‘I never thought we were going to lose’ – The inside story of England’s U19 World Cup final run
Two weeks after they reached the final of the first women’s U19 T20 World Cup, England’s captain Grace Scrivens, bowler Hannah Baker and head coach Chris Guest speak to Katya Witney about their reflections on the tournament.
Grace Scrivens never doubted it. It didn’t matter that her team had only 99 to defend. It didn’t matter that the opposition was wearing the canary yellow of the senior side which has dominated women’s cricket for a decade, or that just three hours earlier India had chased down a similar total with more than five overs to spare in the other semi-final. It didn’t matter that this match, with a place in the first ever U19 Women’s T20 World Cup final at stake, was the biggest of most of her players’ careers so far.
“I honestly thought we did actually have enough on the board,” Scrivens tells wisden.com, speaking on return from South Africa. “We really had belief because we knew that India had got them out for a low score and they hadn’t really scored too many runs throughout the tournament. So we always had that belief, which was obviously vital.”
With no margin for error, Scrivens gave her players one last talk before taking to the field.
“I told them, ‘Back yourself and back your skills and just trust yourself. We can win this, and we’re still in this game. It was just making sure that, one, they believed that we could win it and, two, they had the backing of themselves – and me – that they could go out there and execute their skills.”
As Ellie Anderson bowled the first over of the innings, what Scrivens had envisaged in her mind started to unfold. Anderson took the first wicket with the penultimate ball of her opening over before Alexa Stonehouse grabbed a sharp catch off her own bowling three balls later. The unwavering belief in that team talk looked well-founded with Australia 4-2.
But, with a solid partnership developing to take Australia into the eighth over without further loss, even the most ardent optimist could see England’s hopes diminishing. With two of Australia’s leading run-scorers in the competition at the crease, Hannah Baker came on to bowl her first over.
“I didn’t have any particular plans really, I just wanted to bowl my best ball,” she says. “I wanted to change the pace a bit so they didn’t know what was coming down and they couldn’t premeditate any shots. Just keep spinning that ball.
“We wanted to be ruthless and keep the stumps in play and just do our game. Because we know if we back ourselves and back each other, then we’ll have a good shot.”
After sending two dot balls down to Ella Hayward, Baker did hit the stumps – with a turning delivery which pitched on leg. Off the first ball of the 11th over, Scrivens also took her first wicket of the match – completing the dismissal of Australia’s top four.
But it was Baker’s second over, in which she took two wickets and conceded just three runs, that changed the game completely. Suddenly seven down, the momentum had swung in England’s direction.
Watching the side he had guided to this point over the last three months, head coach Chris Guest, on the sidelines, was doing his best to stay cool.
“I was like the swan, I think,” he says. “I was trying to stay really calm but I was definitely flapping. I honestly believed at the halfway point that we would win the game. I spoke to the girls in between innings and just looking in their eyes I saw a serious determination. At that point in the tournament we hadn’t conceded more than 103 runs in a game. We knew that Australia had fallen short in one chase before that and I just felt like we were always going to really compete in that game. Then, obviously, the closer and closer it got, the more and more anxious it was.”
At the end of the 18th over, Australia had lost eight wickets but only needed eight more runs to secure a place in the final. The faith of both England’s captain and coach were being tested to the limit. With Baker bowling her final over of the match, a bullet of a throw from Ryana MacDonald-Gay once again provided the breakthrough England needed. Swooping low at mid-off and throwing down the stumps, the TV replay showed that Milly Illingworth was inches short of her ground. Matthew Lewis’ pictures of the moment capture a team elated.
“I think everyone was literally on their knees like ‘please be out’,” says Baker. “That was a massive game changer. After the tournament we did awards and Rhee won the play of the whole tournament because without that run-out it’s a different game. Yeah, my adrenaline was going through the roof!”
Australia needed four runs, and England needed one wicket. With the fate of the match resting on one ball, Scrivens took ultimate responsibility, bringing herself on to either close the game out or bear the brunt of the tightest of losses.
“I’ve been in that situation many times,” she says. “I’ve had to do it for Sunrisers, bowl the last over, and actually been on the wrong side of it. I knew what I needed to do in that situation.
