Anya Shrubsole finds herself in elite company in 2020.
She is, after all, one of very few cricketers to have actually bowled a ball in anger in a year that has so far only been notable for the damage caused to sport by Covid-19.
When Shrubsole took her 100th wicket in T20 cricket – to become the leading wicket taker in Women’s T20 World Cup history – during the World Cup in Australia, she was looking forward to a full summer of action and her bow for the Southern Brave in The Hundred.
As it is, she’s now living at home with her parents in Bath, walking the dog and worrying about her brother, who finds himself on the front line of the crisis as an NHS paramedic.
“He has been lucky in the sense that the south west has always had the lowest (infection) rate,” she tells The CC. “I can’t imagine what it was like being a paramedic or a nurse or doctor in the hospitals in London. It must have been horrific.
“It has brought everyone together, though. I’m at my parents’ house and it’s a small cul-de-sac and everyone is quite close. At 8pm on a Thursday everyone is outside their front door clapping. One of the people in the street has got a pizza oven that cooks pizzas in about two minutes. On a Friday night, for everyone who wants to be involved, they give you four options and then leave it on your front door to collect.
“There have been many benefits to this but there are things happening that are genuinely heart-warming.”
For Shrubsole, it’s a homecoming in every sense, having grown up in the house she’s now isolating in. The thought of staying in a hotel, as England obviously did during their T20 World Cup campaign Down Under, now seems ludicrously distant.
“There’s a limit to what you can do at the moment obviously but you soon realise that there are bigger things at play,” she says. “When the time is right, people will be able to get back to training even if it’s on an individual basis. It’s frustrating but you have to be realistic. The bigger picture isn’t cricket or sport at the moment. It’s bizarre that you’ve gone from a World Cup to this in a really short space of time.”
Shrubsole is still only 28 but to county audiences she has been a fixture in the domestic game since the age of 12, when she made her debut for Somerset shortly after leaving primary school.
Plucked from playing club cricket for Bath, Shrubsole was thrust into the first class game earlier than almost any other player before or since. It was sink or swim – and she has been keeping her head above water ever since.
“You have to grow up pretty quick when you’ve just started senior school and you’re suddenly playing with women, but it was good fun,” she says. “Back then there wasn’t a huge amount of girl’s cricket available, so I played a lot of boy’s league cricket. The next thing for me was women’s cricket because there just weren’t the programmes and the amount of girl’s cricket that you see now.
“They were your options, really. You had age group boy’s cricket and then women’s cricket, there was nothing in between.
“If you asked most of the girls, they would tell you they were doing the same when they were 14 or 15, that’s just the way it was back then.”
A World Cup winner in 2017, Shrubsole has come a long way since, as has the game at large, with the women’s domestic game about to undergo another transformation with the creation of a new regional competition and the introduction of The Hundred.
“That seems a long, long time ago but when you stop and think about it you realise and appreciate everything that has happened in the women’s game since,” she says. “We’re now entering a period of massive change and that has been complicated even more by Covid-19.
“The money from the ECB earmarked for the women’s game is still there, the timing of it is going to be a bit different. With this new regional competition and The Hundred, you have a real opportunity to professionalise more of the women’s game. At the moment, you have this situation where the England’s team are all professionals and everyone below that, by and large, is an amateur.
“It’s a huge gap and that’s not what you want for so many reasons.
“The Hundred and the regional competition is giving a whole generation of women a chance, at the very least, to be semi-professional. You’ve seen what has happened in Australia with the Women’s BBL [Big Bash League] and the number of cricketers that that produces.
“This is what we need here and I believe The Hundred will help do that.”
The immediate shame, of course, is that this process can’t start now, with the start of the competition being put back until 2021. Shrubsole is confident that the time lag won’t have a huge impact, although she’s clearly impatient for the potential transformation to take place sooner rather than later.
For the Shrubsoles of the future, though, there is suddenly no shortage of role models to aspire to, both at international and domestic level.
“That’s something we’re aware of as a team,” says Shrubsole. “We take that very seriously and if you ask most of our girls who their idols were growing up, they will list players from the men’s game. I know I certainly would.
“Hopefully now, if you ask young girls, they will list some of us. During the 2017 season, there was one girl watching Heather [Knight] with a plastic bat. Every time Heather played a shot, she would copy it and try to emulate what she was doing in the middle.
“Those stories are amazing – they’re the kind of stories we want to hear.”