It was the 1st March 2010 – the 5th ODI of England’s tour to India. Having already lost the series, thanks mainly to 3 consecutive half-centuries from Mithali Raj, England chose to rest Charlotte Edwards that day and perhaps with one-eye on the up-coming T20 series, hand a first cap to an exciting 18-year-old all-rounder from Stoke-On-Trent – Danielle Wyatt.
The debutante did not disappoint. Coming in at 7 after the visitors had laboured to 133-5 chasing 207, Wyatt hit 28* off 26 balls to carry England over the line, striking the winning run with one ball to spare. After such a promising start, expectations were high as Wyatt was selected for all 3 of the T20s that followed, but she struggled with both bat and ball, making 0 and 1 with the bat and bowling just a single wicketless over for 7 runs.
It was a pattern that was to repeat itself throughout the next 8 years – each step forwards followed by another one back – as she continued to show enough promise to stay in the picture, whilst never quite producing that defining display which guarantees a run in the team. She’d been dropped more times than the beat at an Eminem show; and when she was included in England’s lineup for the 1st T20 of the 2017 Women’s Ashes, it is fair to say that this was despite, not because of, her record: 70 T20 internationals, averaging just 12 with not a single T20 (or ODI) half-century to her name.
Wyatt’s key mitigating factor was a Strike Rate of over 100 – she might not have made many runs, but she made them quickly at 105; and this was very-much her role in the team – the pinch hitter – the karaoke queen who would bash out a few bars of Don’t Stop Belivin’ to get the scoreboard swinging before her voice cracked. And it was enough. Just.
Women’s T20 has been changing recently – as average winning scores in women’s T20 internationals have climbed, a run-a-ball 120 is no longer “par”, and a quick 11 off 10 balls is starting to look like chump change compared to what your Beth Mooneys, your Amy Satterthwaites and your Hayley Matthews have been posting, not just against Pakistan or Ireland any more, but in the big games against the top sides.
But where was England’s Mooney? Their Satterthwaite? Their Matthews? It turned out she’d been hiding in plain-sight all along – it turned out her name was Danielle Wyatt.
In the first T20 of the Women’s Ashes, she entered the fray with England on the ropes at 16-4, and hit her first international half-century – 50 off 36 balls – to drag England to a respectable 132. They still lost the match, and with it their hopes of regaining the Ashes thanks to a brilliant 86 off 56 balls from Beth Mooney, but it felt like the tide was turning nonetheless.
“It was a relief really,” she tells me, when we meet at Sussex’s Aldridge Academy training ground 4 months later. “I knew I always had the talent, but I got that 50 at a much needed time.”
So what changed?
“I’ve worked hard with [Assistant Coach] Ali Maiden and [Head Coach] Mark Robinson – they’ve got belief in me, which helps a lot – knowing that your coach backs you – but in my career I’d come in and been a pinch hitter and got myself out, so it was just about being a little bit smarter.”
But for Wyatt, she still hadn’t quite got the role she really wanted, which was to open.
“I had a coffee with Mark Robinson before the Ashes in Brisbane, and he said ‘Where do you want to bat? and I said ‘I’d love to open the batting in T20’ – that is where every batsman wants to bat – you’ve got two fielders out – what more could you want?”
After her display in the opening match, for the second T20 Wyatt was promoted to open the batting, making 19 off 16 balls as England pulled off a big win at the Manuka Oval in Canberra.
But it was in the third and final T20 that things really came together at last for Wyatt. After Beth Mooney had hit 117 for Australia to post 178, Wyatt responded with a hundred of her own – 100 off 57 balls, at an incredible Strike Rate of 175 – to win the match, and the T20 series, for England.
“It still hasn’t sunk in that I’m the first [English] woman to hit a T20 international hundred – it is pretty special to do it in the Ashes against Australia – that record chase was just unreal, and hopefully it is just the start of something special.”
England fans will certainly be hoping so, with a huge year of T20 cricket coming up.
“We’ve got a busy schedule – we saw it on the board the other day – there’s not much time for rest in the next 12 months! In March we fly out to India [to play India and Australia] and then we’ve got South Africa and New Zealand coming over in the summer. Hopefully we can win those series and I’ll personally do well, and then we want to be in good form leading into the World T20 in November in the Caribbean – if we can win that as well as the World Cup, that would be the icing on the cake.”
England certainly aren’t taking anything for granted though.
“The World T20 will be a very close tournament,” Wyatt reckons. “Every team is improving – India are playing some really good cricket… the West Indies are still a really good T20 team… South Africa have come in… the Aussies with Meg Lanning back… and then obviously us!”
With such a busy schedule ahead, it was important for Wyatt to take some time out, passing on WBBL and heading instead to Vietnam for a family holiday over the Christmas period, which gave her the chance to reflect.
“I had a lot of time to think – about the last 12 months and how incredible it all was,” she says.
“I’m just dying to get out there and play for England again!”