If you could pick one moment to “cut out and keep” from the career of Anya Shrubsole what would it be? The retrospectives and social media posts which greeted her retirement from international cricket, aged 30, suggest two in particular stand out: the 2017 World Cup final of course, but also Anya with her hand on the shoulder of a distraught Dane van Niekerk at the end of the semi-final against South Africa.
For me, it was neither of those, but a moment in the field playing for Berkshire. I can’t remember exactly when it was, nor who Berkshire were playing. I’m pretty sure it was at North Maidenhead, though I might be wrong about that too. It’s not important though. The batter (who shall remain anonymous because… I don’t remember her either) struck the ball firmly square of the wicket, and Anya went steaming off in pursuit.
I can think of a few international players would would have thought “county game; nobody watching” and if not given up, perhaps turned the dial down a little, but Anya put in a full-on last ditch dive… and, in a moment that could have been scripted by Buster Keaton, face-planted over the boundary into the deck-chairs of a group of fleeing spectators – not just any spectators either, but her own family and friends!
Emerging from the ensuing rubble, Anya herself was the first to see the funny side.
For me, that moment sums up Anya Shrubsole – the commitment… the effort… and the ability despite those things, to nonetheless not take it all too seriously. Without that, none of the “big moments” of her career would have been able to happen.
It’s easy to forget that England only got to Lord’s in 2017 because of Anya Shrubsole. England needed 3 off the final over in their semi-final against South Africa, and that became 2 off 3 balls when Laura Marsh was bowled by Shabnim Ismail. With 8 wickets down, in a home World Cup semi-final, in front of a crowd of thousands at Bristol, and with millions watching on TV, this was totally unchartered territory for players who had debuted in the amateur era.
Out walked Anya – not really a recognised batter, despite having once scored a freakishly fast century for Somerset against Wales in 2013, to face the biggest 3 balls of her life. She needed just one, almost absent-mindedly swashing the ball for 4… and the rest is history. Because of that ability to not take it all too seriously, she’d treated one of the best bowlers in the world, on one of the biggest stages in the world, like it was just a game in the park, and taken England to a World Cup final.
Don’t take that to mean she didn’t care though. Back in the days of the old Women’s County Championship, promotion and relegation between Div 1 and Div 2 was decided via a play-off between the bottom placed team in Div 1 (Warwickshire, that year) and the winner of Div 2 – Anya’s Somerset. Warwickshire were, I’m sure they’d be the first to admit, a bit of a shambles that year, while Somerset were at their peak with Anya, Sophie Luff and Fran Wilson, who all made scores as Somerset posted 220.
Warwickshire’s reply was held together by Helen Shipman, but when she was dismissed for 124 (with one Anya Shrubsole running the length of the field to shake her hand as she walked off) the game looked to be Somerset’s to lose, with Isabelle Watson and Liz Russell (Warwickshire’s 8 and 9) ending up needing 15 to win off the final over, bowled by… you’ve guessed it… Anya Shrubsole.
To screams of delight from the pavilion, Shrubsole’s first two balls were dispatched for four, and suddenly it was on! A single followed, then another BIG heave for four and it was down to two-from-two – a single from the penultimate ball brought the scores level (which (I believe???) meant that Warwickshire had actually already survived) but they made sure of it with another single off the final ball.
Somerset had lost and Anya left the field in tears – she cared, and the only thing she didn’t care about was who knew it.
How much she cared about Somerset in particular – her “home” in every sense – was emphasised shortly afterwards when a directive came down from the ECB that all England players were to move to Div 1 counties, to try to keep the top flight as strong as possible. I’m sure Anya didn’t actually put it quite this way, but her response essentially consisted of two words, the second of which was “off”.
One of the photos doing the rounds on social media these past couple of days was taken by a journalist late into the after-party following the World Cup win at Lords. The truth behind that photo is that Anya wasn’t really enjoying that evening – it was a fuss, and she didn’t much like a fuss, especially when she was in the middle of it. She wasn’t there for the glory, or the gold watch she got for being Player of the Match. She might have been a professional cricketer, but at her heart she remained an amateur of the best kind – she was there to have a game of cricket with her mates and help them win – that’s the heart (and sole!) of Anya Shrubsole.