Just over three years ago, in March 2018, Alice Davidson-Richards was plucked out of county obscurity and handed an England “Rookie” contract by then coach Mark Robinson.
At that point, ADR was 23 years old, had represented Kent as a pure amateur for 8 years, and was working as a personal trainer. Suddenly she had an international career dangled before her eyes. It was all a bit of a shock: “I definitely thought my time had passed me by,” she said in the accompanying press conference.
As it turned out, a glittering future for England did not lie ahead. ADR played in 5 T20s and an ODI on that first tour, before being dropped ahead of England’s 2018 World T20 campaign in the Caribbean. She has not played an international since April 2018.
She is also no longer in possession of a Rookie contract. These were abolished by the ECB last year, with all the “Rookies” upgraded to full time professional contracts, attached to the 8 new regions. In practice, that means that ADR no longer trains with the England players; she is no longer considered an “England contracted player”.
And yet she is batting with more confidence than at any point in her career.
At The Kia Oval on Saturday, against Western Storm, ADR hit her highest ever List A score – 92. (Her previous highest was 78 for Otago v Wellington in November 2018.) Despite the fact that Stars were chasing the relatively modest target of 246, and needed to score at less than 5 an over, ADR (alongside opening partner Bryony Smith) came out and batted with an aggression and intent that I’ve rarely seen from her before.
“That’s just the way we play,” Smith said at the close. “We want to play a really positive brand of cricket. We both play in quite a similar way, we give it a go, and luckily it’s paid off.”
The opener role is something of a new role for a seasoned county player who is better known for her metronomic medium-pace bowling than her batting. For Kent, ADR is more generally found lurking somewhere in the middle order. (This season she batted at 4.) So why the promotion?
“We didn’t really have a settled opening partnership last season, we went through quite a few combinations,” Smith said. “This winter, she’s batted really well and we thought, ‘let’s see what happened’. We batted a lot together in the winter and we know each other well, so it felt really natural.”
After yesterday’s chase, it looks to have been a masterstroke from Richard Bedbrook and Johann Myburgh. The pair added 32 together for the first wicket; their positive approach meant that the game was effectively won in the first 15 overs of the chase. ADR may not have reached that magical three-figure milestone, but she is batting with a swagger that makes you feel it will come. I don’t think I would have written that 3 years ago.
What has changed? It seems counter-intuitive, but it looks to me like transitioning from being an England Rookie to being a regional professional is the best thing that could have happened to Alice Davidson-Richards. As a Rookie, she was schlepping up to Loughborough four days a week to train with the England squad. She was also fighting with a raft of England star batters for the attention of coaches in the nets. Not anymore.
“Being a Rookie is fantastic, but we’re not the top priority,” reflected Smith – who has been through the same transition as ADR. “Whereas here, we’ve got coaches on hand if we need them, we can just message someone if we’re free to have another hit. I think it’s been really beneficial.”
Credit, then, to Bedbrook and Myburgh for creating the kind of environment in which Davidson-Richards can finally fulfil the potential which Robinson identified three years ago. Maybe there will be more England matches in her future; maybe not. But for someone who has given so much to English domestic cricket, who rocked up for Kent for years simply because she loved representing her county, with no hope that it might one day lead to a professional future, it’s fitting that the domestic system is finally giving something back.