Ben Gardner catches up with England all-rounder Nat Sciver, who is aiming to add consistency to her game to make herself the best player in the world.
“When I started one of the things I wanted was to become the best all-rounder in the world.”
Nat Sciver is speaking matter-of-factly, almost tossing off the revelation that, even as a 20-year-old, she had her sights set on the summit. But for all she’s achieved since – a World Cup winner’s medal, becoming a Wisden Cricketer of the Year, inventing a shot that bears her name – it’s a goal that’s eluded her until now.
That she hasn’t reached the top of either of the ICC’s all-rounder charts speaks volumes for the quality and number of elite all-rounders in the women’s game currently. Sciver sits eighth in the ODI rankings, but only two are ahead of her in the T20I list, and who they are is instructive. There’s Sophie Devine, who during last winter’s T20 World Cup broke the record for most consecutive T20I fifties, and Ellyse Perry, who has one streak of six and two of five consecutive half-centuries in ODIs, moulding herself from an opening bowler and a No.8 in the 2013 World Cup into the most complete player the game has known.
The lesson for Sciver is that to be the best all-rounder in the world, you have to be not far off being the best batter in the world too, and that consistency is key in achieving that goal. The 2017 World Cup, in which she notched two hundreds while averaging 46.12, seemed like a turning point at the time. But from then until the end of the 2019 summer, she managed just four half-centuries in 21 hits in ODI cricket, averaging 28.75. Working on removing the aberrations – as well as raising “lockdown doggie” Bella with her fiancée Katherine Brunt – have been the themes for Sciver through cricket’s extended absence.
“Everyone had their individual development meetings with Lisa [Keightley, England head coach] and the coaches to see if there were any areas we could improve on,” she says. “For me it was a little bit, not necessarily skill-wise, but being a bit more aware and not having to go hard at absolutely everything even though I really want to. Just playing the situation and taking the easy runs, which doesn’t mean trying to bludgeon it. It was more about shifting through the gears rather than a proper skill.”
However, while it’s Devine and Perry Sciver is looking to overtake, she’s trying to “keep it within the Three Lions” when it comes to looking for inspiration. “I try to keep it in the English dressing room and look at Ben Stokes, who changes the game every time he plays it and does his best for the team every time. That’s something that I want to model myself on going forward.”
The comparison is an apposite one. Stokes has, in the past year, changed from being England’s firebrand to becoming their best and most reliable batsman, and there are signs that Sciver is on that same path.
There was plenty of maturity in the all-rounder’s second game back as she took Northern Diamonds from 24-4 to an eventually match-winning 226-9 against Lightning in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. But even before, back in Australia, there was evidence that Sciver was beginning to become the player she had always believed she could be. She notched three half-centuries in four innings at the T20 World Cup, finishing third on the run-charts with 202 runs at 67.33.
She attributes that uptick in part to a promotion to first-drop, one of Keightley’s first major decisions, which has forced Sciver to be England’s fulcrum, rather than just applying the finishing touches.
“I guess you can feel in form for a period of time but in T20 things change so quickly,” she says. “You can get a fifty or a hundred one game and then a duck the next. I guess for me it was a bit more mental and Lisa wanting me to go in at No.3 regardless. Obviously you have to be adaptable for T20 with your batting line up and her deciding that gave me some confidence that she wants me to be there regardless of what happens in the first few overs or the Powerplay or whatever it is. So I thrived off that and tried to take a bit more responsibility for the team and see us through and play accordingly.”
The highlight of her T20 World Cup campaign was her stand of 169 with Heather Knight against Thailand. Coming in at 0-1, which soon became 7-2, Sciver scored 59 at just over a run a ball as her captain ran riot, bringing up her maiden T20I ton. A younger Sciver might have tried to match her skipper stroke for stroke, but in this game she played the supporting role to perfection. “She came in and scored really freely so my role changed and I was batting to get her on strike.”
Still, while it was a personally successful competition for Sciver, for England it was one to forget, with defeat in their opener to South Africa consigning them to second place in the group, and then elimination when rain ruined their semi-final with India.
But if that was hard to take because of what might have been – “It sort of came to an abrupt end didn’t it?” says Sciver – last year’s Ashes thumping was something else altogether. England’s only victory came in the final game of the tour, with the urn already long gone and a glove barely laid on Lanning and the Megastars until then. Sciver describes her and her teammates as “traumatised” by it, and says Keightley’s appointment was important if only to lift the fug: “We needed something new to motivate us.”
The frustration now is that the calendar stretches out before England’s next marquee engagement to atone for their dual heartbreaks. The 2021 Women’s Cricket World Cup has been pushed back a year, with the next Ashes and T20 World Cup also set for 2022. For Sciver, it means that year “is going to be massive”, but for her partner, it could mean a tough decision.
“I’ve been talking to Katherine a lot and for someone who’s coming up to the end of her career in the next few years, it makes it a bit longer and a lot can change,” she says.
For now, the pair will have to make do with five T20Is at Derby against West Indies, “a dangerous team on any day” in Sciver’s estimation. It might not compare to a packed house at Lord’s or the MCG. But that’s the thing about consistency; you have to do it all the time.