“I didn’t have that thought of, ‘we were going to lose’, at that point. I just put that out of my mind completely. The only outcome I thought of was, ‘we’re going to take the wicket and we’re going to win in this over.’ That was all that was running through my mind. People have asked me, ‘how did you stay so calm?’ But I honestly just thought we’re going to take the wicket in this over so I didn’t even think about who was going to bowl the next really.
“I bowled a couple of bad balls, actually, outside off and got away with it a little bit. I’d bowled a full toss and I thought ‘you need to bring the stumps into play here.’. So I just went a little bit tighter and tried to hit go full and straight and that obviously paid off because she played around her front pad.”
As Scrivens hit Maggie Clark plumb in front of the wicket, every single England fielder turned towards umpire Sarah Dambanevana imploring her to raise her finger. When she did, one of the most gripping matches of knockout cricket you could ask for ended in euphoria for the young England players.
“It was mad,” says Scrivens. “I think the umpire built the suspense a little bit by waiting to give it out. But it was just mad when we got that wicket. We knew that we were going into the final and it was just surreal.”
“Literally everyone was jumping around like, what has just happened?” says Baker. “It was a crazy day. It’s probably the best game of cricket I’ve ever played.”
“The feeling after we won that game was absolutely euphoric, it was like nothing else I’ve experienced in cricket,” adds Guest. “Myself and the analyst and the other coaches were trying to stay calm but then when that final wicket fell, it felt ridiculously long from the appeal to the umpire raising their finger. But when that finger finally went up, there were some scenes on the bench and obviously on the pitch.”
For the 11 teenagers on the pitch and those running on from the sidelines, the drama they had created was enough to demand attention amid the densely cluttered landscape of senior and international cricket happening that day. While England’s men struggled in Jofra Archer’s hotly anticipated international return, Scrivens and her side pulled focus on their first overseas tour in England shirts.
“I think the reaction afterwards was more than anyone ever expected for that tournament,” says Scrivens. “And that game was just so special to be a part of. It was amazing… the best game I’ve ever been involved with and I don’t think it will be topped very soon. Yeah, it was surreal.”
“I can’t stop smiling about it,” says Baker. “I think that just shows how the following has changed quite a lot as well and how more people are watching. I’ve had so many messages from people who probably haven’t watched much cricket before.”
“The reaction was more than I’ve ever known and ever felt personally,” says Guest. “To see how that was and how tight the game was, and how it drew people in was really inspirational. It’s so amazing to see that the girls are getting that coverage and they took it all in their stride. They loved every minute of it.”
The journey which would take that group of 15 players to the final of the World Cup began three months earlier, in the depths of an English winter. For eight weeks before the start of the tournament, the squad and its support staff gathered every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Loughborough at the National Performance Centre, training, getting to know each other, and setting up their assault on the trophy.
The likes of Scrivens and Baker had already had a taste of professional cricket, both having played in The Hundred in 2022. Others, however, were yet to play even a senior game in regional cricket. The youngest member of the squad, Davina Perrin, was still only 16 years old. Guest and his staff had limited time to craft a group of players with vastly differing ranges of professional experience into a squad which could compete on the global stage.
“That was a concern to start with, but honestly, they gelled after one session,” he says. “I thought we’d need to spend a bit of time on pulling together a culture and environment but they gelled as a group really, really quickly. I remember talking to the group ahead of the final and I couldn’t quite believe that they’d only been together for three months, it certainly felt like a group that had worked together for a lot longer than that.”
Several of England’s players will undoubtedly go on to form part of the next generation of superstars in the rapidly evolving landscape of women’s cricket, Guest’s training encapsulated the needs that must be fulfilled if up-and-coming players are to succeed in their future careers.
“It was really good,” says Scrivens. “I think sometimes it’s easy just to do cricket, and actually we didn’t. We went away from that and did analysis and stuff. We looked at footage and how we would plan for when we went out there [to South Africa]. We spoke to nutritionists on how best to fuel during game days. So I think it was really good to get a real widespread awareness of everything you need to know when you go on tour, rather than just the cricket.”
“I was very keen to take a holistic approach,” says Guest. “A bit of it was around education of what professionalism looks like, nutritionists and taking personal responsibility. They also worked around what media training might look like.
“One of my own personal favourite moments of the whole experience was – because we were training at Loughborough, there was a girls’ cricket team that trained on a Friday evening, when we were there – so I just popped my head into their net one day and asked if they’d like to have a Q&A session with the girls the week after.
