For the young girls in fluorescent tutus at the Bristol County Ground watching England take on Australia in a thrilling game of cricket at the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 on Sunday, Alex Hartley must have been the perfect role model.
Hartley, England’s 23-year-old left-arm spinner, looks like a ballerina when she runs in to bowl. As she takes her strides, she spreads her hands, brings them close over her head and back down before gracefully rolling her arm over.
On Sunday, she made Meg Lanning, the Australian captain, dance as well.
The world champion needed to chase a target of 260 and Hartley’s 2 for 31 off 10 overs, bowled in two economical and effective spells, was a big reason they failed to do so. Lanning had only been able to score five runs in 14 deliveries against the left-arm spinner. Deciding to attack, the top batter in the world advanced down the track, only to york herself and be bowled.
“I think I went pretty mad, to be fair!” said Hartley of her celebrations.
Hartley has played with Lanning at the Box Hill Cricket Club in Melbourne and to be effective, she knew she needed to forget that she was bowling to the best batter in the world right now.
“She’s just another batter to me when I’m bowling. We’re all in it, we’re all capable of getting her out. It’s just another wicket for me,” she explained. “If I think about it too much, I get nervous. I’m new on the scene and I’m like, ‘Wow! It’s Meg Lanning!’ so I had to keep chill.”
She had to make a decision: “Quicker ball? Slower ball? Quicker ball? Slower ball? Right, slower ball! It paid off, it worked and I bowled her.”
Until then, while England had plans to capitalise on Lanning’s shoulder injury, it wasn’t working. “We thought she can’t really play cross-batted shots as well as she used to, so for us it was just trying to make her play across the line against me, definitely,” said Hartley. “So bringing square-leg up and seeing if she was going to go for it, but she didn’t.”
After the three-run win to give England its first World Cup win over Australia since 1993, Lanning admitted that losing her wicket for 40 off 46 at a crucial point in the game “wasn’t really ideal”.
“The period between overs 30 and 40 was probably what cost us in the end. We did well to make a game of it towards the end with some big hitting, but we left ourselves with too much to do,” she said.
Apart from taking the wickets of Lanning and Beth Mooney, the opener, Hartley conceded just two boundaries in her spell and added 35 dot balls to the Australian tally which included two overs in the batting Power Play.
Also taking on responsibilities in the Power Play was Jenny Gunn, returning to the squad for this game and making an impact with both bat and ball. Gunn got the wicket of Nicole Bolton, the opener, and pushed the asking rate to beyond a run a ball. Then, asked to defend 16 in the final over, she did so and got another important wicket. Her clever variations of pace were her strength.
“Heather (Knight, the captain) just said ‘keep warm’, and I was like ‘It’s quite warm anyway!’ joked Gunn about being asked to take the 50th over. “But once I was at the top of my mark, I knew what I was going to do, and it came off. Just happy to win by three runs.”
Gunn was convinced that even in the midst of all the tension, she could hear her two-year-old nephew calling out her name, rounding off an altogether special day.
“We played in the sun in England, which is unheard of normally. So we’re quite happy,” she laughed. “We (the team) are actually a family, we do get on. So it’s like once we take the field, it’s really nice to be with your mates and your loved ones and you’re together to fight.
“It’s an amazing feeling. To go over the line is massive, especially after the loss in the first game against India. It just goes to show what we’re about.”
Alex Blackwell, the Australian vice-captain, conceded that the side had left the lower order with too much to do. “We spoke about trying to enjoy the opportunity. We were a little behind in the game, but we needed to play with freedom and enjoy it. I think with the team we have, nothing really is out of reach,” she said. “You saw how Ash Gardner hits the ball. Alyssa Healy (also can hit). It’s great having that depth. We probably did leave a little bit too much for that tail end to do. (But) the game we’ve just seen today is probably one of the best games of cricket, very exciting for a full house here and on live TV.
“We need to look at the types of bowlers pinning us down a little. Alex Hartley had a good game today, but we could have put more pressure on her. Obviously the extras. What is pleasing is our bowling attack and the balance we have out there. (Kristen) Beams was outstanding today. (Megan) Schutt with her multiple changes of pace really gives us a weapon. She’s been outstanding as well on the outfield.”