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Feature

Katherine Brunt: 'I've considered retirement constantly' over 'most challenging year of my career'

Chance to win Commonwealth Games medal has kept veteran England bowler going

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
29-Jul-2022
Katherine Brunt claimed a career-best 4 for 15, including her 100th T20I wicket, England vs South Africa, 1st women's T20I, Chelmsford, July 21, 2022

Katherine Brunt was impressive in the white-ball series against South Africa  •  Getty Images

Had it not been for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Katherine Brunt could be retired from international cricket by now.
The event, which began with a hopeful, theatrical and eccentric opening ceremony on Thursday night, features women's cricket for the first time in history at Edgbaston from Friday morning. Brunt is thrilled that at the age of 37 she is able to be part of the sort of multi-sports event that so inspired her growing up.
But it wasn't always on the cards and, had late July and early August 2022 not been highlighted on the women's cricket calendar for the past few years, she might not have been playing anymore.
"To be honest, it's been on my mind properly for the last four years and there's been events that have come and gone that I thought I'd never be a part of," Brunt told ESPNcricinfo. "This is just literally another one of those things - a Commonwealth Games - the chance to earn an actual medal, it's impossible to imagine right now but it's right there and I'm just so happy I've managed to keep myself here and fit and strong and with the ability to still play well. I'm really proud of the fact that I'm here and I get the chance to experience this and tell my kids about it one day."
And she is playing well. Having retired from Tests ahead of England's draw with South Africa in Taunton at the end of June, Brunt roared back in their opening ODI in Northampton with a hostile opening spell that read 5-1-5-2 and reduced South Africa to 34 for 2 inside the first nine overs. She then took a career-best 4 for 15 in the first T20I as England swept both white-ball series to head to Birmingham match-hardened and on a roll. But for Brunt, it wasn't nearly as easy as it looked.
"I've had the most challenging year of my whole career this year," she had said between the ODI and T20I legs of South Africa's multi-format tour. "I've had some seriously big lows this year, I've considered retirement constantly. I've been battling with doubt and self-belief for weeks on end.
"I went through the Ashes and the World Cup series with a lot of mental strife, physical strife at times, and I've never questioned my action as much as I have in the last few months. The last 12 weeks of training have been seriously difficult, and me wondering whether I've still got it has been at the forefront of my mind every single day.
"So the last two weeks have been brilliant. Something just clicked and I felt that I'm back to myself and that game [in Northampton] really did help me with remembering who I am and what I can do and I still belong in this team and there's still a job for me to do yet."
At the ODI World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year, Brunt could be seen practising various technical drills during the warm-ups and she took just one wicket in England's first five games before making a breakthrough with 3 for 17 against Pakistan.
"I was praying it was something specific and there was something I could do but sometimes it's just a feel, and that's actually the most annoying part of the game is because I don't have a magic wand and neither do other people," Brunt said.
"The problem lies in the fact that I've always been able to just make it happen and I've always been really consistent. I've got a repeatable action and there's not much care that needs to be taken with it and so when it did go wrong, I had no answer and no clue as to what to do.
"I'm really proud of the fact that I'm here and I get the chance to experience this and tell my kids about it one day."
Katherine Brunt
"But I just slowed everything down and then started from the beginning again - as if I was a youngster. It was quite interesting and it took a lot of will... There were some technical issues in there but once they got fixed, it was just a matter of bowling overs and hoping that that feel came back. That was the most important bit for me, the feel, because that's the bit that gives me the confidence and the belief to be able to beat the best batters in the world."
One thing that didn't wane was Brunt's on-field passion. Love it or not - probably depending on whether you're on her team, the opposition or a neutral onlooker - it's a huge part of what makes her the bowler she is.
"I never have to find that," Brunt said. "That's just in me as soon as I cross the boundary rope. It's something that just comes out naturally. And sometimes I don't like what I see but honestly, it's just because I'm so emotional and I wear my heart on my sleeve.
"That fire needs to be controlled, sometimes it's uncontrollable, but it's not something I have to conjure up."
Far from those snarling, bellowing, in-your-face wicket-taking celebrations, a glimpse of Brunt as she marched into Alexander Stadium for the opening ceremony showed the face of a young kid again, eyes wide and mouth open in awe as she looked up into the stands of what will also be the athletics venue and took it all in. Beside her, Sophia Dunkley, the just-turned-24-year-old who represents England's next generation beamed and jumped for joy. Their thrill at being part of a multi-sport showcase event was palpable, and a big part of what has kept Brunt going.
"Growing up watching Olympic athletes and things like that on TV, thinking that that was a million miles away and now we're part of it is just unbelievable, isn't it?" Brunt had said earlier.
A short time before England entered the stadium, Bismah Maroof, the Pakistan captain, walked in as her nation's joint flag-bearer alongside wrestler Muhammad Inam, and Chamari Athapaththu, Sri Lanka's captain, shared the honours for her country with weightlifter Indika Dissanayake.
The BBC interviewed Suzie Bates, who had already enjoyed being part of such a spectacle representing New Zealand in basketball during the 2008 Olympics. The opportunities that cricket began to offer, she said, helped her decide to switch sports and here it was, her second sport, so to speak, at the pinnacle. Then, continuing the women's cricket thread being woven through the sport's maiden appearance at the Games, umpire Sue Redfern read the Commonwealth Oath on behalf of all the officials taking part.
So what would it mean to Brunt to win a gold medal on home soil? It could go straight to the top of her career highlights.
"All of our country's athletes in every aspect of sport all coming together and being probably part of the biggest stage of them all, it would be the icing on the cake of what I consider a really fruitful career I've had the privilege to experience and I've kept going as long as I have to get to this stage," she said.
"So I think it would mean everything to myself especially but obviously as a team it's something we're really, really, really striving for. It would be brilliant."
So if that box is ticked in the final at Edgbaston on August 7, does Brunt retire on that note?
"Honestly, I could tell you, end of the Commonwealth Games and then just ride off into the sunset, right? I would be lying that that was a sure thing," she said. "That's the goal I set myself two years ago and I will be extremely proud of myself to get to the end of that unscathed.
"But if that if that's a success, and I feel great, then why not go to the February T20 World Cup? Especially with it being just a T20 focus, it would take a lot of stress off my body and be also a great end so I can't say Commonwealth because it might just not be, but it is very soon."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo