opener]. It was probably one of our best games"
"The one we won in Australia was massive at the time, but winning it in Lord's, allowing your friends and family to be present there, that's always going to be special. To beat every team in the tournament shows that we were the best in that year. That is the best memory."
Gunn has seen the game, particularly in T20s, evolve over the last 13 years.
"We used to play on huge boundaries back then and that was probably a negative thing. No one had the strength to hit a six or was skilled to hit sixes, whereas now, yes, there's a decent-sized boundary and you manage to hit sixes still, so that's probably the main change in skill level of batting and bowling."
Some of the players bringing the power game to women's cricket feature in this tri-series, as her team-mates and opponents.
"I'm glad I don't ever have to bowl to Natalie Sciver because I would hate to. With regards to Australia, Ellyse Perry - she's a nightmare. [Ashleigh] Gardner was hitting them quite well yesterday, so I'm quite happy I didn't have to bowl to her. Smriti Mandhana, too, was hitting quite well the other day, wasn't she?"
In a year when England look to build on their recent successes - at the ODI World Cup and the multi-format Ashes - and turn around their World T20 fortunes, Gunn says the time is ripe for the standalone Women's World T20 in November.
"It was good to play before the men," Gunn says while assessing the value of playing matches as curtain-raisers to men's games. "It got people showing what women's cricket could do. We don't need them [men's cricket] as much now. People enjoy women's cricket [as an independent entity].
"It has changed - there's a lot more sixes, a lot more skills involved now. You have to be smarter when you're bowling and people in the field are diving, taking catches. I think it's got exciting to watch and that's why we're standing alone."

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo