Natalie Sciver was just another fan when, along with two and a half million others, she tuned in to watch England beat Germany for the first time in 31 years at the Women’s football World Cup last month.
Sciver is now busy fulfilling her role as a seam-bowling, big-hitting all-rounder in the England women’s cricket team – and will play in the third Ashes ODI against Australia at Worcester, with the series at 1-1. But football was her calling for a large part of her life.
“I don’t know if I’d have got to a World Cup,” Sciver, 22, admits. “I did trial for Chelsea once upon a time. I was in a development squad but I knew by then that I wasn’t going to get any further. I wanted to play a sport for my country. By the time I realised football wasn’t the one, cricket came along – at a good time!”
One of the criticisms of English cricket coaching is the pressure piled on young players to specialise early and focus on cricket alone, to the detriment of the athleticism and competition that other sports bring.
Sciver’s expat childhood saw her grow up all over the world, so there was no such issue. Her mother worked for the Foreign Office and she led an itinerant lifestyle. Born in Japan, she also lived in Poland and Holland. A natural athlete with an eye for a ball, she played hockey, football and tennis before even thinking about picking up a cricket bat.
Is this perhaps the reason why Sciver, a middle-order batter but whose role model is Chris Gayle, bats so freely and powerfully – because she’s an athlete, not just a cricketer? “I don’t know. I guess having played bat-and-ball sports of all kinds helped a lot. All I can remember about tennis is I couldn’t keep the ball in the courts, so I guess cricket is better in that way – you can hit the ball as far as you can.”
Not only is Sciver a big-hitter, she’s a big-game player too. With 19 ODIs under her belt, her batting average of 37.77 isn’t unhealthy. Compare that to her batting average against Australia, the top-ranked team in the world, and it reveals something extraordinary – she averages 71. Her player-of-the-match innings of 66 in the first ODI of the Ashes last week demonstrated a typical Sciver innings.
“I’m not sure why this happens,” says Sciver. “When I was introduced to Ashes cricket two years ago, I was so new that they didn’t know much about me. I was able to score freely and I guess I was waiting for them to work out my weakness. But I’m always looking to move on and not let them find that weakness.”
An energetic personality who admits that she “doesn’t take herself too seriously”, it was her nomadic upbringing again which she credits for a confident mindset: “Inside I’m a little bit nervous but it’s good to have a presence, to want to be that person who is able to take the game away. Moving around when I was younger helped me adapt more.”
That and playing football as a teenager in a women’s team in Poland. “They didn’t speak any English. I had to learn how to communicate and how to be a bit more independent. I think that that definitely set me up for how I play today.”
England v Australia is on Sky Sports Ashes today from 10.30am