England Women: Living in each other’s pockets to pouch the grand prize

“For me, and this is going to be really controversial, the team song means more than the national anthem,” declared England’s Alex Hartley, throwing her hands up in apology and laughing. Next to her, Jenny Gunn, MBE, buried her head in her hands, both laughing and groaning at her younger teammate’s candour. 

This team song, which makes an appearance after every win, was a big driver for this England Women’s side in their run to the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 final. They really, really wanted to sing it in their dressing room at Lord’s on Sunday (July 23).

“We’ve been planning [it] since the girls came back last year,” said Hartley. 

Last year, the girls had lost to Australia in the ICC Women’s World T20 semifinal. It had been close, it had been devastating. But it had been the start of something different. New England.  

“We realised the old song,” – which they had for about eight years before – “was the past and for new people, it didn’t mean anything to them. So we got a new song last summer,” explained Gunn.  

So around 8pm local time on Sunday, when the stands of Lord’s were no longer heaving, the strewn buntings and cups and unfinished food were being cleared, and a stillness had returned to the sloping green after a frenetic 49th-over finish, a top-of-the-voices rendition of their version of I just can’t get enough rang out of the home team’s dressing room. The red brick pavilion shook, literally.    

The team sheets give her name as Tamsin. But she’s only Tamsin when she’s in trouble with her mum, Tammy Beaumont says.  

She and Lauren Winfield, her opening partner and university mate, have shared countless cups of tea, nights out and a first-wicket partnership average of 50.52. When they walk out to the middle as “two v XI”, they sometimes speak to each other in deer voices. The backstory involves Snapchat filters and a hurricane in Jamaica. “Come on my little deer, get on with it!” they say. 

Armed with a high backlift, fast hands, cheek behind square, a confident attitude and the skill of a storyteller that will serve her well in a post-retirement career in the media, Beaumont wants to be the best batter in the world.  

Tammy 2.0 is on that plan. She has 1021 runs from 17 games since 2016. At the World Cup 2017, she is player of the tournament and on top of the runs chart. 

Tammy 1.0, from 2009 to 2014, had all of 207 runs from 23 games, and was thinking of giving up on cricket. “A career of two halves, yeah!” 

There’s a lot to be said for second chances. 

“My dad said, you go about your business; if you’ve had a quiet day, you’ve done the job right,” says Jenny Gunn, daughter of Nottingham Forest’s Bryn Gunn, and England’s exponent par excellence of the dibbly-dobbly. 

At 31, she’s self-deprecating about her age. She’s played in those skirts now on display at the Lord’s museum and rolls her eyes at why a celebration dinner has to be wrapped up in time for Love Island, a British reality TV show that’s as raunchy as the name suggests. The girls say she’s like a mum. “It’s weird! I’m not even the oldest – Katherine Brunt is the oldest,” she says in mock complaint.   

This World Cup, she didn’t expect to play much, she admits. “I was just happy to be picked in the 15,” she says. “When I got picked to play in the game, I was shocked. Putting those three lions on every time, it’s just so exciting, I still get goosebumps.”   But once she made the squad, she made it impossible to drop her. In England’s last-over thriller against Australia she made a vital 39 and picked up two wickets, including one in final moments of the game. In the semifinal, she tied the South Africans down with 1 for 35.

But once she made the squad, she made it impossible to drop her. In England’s last-over thriller against Australia she made a vital 39 and picked up two wickets, including one in final moments of the game. In the semifinal, she tied the South Africans down with 1 for 35. In the final against India, her rearguard effort of 25 pushed the score to 228, followed up by a bowling analysis that read seven overs, two maidens and 17 runs for no wicket.          

She’s enjoying her game more than ever before. “I’ve played for England for 13 years and this is probably the most special team I’ve been part of.” 

The old horses still have their tricks. 

Alex Hartley bowling has been compared to Mo Farah, a butterfly, a ballerina and someone flagging down a plane. 

England’s left-arm spinner claims her mum let her get into cricket because the alternative might have meant she’d be off at the pub. She had to work to slowly accumulate bits of her kit. “It took me four years to hit a six and get a helmet.” 

But picked up at 14, she didn’t work on things. Dropped a couple of years later, kicked out of academies because she wasn’t good enough, she took a year out, went on holiday, went drinking with friends, got a job in a bakery and realised what she really wanted was to be playing cricket.  

Moving to London with Middlesex, she hated the city. It was lonely. She moved back home, and with her parents, put in “a lot of miles” driving up and down the country, with the dream to be the best left-arm spinner.      

It isn’t surprising that Hartley finds Monty Panesar “mesmerising”.

As a kid, she was told she’d never get the ball to spin. Now she’s the giant-killer of this World Cup as Harmanpreet Kaur, Meg Lanning, Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine will attest.  

Make room for the mavericks. 

