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Success 'looks different now' for Nat Sciver-Brunt

On the eve of a T20 World Cup, England allrounder knows it's ok to put herself first

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Nat Sciver: 'I might have got home and thought, 'I feel fine, I should go back,' but taking myself out of it and getting home, then I knew that it was definitely the right thing to do'  •  CWI Media

Nat Sciver: 'I might have got home and thought, 'I feel fine, I should go back,' but taking myself out of it and getting home, then I knew that it was definitely the right thing to do'  •  CWI Media

Success looks a little bit different for Nat Sciver-Brunt these days.
If she learned anything from taking time out of the game last year to care for her mental health and wellbeing, it was how to become - selfish is too strong - willing to put herself first.
In fact, many lessons came from that time, including how to develop strategies to ensure she doesn't reach "boiling point" again. But as she prepares to take England into a T20 World Cup campaign as Heather Knight's deputy and her country's most influential player of the previous, turbulent year, the consummate team-player knows she has to take care of herself.
Sciver-Brunt enjoyed a successful return from her three-month absence to be England's leading run-scorer on their combined ODI-T20I tour of West Indies and Player of the Series in the 50-over format. After a conversation with Knight following that tour, Sciver-Brunt decided she was ready to resume the vice-captaincy duties she had kept on hold initially when she made her playing comeback. After a half-century as England beat hosts South Africa in an official warm-up game ahead of the World Cup (she didn't bat or bowl during a five-wicket win against New Zealand on Wednesday), all is going well so far.
"Taking myself out, it's not really a thing that I've had to do previously in my career," Sciver-Brunt told ESPNcricinfo after the second warm-up game at Western Province Cricket Club in Cape Town. "I'd always try and give my everything to the team and for us to win, to the group, so actually taking the time to think am I going to be okay with it? Is it going to affect my performance, that was really what I wanted to try and figure out and I was happy that I was in a place where it wouldn't.
"I didn't know how it was going to go. Before the tour I didn't want my expectations to be that I want to make a score in every game or I want to take wickets. It was more about me feeling comfortable on the pitch and able to contribute in that way, not skill-wise or numbers or anything but yeah, was I able to be part of the group and enjoy myself. So success looked a bit different.
"Success does look different now. Obviously you want to win and you want to perform for your team and everything like that but being okay for myself was more important."
Sciver-Brunt admits that the desire to always do her bit for the team had made stepping away for herself very difficult. But in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the bio-secure bubble touring that followed - an away Ashes campaign, an ODI World Cup (where she was key to England's runner-up finish) and a home Commonwealth Games - she felt she had little choice but to stop. Speaking to the England Women's team doctor, though, gave her reassurance.
"It was a weird place," she reflected. "I'd not really felt like that at all in my life before. Normally I don't want to miss anything, I don't want to let anyone down. I don't want to not be there for everyone. And so realising that allowing myself to leave or take myself out of it was the hardest thing to get over because I've never really gotten to that point before or felt like that at all.
"Once I did go home, it just felt like it was the right thing. I might have got home and thought, 'I feel fine, I should go back,' but taking myself out of it and getting home, then I knew that it was definitely the right thing to do. Allowing myself to take myself out, it was a weird thing because in our team that's not really happened before and I don't like to miss things. I want to do absolutely everything that we need to do in order to play, so my mentality is not usually, 'this isn't right, I need to step back.'"
Someone else who knew things weren't right was her wife and team-mate, Katherine Sciver-Brunt.
"Because I'm such a sort of steady character, Katherine can tell when I'm not right as well," Sciver-Brunt says. "So she sort of knew that I wasn't okay. Having that person there who, almost she knows me better than I know myself, was good to have, someone there, like, batting for you, basically."
The couple recently switched to using their married name while playing and will wear shirts to reflect that for the first time while in South Africa.
"Everyone already knows we're married so it's not like, 'oh, hi, it's obvious now', but it's something nice to represent us both on the pitch," Sciver-Brunt says. "And yeah, having a bit of Brunt in my bowling is definitely a good thing!"
Katherine, who turns 38 in July, was rested during India's tour of England late last summer and she wasn't part of the ODI squad in the Caribbean, but she returned for the T20I part of that tour and is now primed for what could well be her last World Cup.
Katherine was part of the England side which won the T20 crown in 2009 and finished runners-up to Australia in 2012, while Sciver-Brunt has twice played in losing finals against Australia, in 2014 and 2018. Sciver-Brunt also scored a gallant 148 not out as England lost the ODI World Cup final to Australia last year. But one result sticking in England's craw in the lead-up to this event is their washed-out semi-final at the last T20 World Cup in Australia, where India advanced as group winners instead and lost to the hosts in the decider.
So when Sciver-Brunt says through clenched teeth and raised eyebrows, "I don't want to be runner-up anymore" it doesn't sound like a predictable, throw-away line uttered by an athlete on the eve of a tournament. It sounds and looks like a pledge. And again, when she says: "I'd really like to be in the final."
"Especially in T20, we always seem to sort of do well and then get to the end and something happens, rain, or we don't play as we have been playing," she says. "There's a lot of us who have experienced those tournaments who are, 'right, I just don't want to it do anymore'. We must go for it!'
"As a team, we are in a really good place and I think the way that we want to play, as long as we're able to put that into practice on the pitch and do it against the best teams, I think we're in a really good spot to make the knockout stages. We say in tournaments you don't want to think too far ahead and try and keep the next game in your mind as much as possible so I guess that's what we'll do. I think I once the tournament starts, it'll go so quickly that all you can focus on is the next match. But at the moment, I'd really like to be in the final."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo