Her approach is a risky one, but the England batter has made it work for her brilliantly at the World Cup so far.
Natalie Sciver was on 30 against New Zealand in Derby on Wednesday when Holly Huddleston bowled an in-swinging yorker. Sciver tapped the ball between her legs, with the bat’s face towards the wicketkeeper, catching everyone by surprise.
When the shot re-appeared to take her from 79 to 81, quick-thinking viewers captured it for posterity. Simon Doull, on air, called it the ‘draw shot’. The world named it ‘Natmeg’, after ‘nutmeg’, the footballers’ trick of pushing the ball between an opponent’s legs.
After her 111-ball 129 set up England’s 75-run win and sealed a semi-final berth for the home side, Sciver said she had played the shot in the past, but there was no interesting story about its origins.
“Basically, as my stance is quite wide, I get into a position where I can’t move my front foot again. If it is really full then all I can really do is hit it like an axe. Luckily, I hit it,” explained Sciver afterwards. “It is by chance. There is no more exciting story than that. Everyone’s like, ‘Ah! So close to getting the wicket’. I am like ‘he he’.”
Laura Marsh, Sciver’s England team-mate, called it an irritating shot from an opposition’s perspective.
On a perfect summer day when Mithali Raj became the first batter to score 6000 runs in women’s One-Day Internationals, the young Sciver laid down new markers in the evolution of batting.
Already the first woman to score 1000 ODI runs from less than a thousand deliveries, Sciver became the ninth batter to score two centuries in one edition of the World Cup. She stands for everything modern. While the old school of batting to which Raj belongs shifts gears gradually, Sciver’s tribe can start from top gear or, when the opposition captain spreads the field like Suzie Bates did, rotate strike to avoid the dot-ball pressure. Equally good with top-hand and bottom-hand play, and quick running, they are the complete package. The template of their batting is built around moving the scoreboard, and a total of 300-plus is always within reach. The approach is risky, but the freedom to entertain breathes freshness into the sport.
Coming in at 58 for 3 in the 14th over, a situation similar against Australia (56 for 3) where she had thrown it away, Sciver did her “basics for longer”. Only a regular in the top-order since Charlotte Edwards’ exit last year, Sciver now has 315 World Cup runs. She is third on the list of batters in this competition, and her strike rate of 118.42 is only behind Deandra Dottin’s 126.96 among those who have made at least 200 runs in either the 2013 or the 2017 editions.
Sciver has found a way to revive situations by combining intelligence with power. She did that beautifully against Pakistan, and manoeuvred the field against New Zealand’s spinners to negate risk when the team needed her to bat deep.
As the innings progressed and the challenges receded, she displayed her full range including the Natmeg. While her first 50 runs came from 55 balls and had 30 scoring shots, she reached the century in 92 balls with a total of 61 scoring shots. By the time she was dismissed, she had played 76 scoring shots, facing just 35 dot balls.
Fittingly, Tammy Beaumont, who heads the tournament’s batting charts with 330 runs after her 93 on the day, was Sciver’s partner for 27.1 of the 33 overs she spent in the middle. Their fourth-wicket stand of 170 was right on the money as they have been at the forefront of England’s batting dominance throughout the competition.
England has scored 1745 runs in six games – way ahead of the other seven teams – and 64.58 per cent of those have come when Beaumont and/or Sciver have been in the middle.
Bates was effusive in her praise for Sciver. “She has been quality all-rounder. She was reasonably young when she first came on to the scene. You know those players, the more experience they get the better they get. She can hit the ball hard, and once she gets in she is hard to stop,” she said.
“To have them three down, we were in a really good position. We haven’t looked at any footage yet, but that partnership was really impressive. They batted outstanding. With a player like Nat Sciver, you know she hits hard and you put out a sweeper but that also gets their game going. The leg-spinners potentially in their first spell did not bowl as well they could have. But she batted extremely well. We had a chance that may have reduced the score a little bit, and we didn’t take that either.”
Both Sciver and Beaumont looked extremely sharp despite having done the majority of the batting for their team over six games.
While some of the teams are feeling the brunt of a high-intensity tournament stretched over a month, England has remained fresh. It has hit five centuries, has three of the top six run-getters in its ranks, and the bowlers have shared the workload.
“(Robinson is a) massive reason why we are able to play with more freedom and back ourselves a little bit more through the order. (Fitness) has been massively important and it’s something we have learnt over the last year or so,” said Sciver. “There is confidence in the group that you can back your partner and batters to come and do the job. It kind of takes pressure off you a bit. Me and Tammy worked well together, and hit in different areas and it would have been hard (for them) to bowl.”
With the Natmeg in town and history just a couple of wins away, Sciver looks good for more.