She was born in Tokyo in Japan, and grew up in Poland and the Netherlands, before returning to England with her mother, who works with the foreign services. She played professional football as a kid in Poland, and tried her hand at hockey and tennis before settling for cricket. Heather Knight, her England Women captain, calls her the “Ben Stokes of the team”.
Meet Natalie Sciver, the batting all-rounder who scored a sensational 92-ball 137 and shared a third-wicket stand of 213 with Knight in England’s 107-run win over Pakistan at Grace Road in Leicester on Tuesday. Having already entered the record books on the first day of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 when she became the first woman cricketer to be given out through the Decision Review System, Sciver added another with a 76-ball century – the fastest in World Cups for England.
As exciting as her innings was, Sciver’s diverse background is even more fascinating. It is a big part of her personality. “I travelled around a lot when I was bit younger and I had to adapt to new situations and new schools and new countries,” Sciver said. “In terms of that, it’s probably enabled me to be a bit more flexible and, I guess, calm in general. I am quite a relaxed person. In terms of that, it’s probably helped me with my batting and allowed me to remain level-headed.”
The trust bestowed on Sciver by Knight and Mark Robinson, the coach, has also allowed her batting to blossom. Her performance against Pakistan was in many ways a token of gratitude to the management, which gave her a clear role once it decided last year to promote youngsters in a bid to win world titles. Sciver had batted just once at No. 5 in the first two years of her One-Day International career. Once Knight replaced Charlotte Edwards as captain before the bilateral series against Pakistan at home last year, Sciver has either come out at No. 4 or No. 5.
Part of the reason for the promotion was her terrific form in the Women’s Super League 2016. Representing Surrey Stars, she finished as the fifth highest run-getter in the competition with an aggregate of 181 runs in five games. Her strike-rate of 134.07 was way ahead of others, and her unbeaten 45-ball 90 – the second highest score in the tournament – against Western Storm came when her team was in trouble. Things were pretty similar against Pakistan.
Reduced to 42 for 2 in 9.1 overs in overcast conditions, England needed stability in the middle. Sciver and Knight soaked in the pressure, and then started the onslaught once the zing went out of Pakistan’s attack. It was not surprising to hear both Sciver and Knight say that they expected a career-defining innings sooner rather than later.
“That’s certainly the best innings of my career for England. It was a really special day and to have my family there was really good,” Sciver said after winning her first Player of the Match award in almost two years. “I had been feeling pretty good all season. I had felt it was in the making. So, I just had to do the basics well.”
Knight was effusive in her praise for Sciver. “That is probably the best innings I have seen Nat play. She was hitting the ball brilliantly as she always does,” she said. “She’s one of the cleanest strikers of the ball in the world. To see her progress as a player has been really pleasing to watch. She is one of the best allrounders. She can bowl brilliantly. We call her our Ben Stokes of the team. She is a little bit less aggressive.
“Pakistan hit us quite hard early on, they were aggressive and in our faces and there was a little period where we had to soak up a bit of pressure,” Knight added. “Nat was brilliant when she came in, she is always someone who is lovely to bat with, she keeps the scoreboard ticking over and that takes the pressure off you at the other end. It was really pleasing to get through that tricky spell and get the partnership together and to put in the type of performance we did today in light of the game (against India Women, which they lost by 35 runs) the other day.”
The best part of Sciver’s innings, played in front of a big family contingent, was that there was no indecision once she decided to attack. Using her height to reach the ball, she hit four massive sixes – three of them coming off successive Asmavia Iqbal deliveries in the 40th over – and 14 fours to finish with a strike-rate of 148.91.
“It’s important to keep a good base,” Sciver said, explaining how she hit those sixes that could have cleared any ground. “You want to try and keep low and stable. It’s not rocket science.”
It may not be rocket science, but Sciver has pushed the bar for power-hitting a bit higher in women’s cricket with her magnum opus.