The nerveless, box-office cricketer that is Nat Sciver-Brunt

Five were needed off the last ball for an England win to take this hell-raising Women’s Ashes series to a Tuesday night decider in Taunton. Four for a Super Over to prolong the anxiety of those who want peace but can’t get enough of all this. Anything less and Australia keep the Ashes they have held for the last eight years. And as the rest of the world thought through those scenarios, Nat Sciver-Brunt took herself to one side for some alone time.

She went down on her haunches, her bat briefly moonlighting as a screen to obscure her face for a moment of privacy in front of the live cameras and the 12,380 at the Ageas Bowl. It had served its primary purpose for the previous 98 deliveries, with 110 runs and counting. Runs which had brought England to the precipice in a fifth successive nerve-shredding climax of the series. Now she had to catch her breath and her thoughts. She’d been here before. Perhaps too many times.

Certainly too many times with this eventuality. She arose to face up to Jess Jonassen, heaving one last heave to the leg side as the left-arm spinner landed one just outside off stump. The ball started high but finished low far too soon, bouncing a couple of feet in front of Annabel Sutherland running in from wide long-on. Sutherland gathered and threw into Jonassen, who broke the bails for the sake of it to confirm Australian victory by three runs.

By then, Sciver-Brunt was bent over, her bat now a crutch to keep her upright. The weight of England’s hopes were manageable. Not being able to get them over the line a familiar punch in the gut.

Sciver-Brunt now has the most centuries by a woman in lost ODIs (three), all of them unbeaten, all of them against Australia. The previous one came in the 2022 50-over World Cup final; the allrounder finishing 148 not out in pursuit of an unlikely 357 that only she thought was gettable. Australia won that by a comfortable 71 runs, which makes this one so much worse. “She’s pretty good at getting hundreds in a losing chase, unfortunately,” said Heather Knight out of weary sympathy.

Knight had seen England home in the first ODI last Wednesday and admitted being an observer on this occasion was “horrific”. The captain was one of the three dismissed by incoming legspinner Alana King, and thought the worst when Amy Jones was dismissed to leave England six down with 82 needed 71 deliveries. But what control Knight hated ceding as the game tilted Australia’s way with every delivery not struck to the fence was made easier by the fact that, as she put it, “the best person to be out there was Nat Sciver-Brunt.”

No doubt about that. Facing their record ODI chase of 283 – kept down by Sciver-Brunt’s 10 overs for 44 – just a few days after topping their previous best in Bristol, her entry at No. 4 would always define England’s fortunes. It came in the 18th over, passing Knight who was on her way back.

The allrounder was as she ever is; hovering around a run-a-ball throughout; fifty brought up in 53 deliveries, three figures coming 40 later. Calculated devastation with cold blood and the hot hand.

Did she need to be there all on her own by the end? A familiar question with a familiar answer. No.



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Sophia Dunkley was out of sorts up top, and both Alice Capsey and Danni Wyatt fell cheaply. Jones offered support for 57 runs for the sixth wicket only to reverse tamely to short third. Sarah Glenn remained defiant through to the end but 22 off 35 spoke of an inability to pitch in beyond trying to get Sciver-Brunt on strike.

With 13 needed from the final four deliveries, Sciver-Brunt swept Jonassen around the corner for the last of her 10 boundaries. A brace of twos followed, leading to that one final delivery. And as she was down on her haunches, catching her breath, taking a moment to herself, some of the thoughts of those around her veered from the Ashes and to what might be a potential moment of glorious catharsis.

On this very ground over a year ago, Sciver-Brunt came close to another hail mary effort. Playing for Trent Rockets against Southern Brave, she struck three consecutive sixes in the final over before only managing a single to lose by two runs. Just as it was then, Glenn was the non-striker. Tahlia McGrath was the bowler on the end of those blows, now merely observing in the field.

What followed was a raw, revealing insight into exhausting and emotional vulnerability of Sciver-Brunt. The toll of 2022’s cricket up to that point (September), had begun to consume her. The pressure she put on herself was more than she could handle. All this came out in what began as a cheery “hard luck” post-match interview on the BBC. A week later, she would pull out of the limited-overs series against India to focus on her mental health, eventually returning to international duty at the end of the year. She would reprise her role as vice-captain at the start of 2023.

“I was actually part of the BBC crew that interviewed her afterwards,” said Knight. “I could tell she wasn’t quite herself and wasn’t quite right. To do that on the day she did and the way she was feeling was quite remarkable. It was a great move by her to take a break and probably made it a lot easier for a lot of people to be quite open in our dressing room.

“It was kind of written in the stars that she was going to do it today. Just unfortunately a bit too much to do. But great character by her to get us anywhere near close and to rally the tail in another unbelievably entertaining game of cricket.”

By all accounts, she is back to herself and better at voicing how she is feeling and what she needs and wants. As such, the focus, for now, can be on worries from the outside about how one of English cricket’s genuine world-class exponents might not finish with the wins and accolades her talents deserve. That a player capable of winning matches on the biggest stage is consistently reduced to covering the gap between her team and a generationally transcendent Australian side. Michelangelo did not paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel just to cover the cracks, but Sciver-Brunt’s done it three times now.

The past few weeks do offer encouragement. Though the Ashes are gone, victory in Taunton will mean England have won both white-ball series against a team that, up until two weeks ago, had forgotten what it was like to lose. With all the talk of talent gaps being closed, perhaps the most important progression has been in belief. A team 6-0 down brought it back to 6-6, and this could have been so different for a boundary saved or scored in the deliveries not involving Sciver-Brunt. The hosts have shown incredible strength of character and resilience – both pages out of Sciver-Brunt’s book.

Yet, we all know that no matter how many others choose to stand up going forward, Sciver-Brunt will always see it as her responsibility to be the one to do the unthinkable. That she has those three hundreds in vain against England’s biggest rivals is not simply misfortune. She is not staggering into these improbable situations after a few wrong turns. She is seeking them out. Even if someone else emerges capable of carrying that burden, it is not something she will relinquish in a hurry. It is in every fibre of her being.

It is why she is the most box-office cricketer around. It is why Mumbai Indians forked out £320,000 (INR 3.2 crore) for her in the inaugural WPL, and won. And it is why, even after another bitter disappointment, we know the next time England need someone to pull them from the brink, Nat Sciver-Brunt will be the first on the scene. Whether she can win it or not, however, will still depend on those around her.

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