Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

During the 2022 ODI World Cup, I made a mental switch and started playing with freedom: Nat Sciver-Brunt

The English allrounder, selected ICC's Women's Cricketer of the Year for the second consecutive year, on her purple patch and how to cope with the ups and downs of international sports

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Jan 27, 2024 09:30:00 AM IST
Updated: Jan 25, 2024 10:32:08 PM IST

During the 2022 ODI World Cup, I made a mental switch and started playing with freedom: Nat Sciver-Brunt England's allrounder Nat Sciver-Brunt in action. Image: Marco Longari / AFP

A diplomat's kid born in Japan, Nat Sciver-Brunt played cricket only sporadically during her growing-up years, and her love for the game blossomed much later when she moved back to England, and only because it helped her hang out with her friends. The sport, though, loved her right back—a Surrey County coach spotted her at school, and then, right after university, she was drafted into the international team in the 2013 series against Pakistan. She won the Player of the Match award in only her second ODI, taking three wickets for 28 runs. In 2013, she became the first-ever English cricketer to take a T20I hat-trick.

While she has been a key allrounder for England in international cricket, Sciver-Brunt flourished particularly in the last two years: In 2023, she was selected as ICC Women's Cricketer of the Year for the second time on the trot, and was also part of the ICC's ODI and T20 teams of the year. The 31-year-old recently sat down for a chat with Forbes India and broke down her rise and rise in international cricket. Edited excerpts:   

'I started loving cricket as it helped me make friends'

I am a diplomat's kid—I was born in Japan and moved to a few other countries like the Netherlands and Poland. These countries didn't play cricket, so during those years, I played many other sports but not cricket. Cricket I played only a little bit in the holidays when I would go back to England. I never really got into cricket until I was about 12 or 13 when we returned to England, and I wanted to join a club. At the time, I had started a new school that offered winter nets for the boys' team. I began loving cricket from then, and it mainly had to do with the group of teammates I had in the club—I liked hanging out with them. So, that social aspect and making friends was the main reason I started playing cricket. One of the coaches there was from Surrey County, and he asked me to come for a trial. It all snowballed from there. I got into the team, and then at Loughborough University, where I studied, their cricket programme sponsored by the MCC. And as soon as I finished university, the first central contracts came in.

'I was coasting in college before my teachers prodded me'

When I was in school, my PE teacher was someone I really looked up to. She was also a teacher at the school, so I tried hard to do well for her. Similarly, she taught us hockey, too; I wanted to do well in that sport; that kind of transferred onto cricket. But it was the coach I had at Loughborough University, Salianne Beams, who really started to make me think seriously about cricket. Katherine [Sciver-Brunt], now my wife, was also coaching the university for a year during my first year, and she asked me if I was serious about playing for England. At that time, I was enjoying university life—hanging out with friends, going out for drinks—and not focussing hard enough on cricket. When Katherine told me I wasn't too far from playing England, I realised that I could make it to the national side if I put in more work. Without the intervention from Katherine and Salianne, I would have coasted along for some more time.

Also read: I was once scared to play the short ball; then I retrained my mind: Shane Watson

'Learning for yourself is important'

The years 2022 and 2023 have been great for me. I was ICC's woman cricketer of the year in 2022 as well as in 2023, and I have also been selected in the ICC's ODI and T20 teams of the year this year. Both my averages and strike rates have gone up. Have I flicked a switch somewhere? Not overnight, but over the years, with experience. When I was younger, I always wanted to hit boundaries all the time, no matter where the game was at. I didn't really have any self-control. Whereas now, I feel like I've learned, through the years of playing, the mentality of knowing when to play a shot. That has really helped me, especially in ODI cricket. Also, I think I was a bit fearful of the opposition bowlers. Now, I've made a switch in terms of not trying to consider that anymore and thinking about myself and what I can do. But you can't tell a young cricketer all these; they have to learn for themselves. If someone said these when I was younger, I'd stubbornly refuse to listen. So, learning for yourself is important.

'There's no reward without risk'

When you have big totals to chase down, the only way you are going to have a chance of winning is to try and score runs. It's hard to take the scoring option when wickets are going down, and there are not many runs on board. But that's how I want to play—I want to take on the scoring. In the ODI World Cup final against Australia in 2022, they had set us a target of 357, and we were 38-2, but I kept looking for runs and ended up with 148 not out from 121 balls. There's a risk of getting out, but there's no reward without the risk. Also, it was the first game of that World Cup where I made that switch—about not thinking about the threat and just playing with freedom. That's exactly what I did in our opening game, again with Australia as opponents, where they set us a target of 311. From 177-5, we went within 12 runs of the target, and I remained not out on 109.  

Also read: My losses have taught me the most: Lovlina Borgohain

'I try not to see crunch situations as a threat but as exciting'

How do I score big in crunch situations? I guess by not seeing it as a threat and seeing it as an exciting thing to be part of, where you have the chance to win the game for your team. The WPL final, where I was the Player of the Match, was the first final in a long time where I didn't throw it away—I got through a tricky period and could see it through to the end. Lots of coaches or players have said, "Nat, if you're there at the end, we'll be on the winning side." Going into last year's World Cup, that wasn't the case; we didn't win the final, but just holding on to that thought and getting through tough periods can be rewarding.   

'Learn to accept that you'll fail at times'

I have been through a time where I'd been through 4/5/6 games with low or no score, and as a batter, it is difficult to keep yourself going out there with the same mentality that you started with, the same willingness to put yourself out there, to be brave and to be judged. Keeping that confidence there is such a tough thing. But every cricketer has been through that—a dip of form or whatever it is. Cricket is so mentally driven, especially batting because you only get one chance to succeed, and everything can change in one ball. The same ball that might get you out one day might not the other day. So many things can contribute to you getting out. Just know that you might fail at some point, and be okay with that. Because how many people stay not out and score the runs they want to score?

Also read: My career started to peak when I accepted I had weaknesses: AB de Villiers

'Invest in something outside of your sport'

It's one of the key lessons I've learned from Katherine. She worked so hard but obviously had a few injuries with her back, had to have surgery, and missed such big chunks of the game. But, at this time, she started to think about her future in 10 years, what she would do when she retired, or if she got another big injury that could potentially end her career. A lot of girls in our team have done that, and that's really important so that when cricket is hard, you have something else. It's part of keeping your mental health going as well—we're so invested in cricket all the time, but having something else that you have outside of cricket is important so that the sport doesn't feel like your whole world.