England all-rounder, having featured in the inaugural women’s T20I back in 2004, became first cricketer to play 100 T20I matches.
Chatting in the Lord’s museum last year before England’s victorious ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 campaign, Jenny Gunn cringed and then laughed about all the things that showed her age. She was then in her 13th year of international cricket. She had even played in the skirts that were now consigned to the display at the museum. Her teammates teased her about being “the mum of the team”.
On Sunday, 25 March, she could add another item to that list: Having played in the first ever women’s Twenty20 International back in 2004, 14 years on, she also played in the 405th match in the format. And with that, she became the first cricketer, male or female, to play 100 T20Is.
Her milestone game was not one for the bowlers. India posted the second-highest T20I total ever and Danni Wyatt chased it down with the second-fastest century. Gunn, 31, conceded 49 in her four overs, but at least she was on the winning side.
Looking back at that first 2004 match against New Zealand, Gunn said, “We just walked in on our debuts in T20. Who would have thought that it would catch on and take the world by storm!”
She now has 665 runs in T20Is, including a high of 69. That goes with 73 wickets in the format, including a best of 5/18 when she was stand-in captain against New Zealand in 2013.
Women’s cricket moving into the professional era helped her longevity, she explained. “I’ve got our fitness people – our trainers, physios, nutritionists. We have such good support back in England, that they’ve helped me stay on the pitch, and hopefully for a few more years yet.”
Her team-mates, meanwhile, gave her more credit. “Jenny Gunn has been a legend of the game for a number of years,” said Tammy Beaumont. “She keeps reinventing herself. You saw her [in the tri-series game against Australia], charging at long-off, putting one of the best stops of the day. So she's still leading.”
Part of her reinvention, and one of the most potent weapons in her arsenal, is the “whiff”. It’s an extreme slow delivery. In the women’s game, where the batters count on pace on the ball to get it away, it’s a delivery that gets her wickets as batters just aren’t able to generate enough power in their shots. In the T20 leg of the Ashes, which England won, it was particularly effective.
“It's the extreme slow ball, which often doesn't get clocked on the speedometer on the TV,” explained Nat Sciver. “So, she is not that pleased about it because it's so slow. But it's effective, we love it.”
Heather Knight, the England captain, and Beaumont were the ones to christen the delivery. “It kind of just whiffs out, a bit slow!” said Beaumont, revealing that Gunn disliked the delivery because it was a lot of running for a very slow one. “But that's part of cricket these days and it's certainly very effective. She's still kind of showing the debutants what's it about to be an England cricketer.”
“Everyone is talking about the whiff,” Gunn said, not thrilled to break it down. “It was just about playing around, and I found the slower ball, something that really worked. I don't know how I bowl, I don't watch much of that, it would get too much into my head and I'll then focus too much on it. Literally, it just happened by accident.”
For her, the biggest change from a decade ago is fitness. “I was a bit of a chubby kid in 2004. (It was about) getting fitter so I can actually run long-off to long-on. For some reason, my captain makes me do that!”
Besides, she said, “We used to play on huge boundaries back then, and that was probably a negative thing. No one had the strength to hit a six or was skilled to hit sixes, whereas now, there’s a decent sized boundary and you manage to hit sixes still, so that’s probably the main change in skill level of batting and bowling.”
England’s shaky campaign in the ICC World T20 2016 prompted serious introspection, and resulted in a shake-up that culminated in a 50-over World Cup win in 2017. In that new set-up, “old horse” Gunn was encouraged to see herself as an all-rounder rather than just a bowler. “In recent years, T20 cricket, the more all-rounders you have, the deeper you go in your side … so yes, I think you have to be able to do all three skills and that’s the way women’s cricket is going.”
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is her sense of wonder. “We’re so lucky now, we get to travel the world doing something we enjoy, with my best friends,” she said. “I try and have fun while doing it and hopefully that comes out and I keep doing it.”
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