“We then lined up five of our girls to be on the interview panel, and then the club team came up and prepared some of the most amazing questions that you could hope for. I was expecting, like, what’s your favourite cricket tea-type questions but the first question that got asked was, ‘how do you deal with mental health and confidence in cricket?’ There were questions around playing in men’s teams and wearing whites and how that impacts you when you’re on your period. So it was a really open forum of questions. It was fantastic and the girls answered so articulately.”
For all of the players in the squad, the World Cup was the first time they would be touring as an England international away from home. Besides the unfamiliar conditions they were playing in, the tour was a big challenge for all of those involved, the cameras broadcasting all the on-pitch highs and lows.
With her experience of professional cricket, being a leader in the group came naturally to Scrivens.
“I wanted to lead the team well,” she says. “It’s hard when you have to think about everyone and play your own game so it was a little bit of a balancing act making sure I could still focus on my game. But also being there to speak to younger people or people that were maybe less experienced just to make sure they weren’t getting overwhelmed by the situation…. I did have a big push on how I would lead the team.”
Going into the tournament, Scrivens was one of the most talked about players. Having made her debut for Kent as a 14-year-old, she quickly rose through the domestic structure to play for Sunrisers two years later. In the inaugural season of the women’s Hundred, she was picked up by London Spirit before being retained for the second year of competition.
With all of that experience in her fledgling career, Scrivens did not disappoint in an England shirt. She finished as the second leading run-scorer in the competition, only four runs behind India’s Shweta Sehrawat, and England’s second-leading wicket-taker after Baker. Her 93 from 56 balls against Ireland in the Super Six was the highest score of the tournament, and she was eventually named the overall Player of the Tournament.
“I think I was hitting it pretty well,” she says. “But I think I could have gone on a few more times. I bottled it a couple of times on 90 and 40 but overall I was pretty happy. Throughout I was just trying to play with that positive intent and lead from the front, and I think when I was on 40 or 90, I didn’t want to go away from that too much. The ways I got out, I was disappointed but I was still trying to go for it which is what I was pleased with.”
“Grace is a fantastic young individual,” says Guest. “She’s a natural leader, she leads from the front and she’s developing with that as well. She stood up to that incredibly well and is a very inspirational leader for such a young age. I can see her having success as a captain in her future career as she moves forward.”
Scrivens was one of two uncapped England players in the inaugural Women’s Premier League auction, which took place on February 13. Set at a base price of INR 10 lakhs (c.£10,000) she went unsold in the bidding. Despite not being picked up by a franchise for the first season of the competition, the expansion of franchise women’s cricket leagues means her career could look very different from a financial perspective than those who have come before her.
“For me, it would just be a brilliant experience to go and play in India,” says Scrivens speaking before the auction took place. “It’s another overseas country, to be involved in that first one would be something so special. That experience is so much more valuable than any money.”
Despite their rounded training in Loughborough and gritty semi-final victory, the final proved a step too far for the England team. Faced with a star-studded India side who dominated throughout the tournament, there was no comeback from an even bigger batting collapse.
“I didn’t have that feeling at the halfway point that we would be able to manage it,” says Guest. “From the batting perspective, I think that let us down, I think we actually bowled and fielded very well to make them take almost 15 overs to knock that off.”
“At halftime at the final we were like we’ve done it before, let’s do it again,” says Baker. “But yeah, India just got away from us.”
While coming home with a winner’s medal was the ultimate aim, nothing should take away from the experience and camaraderie the England players gained from South Africa. Being able to pull on an England shirt for the first time and compete in an international final is a massive step forward in the development of the next generation of young female cricketers.
“For a lot of them, that will be the only World Cup final they ever play in,” says Guest. “And what an experience it was. My own personal reflection after it was; ‘that’s sport isn’t it?’ The euphoria that we felt 48 hours before, followed by the despair in the final. You take those emotions, and I’d happily have that every day of the week if we can get those highs and lows of sport.”
Guest’s suggestion may or may not be true for his young charges. Perhaps some of them will one day represent England in another World Cup final. But it’s a certainty that the inception of such a tournament has helped so many to realise, at least in part, their aspirations.
“I grew up watching Charlotte Edwards on the telly,” says Scrivens. “To be able to then go and play for England, that was so special. I think anytime you can pull on any England shirt is incredible, but to do that in a World Cup Final was just something of dreams really.”