Tammy Beaumont: 'We've got a ceiling that we can absolutely smash through'

England opener on her starring role in the Ashes, and the thoughts of retirement that preceded it

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Tammy Beaumont's extraordinary innings led England's fightback, England vs Australia, Only Test, Women's Ashes, Nottingham, 3rd day, June 24, 2023

Tammy Beaumont made history with her England-record innings of 208 at Trent Bridge  •  PA Images via Getty Images

It's entirely coincidental but thoroughly apposite that, as Tammy Beaumont sits down to speak to the media in a pokey storeroom in the corner of a Tottenham community centre, she finds herself face to face with a life-size cut-out of a suffragette, complete with a "Votes for Women" banner.
The figure is clearly a relic of a previous community project, but the message it relays remains a timeless one, as Beaumont reflects on a summer in which women's cricket - after years of second-class status - took perhaps its biggest step yet towards true equality.
The women's Ashes just gone was a compelling series in its own right, and one in which Beaumont herself was one of England's star turns, with a national-record 208 in the Test match at Trent Bridge and vital initiative-seizing runs in the subsequent ODIs.
But perhaps more than that, the series felt for the first time as though it was part of something bigger. A genuinely joined-up campaign that dovetailed with the concurrent men's Ashes and even provided a similarly thrilling narrative, with both England teams battling back from early defeats only to fall at the penultimate hurdle, agonisingly short of their goals.
"That will go down as one of the best Ashes series in women's cricket history, until probably the next one," Beaumont says. "I'm not allowed to bet on cricket but, if I could, I would put a lot of money on the men winning at The Oval and it being a [2-2] draw. Morally, I think, we probably won the hearts and minds of cricket in this country. But unfortunately, the cabinet is still going to be empty for both of us."
The similarities between the two series did not end with the potential for shared scorelines, however. As with the men, the cricket played by England's women was fearless and focused, with aggression in every facet of their play: from the pace of Lauren Filer in the Test match through to Nat Sciver-Brunt's heroics in the ODIs, via Beaumont's strokeplay too, most especially in the series-levelling win in Bristol where her 47 from 42 balls helped to bring up England's 100 inside the first 13 overs and set up a record-breaking run-chase.
But whereas the men's desire to play to the gallery was arguably the root cause of their downfall in the Edgbaston and Lord's Tests, the women's determination to put on a show genuinely felt as important as their quest for a series win. A total of 110,000 fans attended the seven matches, four-and-a-half times as many as in 2019, with a further 5.3 million tuning in on Sky Sports. And the vast majority of these were drawn in by the team's promise to "inspire and entertain", as per the mantra that poured forth - almost without exception - in every media engagement.
"Yes, we did keep saying it. But we do 100% mean it," Beaumont says. "I think the men are trying to change the stereotype of a format [Test cricket], whereas we've got such a massive scope for growth, it's actually almost easier to do that, and inspire and entertain. We've got such a margin, such a ceiling that we can just absolutely smash through.
"I think Jon Lewis has got to take an awful lot of credit for that," she adds, citing the influence of England's head coach, who came on board for the tour of the Caribbean in December, having spent the 2022 summer soaking up the Bazball ethos as Brendon McCullum's assistant in the men's Test squad.
"He has also said the words 'inspire and entertain' at every team meeting since he came in in the West Indies, but I think that's what's made this turnaround so quick. He's come in with a very clear vision from the start. We want to play a brand of cricket that gets bums on seats and gets people interested in the game. Honestly, every single thing we do has been about taking the game forward, and putting the opposition under pressure."
As with the men's resurrection under McCullum and Ben Stokes, a massive part of the women's revival can be directly attributed to the sense of fun that they have projected. And that in itself is no mean feat, given how visibly joyless their endeavours had been in the preceding months and years. From the mental toll of Covid, to their arduous schlep round the Antipodes for back-to-back Ashes and World Cup campaigns in 2021-22, to the crushing disappointment of their fourth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games last summer, there was little levity to be found at any point.
And when Beaumont herself was left out of that latter campaign - a place she has yet to regain in T20I cricket, amid the rise of England's young thrusters such as Sophia Dunkley and Alice Capsey - even she started to question whether the struggle was worth it.
"We're well aware of how much further the game can go, and I think we all connect on a level that means we are desperate to entertain and inspire the next generation, because we know what those people within my lifetime have had to go through"
"When I got back from the PSL, there was a point where I was like, 'I don't know if I really want to do this anymore'," she says. "It's hard work to go through the emotional highs and lows of it all. There was a period of time where I'd worked really hard physically in the indoor school, doing all sorts of running sessions in the snow at Lady Bay [the Blaze's home ground in Nottingham] and not particularly enjoying it.
"I genuinely thought about it. I thought, do I just become a Sky broadcaster? What's the point if I'm not going to play for England, and if it's going to just keep being repeated failures?