The second chances, the “old dogs learning new tricks”, the mavericks and the constant smiles – Gunn, Beaumont and Hartley, along with the Fran Wilsons and Nat Scivers and Sarah Taylors, are testimony to the culture of the dressing room Mark Robinson has put in place for England, with all of them coming to the fore to lift England’s fourth title.  

It all started with that 2016 semifinal loss in India. “[After the loss], we really opened up and we were honest,” says Gunn. “Losing is the best way to learn. Because it hurts so much. That’s where we knew we wanted to change and that’s where it started.”

Robinson, who had been brought in a little before that tournament, after a chastening Ashes, took the decision to ask Charlotte Edwards, their captain and highest scorer then, to retire. The players needed space, they needed the freedom to be themselves out of her considerable shadow. 

“Obviously a tough decision he made,” says Anya Shrubsole, their match-winner on Sunday. “She was still at the time a world class player, someone we would miss. He made that decision in terms of moving the team forward and the performances in this World Cup have showed it was the right decision to make. The batters have really stood up and taken over since she retired.” 

“I thought as an older player, he might want to get new people in, but he said experience as well is key. No matter what, age wise, if you can still do it, that’s fine,” adds Gunn. 

“All I was saying to them [was] you’ve got to decide which era of cricket you are in,” explains Robinson. “I love old players. Experienced players with young hearts are brilliant.”  

And that has allowed the likes of Gunn and Laura Marsh – and of course the inimitable Katherine Brunt and Shrubsole – to expand their role, especially with the bat. England’s lower-middle order has saved them several times. 

Says Gunn: “I never thought at 31 that I’d still be here playing and learning stuff – variations when I bowl, adding shots to my game, learning how to sweep. I’ve looked more like I can bat nowadays rather than just trying to get someone else on strike. I want to be an allrounder, I don’t want to be a bowler who can just bat a bit, I want to bat. Hopefully this World Cup has shown that I can do that.”

Beaumont and Winfield were among those who were given a chance to express themselves, without the fear that they would be dropped after a couple of failures. They repaid that faith with a record 147-run stand in a T20 International against England.  

“You wouldn’t recognise her, in terms of stats and performances,” says Beaumont about the old Tammy. “Before I was trying to please, whichever coach or captain, or whichever role I was put into. I did get moved a lot around the order. I’ve always suited being an opener, but when I did get the chance, I didn’t take it.” 

“When I came in, I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t in!” says Robinson. “Tammy was in a poor place, she lacked confidence, she lacked belief. I came in with fresh eyes, and I’m thinking, ‘You can play, why aren’t you in?’ Tammy’s an emotional girl. She needs understanding.”  

“He said your role is to go out there and if second ball you want to hit it over the top and you get caught at mid off, then it’s fine. But if you go out there and nudge and nurdle it, and then get out, I’ll probably tell you off,” says Beaumont. “It was so obvious what I had to do that you could just relax into it.” 

Similarly with Hartley, she had always been told what she couldn’t do. “She is resilient and strong,” says Robinson. “She was nervous as a kitten [in the semifinal]. Her first ball wasn’t great, but she came back and bowled well. We went to the West Indies, she had a total meltdown in the warm-up game and there was a game in two days’ time. But she played brilliantly and got player of the match. Her first game for England was terrible. Then she comes back. Kicked off the academy for Lancashire. Kicked off the England academy. And then she comes back. She is resilient. You admire things like that.” 

With support comes honesty. “If we need feedback that isn’t something we want to hear, but in the long run is better for our game, that is something the coach is done for me,” says Wilson. “The environment he’s created is this open, honest environment where everyone’s opinion counts. Everyone helps each other. When someone else scores runs, you feel like you’ve helped them get there because you’ve given them feedback.”

As more than one player has said, they play better when they’re smiling. “We haven’t been perfect, we’ve never said we are the finished article,” insists Heather Knight, the young captain. “But we are a team that functions really well and plays for each other.” 

The 2017 World Cup winning England side is a team, a sisterhood and a family. They “live in each other’s pockets”, share homes (Brunt is owner of a house where four others live; they call it ‘Alan’) and a community at Loughborough, the hub of women’s cricket in England. 

Brunt tells everyone what to do. Danielle Hazell is the best quizmaster. Wilson and Beth Langston are the social secretaries, organising film nights, Love Island bingo (but of course), visits to board game cafes, foosball contests (“The physio was a little worried about wrist injuries”).   

England’s corner is packed, because they like to involve everyone. The local coaches, the support staff, the security, the drivers…. Robinson, who believes “in life and human beings and the goodness of people” wants everyone to feel part of the journey.

The remarkable thing about England’s campaign is that everybody has been relaxed and happy. Even after that opening loss to India. It’s cricket, of course they’re going to lose and they’ll probably lose more, they told themselves. It was just another reason to celebrate the wins, the small things – and each other. 

And of that, they just can’t get enough. 

This article was first published in Wisden India.

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