On August 14th 2018, the Southern Vipers, on their way to a last-placed finish in the Kia Super League, took on the Surrey Stars at Hove.
The Vipers had made a respectable 147, almost entirely due to Suzie Bates, who had hit 82 off 57 balls; and opening the batting for the Surrey Stars was Lizelle Lee – a fine batsman at the peak of her formidable powers, who would go on to make a blistering hundred in a player of the match performance at the same ground a week or so later in the final.
At the other end, seventeen-year-old fast bowler Lauren Bell – playing just her second professional match, having come into the Vipers 1st XI as an injury replacement.
Bell’s stock delivery is an inswinger, but with little assistance in the air she set herself to bowl quick and move it off the pitch, away from the right-handed Lee.
Dot… dot… dot… dot… dot… dot.
Lee had barely seen the ball, let alone had time to play it; and Bell had announced herself to the world – this was a player worth watching!
A year later, almost to the day, Bell is opening the bowling for the Vipers once again – this time against the Western Storm. At the crease is Rachel Priest, the veteran T20 specialist from New Zealand renowned for her dismissive power hitting. Priest knows what to expect – she played a season with Bell at Berkshire – and after seeing off two dots, she punches the third delivery through the covers for 4.
This one isn’t going to be a maiden!
Bell walks back to her mark, and prepares to bowl again.
This time she delivers the ball from a foot-and-a-half outside off stump. It is a straight delivery out of the hand, but it begins to swing in to the batsman. It is a good ball, not doubt – on the money – but Priest has it covered and swings to bash it over midwicket. She hears the sound of wood on leather and watches for the ball sailing towards the boundary for six… except… it soon becomes apparent that’s not quite what has happened.
The ball has swung… then swung some more… and then swung just that little bit more; and that sound you heard was not bat on ball, but the ball crashing through the gate into Priest’s leg stump.
Bell had just announced herself all over again – not just a player worth watching, but a player worth fearing.
Because anyone can bowl a maiden – even at Lizelle Lee – but no one else can bowl a ball like that.
Not Katherine Brunt.
Not Anya Shrubsole.
Not Marizanne Kapp or Megan Schutt.
They are all fantastic players; and overall, right now, I’d still pick any of them in my T20 dream team ahead of Bell, for consistency and economy.
But none of them could bowl a ball like that.
No one could.
No one, except Lauren Bell.