England left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone arrived at the Women's T20 Challenge in 2019 shortly before her 20th birthday on the back of a breakthrough year in international cricket. She was the tournament's most economical bowler, taking a combined 2 for 24 across her eight overs, and returns 18 months later for the third edition as the world's No. 1-ranked T20I bowler. She recently spoke to ESPNcricinfo from her hotel-room quarantine.
How are you getting on in quarantine so far? What have you been doing to pass the time?
It's day three, so halfway, and I'm bored now. I want to get out. Me and Dan [Danni Wyatt] got a paint-by-numbers before we came out. She's nearly finished hers, but I think I got a really hard one, so I've lost interest in that already. It's so tedious. So yeah, it's been Netflix and… just scrolling through TikTok again and again. I've just started watching Broadchurch. My brother said it's really good, and I thought I may as well give it a go. I've watched the first 15 minutes and it's all a bit doom and gloom. We're only allowed out of the room to go for our three Covid tests, otherwise I don't get to see anyone. [Danni and I] have done a few HIIT classes together which have kept us entertained, but it's generally been just feeling stuck a hotel room.
Details for the T20 Challenge were released fairly late, and last time we spoke you weren't sure what the winter would hold. Was this always in the back of your mind?
I was going to go to the Big Bash. Initially I said yes, but since the quarantine was two weeks and in a bubble I was like: no, I'm all right, I'll pass and try and do it next year. When this [the Women's T20 Challenge] came along with six days of quarantine and in Dubai, I thought I could cope with that. I was going [to the WBBL] at one point. I had to send them an email saying I'm really sorry, but I don't think I can do it. Hopefully I can do it next year. I feel bad really, but hopefully they'll have me back at some point.
We had the England training camp at Derby, which was two or three weeks, then the bubble at Burleigh Court [Loughborough] and then Derby again which was a month and a bit, and I think the girls had a three-day turnaround before they flew to quarantine in Australia. I think that would have been too much.
You played in the T20 Challenge last year, and did well. What are your memories of that tournament? It must be nice to have some familiar faces in the Trailblazers squad, too?
I'm really excited to get playing again. I loved it last year. The girls were so nice and I get on with everyone really well. We've got a really good team, so hopefully we can make the final this year. It was a great experience to go out there. I was really nervous. It was the first team I'd gone to as an overseas, so I was really nervous with the expectations of being an overseas. But I think meeting the girls was the most nervous part - a new team, and I didn't know anyone. But then to meet them all, and they were so nice and welcoming. It really helped. Really glad to be in the same team this year.
What is Smriti Mandhana like as a captain? She backed you with some overs at the death in tight games last time
The Indian players are very chilled out - everyone can see that. She's a really good captain - she knows the game really well, and being on the same team as her is really good. She's not my favourite batter to be bowling at so to be on the same team is ideal. I was really glad to know that she had my back. As an overseas, you're going to get those roles and be put in pressure situations, so for her to give that to me was really nice.
I think 2022 will be a great year for women's cricket. To play in a Commonwealth Games and try and win a gold medal will be really surreal
Your other team-mates include Deandra Dottin - the leading run-scorer in the T20I series you played last month - and Nattakan Chantam from Thailand…
It's an exciting thing for me and DD to be on the same team. She did so well during the West Indies-England series, so I'm really glad that I don't have to bowl at her any more. She's up there when she gets going - if you put it in the slot she's definitely going to hit you for six or four. And yeah, I'm really excited to meet her [Chantam] because I don't know too much about her. Obviously during the T20 World Cup we played each other, but I'm really excited to get to know her. I don't remember much about that game, but I definitely remember the name so I'm excited to be on the same team as her.
The T20 Challenge was an exciting tournament last year, but plans for expansion were shelved for obvious reasons. Do you hope that this season can act as a precursor to a fully-fledged women's IPL?
Yeah, I loved it last year. It's quite hot in Dubai but it looks amazing. I just can't wait to get going now and get out of quarantine. I'm really excited to see what the future holds for the IPL. I think it's a great tournament, and the men's is doing so well, and cricket is becoming so big for the women over there that I don't see why it can't go big. I'd heard rumours that there were meant to be four teams this year, but because of Covid I don't think that was possible. Hopefully in the next few years it can happen and we can get a big tournament.
You mentioned your No. 1 ranking earlier. Does that put extra pressure on you in this tournament? Did you feel that during the series against West Indies?
I don't think so. I'm quite young - only 21 still - so I still see myself as the baby of the squad, somehow. To be that young and still learning and be No. 1 is quite weird, but I've got to keep working hard. I think being an overseas in general is quite a lot of pressure - when an overseas comes to play for your team in England, you expect a lot from them. So I'm hoping I can give back - they've had me twice now.
Do you remember what you were doing when you found out you'd moved up to No. 1?
It was during the World Cup and I was out for tea with my boyfriend, because he was there. He was like 'Sophie, have you seen Twitter?' I said 'no'. He said 'look!' and it was me and Shafali [Verma] at the top of the ICC's account. It was really cool, and then my mum and dad texted me so it was really nice. It's been a goal for me - that was a long-term goal for me to achieve, to be No. 1 in the world. To get it so soon and to be recognised was really good. Hopefully I can stay there for a while - to be honest I'd be really sad if I get dropped to No. 2. When that day comes I'll be really sad, but hopefully I'll stay there for as long as I can.
After this tournament, England have a series lined up in New Zealand at the start of next year, and will then start building up to a huge year in 2022, when there are two World Cups and a Commonwealth Games in the schedule. Has that year been at the back of your mind?
I've never been to New Zealand before, so to play there... I've heard lots of good things about it. I haven't really thought about 2022. Now you've said it, I think it will be a great year for women's cricket. To play in a Commonwealth Games and try and win a gold medal is really surreal. I think for the squad the 50-over World Cup is a big one - trying to retain the title. And then the T20 World Cup is a big one because we got knocked out in that semi due to the rain, so they're all really important to us. I was really sad to miss that [England's World Cup win in 2017] - I was sat in the crowd and it was amazing to watch, and I'd have loved to have been a part of it. But what they did for women's cricket that day, and to hopefully be part of the squad in 2022 to try and retain the title would be great.
If I told you that you could only win one of those three tournaments, which would it be?
I think it'd have to be the Commonwealth Games. Obviously we've not played in that before. To win a gold medal… not many people get to do that. If it's on the BBC, hopefully everyone can watch it. That game we played against West Indies was brilliant for women's cricket - so many people who hadn't watched before saw it and really enjoyed it. My nan normally has to buy Sky for the month when I'm on there, so for it to be on the BBC was so much easier for her to find. For people like that who don't have access, it was great: not everyone is lucky enough to have Sky, and hopefully that can help us to inspire the next generation.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98