"Our coach [at the Blaze] used to make us do these competitions, and there was one where you had to write a poem and it had to be better than your mate's. And mine literally brought four people to tears, and one of them was an ex-England player. And it was basically, 'do I give up now? Do I keep going? Do I ride the highs and lows? All I'll do is give it some time'. All it had to be was 10 lines, and my worst GCSE was English so it wasn't particularly useful. But it certainly had no structure."
Lewis, she adds, was instrumental in the turnaround of her fortunes. On the one hand, he encouraged her to expand her game beyond the anchor role that she'd ended up performing in the Lisa Keightley era - which she admitted she had found "quite boring, to be honest". But on the other, he encouraged a more general reappraisal of what success looks like to the England women's squad.
"Lewey himself thinks it's wrong but, often as parents, you bring your son up to be brave and courageous, but you bring your daughter up to be perfect. And he's trying to get rid of that, and let us make mistakes," she says.
"As a player, it's all well and good saying 'it's fine. It's the way I play. It's fine to make mistakes', but then if the other four openers in the squad are not making mistakes, you're not in [the side]. Elite athletes have all got perfectionist, obsessive tendencies. None of us are particularly normal, so that's something you always have to battle with. But it certainly feels like it's okay to make mistakes in a way that, if they had come off, it would have been worth it."
It was a theme that carried over into Beaumont's pre-season endeavours with the Blaze too. "In March, they gave out this silly little award … be like Moana. Who has been brave and courageous in that game? And after the first game the SEC [strength and conditioning] coach gave it to me because she was like 'the old girl thought of giving up a month ago, and now she's playing this new brand of cricket. The old dog's learned some new tricks or something!' So I got the Moana doll."
And it all came together on the big stage for Beaumont this summer, most especially in the Ashes opener when her epic double-century - 208 from 331 balls all told - broke the previous best by an England women's player, Betty Snowball's 189 against New Zealand in 1934-35.
"I had no idea about the record," Beaumont says. "When it got announced that I'd broken it, all I was thinking about was the 200. I literally shooed Sophie Ecclestone away and had to apologise later. It's all about challenging yourself and trying to break boundaries, and showing that women's cricket can do things that maybe people didn't think of. But it's not like I write down a list of records and then cross them off. That's something my dad probably does."
With the Blaze based these days at Trent Bridge after the disbandment of Beaumont's previous regional team, Loughborough Lightning, Beaumont says she had felt the buzz around the women's Test long before she had become the centre of attention.
"Every week, it was like 'can you just bring your England cap in, we need to take a picture of it for our marketing thing'. And 'you know, we've got the Ashes? I don't know if you know, we've got the Ashes Test match.' Of course, I know we've got the Ashes Test match!"
"But it really galvanised the entire team at Trent Bridge. I felt like, for them, it was their biggest game of the year, and that's a pretty big ground in the country. Yet their excitement level was great to see, and it's not necessarily something we've felt before as players."
The sense of responsibility that this generation feels, however, is plain to see - perhaps most particularly the senior members of the squad, including Beaumont and the captain Heather Knight, who have lived through the professionalisation of the women's game, and recognise the importance of "taking the cap forward".
"Even since I was born, women cricketers had to pay for their England blazers," Beaumont says. "I was born before women were let into Lord's. I was part of the first group of professionally contracted players, but I still needed my parents to pay my rent, because that's how little the contract was worth. I worked two days a week with [cricket charity] Chance to Shine as well, but I still had to be helped out by my family.
"And now you see what's going on with the Hundred, with the WPL, the WBBL … which is amazing, but we're all still connected to that shared history. We're well aware of how much further the game can go, and I think we all connect on a level that means we are desperate to entertain and inspire the next generation, because we know what those people within my lifetime have had to go through."
And next week, in Cardiff, Beaumont will get her another chance to live that mantra, when she leads out her Welsh Fire team against Manchester Originals in their opening match of this year's Women's Hundred. For all that it has divided opinion in the five years since it was first conceived by the ECB, Beaumont is adamant that this summer's Ashes could not have been the success it proved to be, without the heightened profile that the new tournament had offered to the women's game.
"I think we've learned the lessons from the Hundred," she says. "When the Hundred came along, that was the whole point, it was going to be men and women in the same stadium, on the same stage at the same time, the same day. And the ECB have learned the lessons from that, because it worked.
"In terms of trying to drive equality and gender parity, there's still a long way to go, but I don't think we would have sold out an Ashes series two years ago. That's pretty much down to the Hundred."
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Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket