Power, placement and poise: Natalie Sciver bludgeons her way to the top

Natalie Sciver plays a forceful shot through the leg-side. © Getty Images

It was an incredible display of power-hitting, clinical and precise. Natalie Sciver took India’s attack apart on her way to posting England’s joint fastest T20I half-century ever at Northampton on Friday (July 9).

She stamped her authority on the opening game of the T20I-leg of this multi-format series by her very presence and through her commanding strokeplay. Over the course of her 27-ball 55, there were times when she looked to be batting on a different surface to everyone else, hitting eight fours and a six. Her rapid knock helped England post a commanding total of 177 for 7 in their 20 overs.

Sciver capped off her evening by removing the dangerous Smriti Mandhana who was beginning to locate the boundary in an attempt to push India towards the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (DLS) target. That wicket allowed England to tighten the screws on the visitors, restricting them to 54 for 3 in 8.4 overs – 18 runs short of the DLS target – before the threatened rain fell. Quite deservedly, her allround efforts (55 and 1 for 16) meant she was crowned player of the match.

Performances like these surely now threaten Sophie Devine’s narrow lead at the top of the ICC’s T20I allrounder rankings.

England’s victory means that they take an unassailable lead in the series heading into the second T20I at Hove on Sunday (July 11). India can only square the series if they win both remaining fixtures.

Speaking after the match, Sciver said she was delighted to have made the series safe.

“We’re really pleased that we were able to get into that position. It’s always important for us to start the series well – the change of format is included in that – and we hit the ground running. I managed to get my first ball away for four. It doesn’t always happen. But yeah, I felt good. So, I just went on from there and gathered a bit of momentum through my innings.”

“I wasn’t really thinking about the speed of it (her innings). When I did get the strike, I was thinking quite boundary orientated. I knew that the wicket was quite good and with their batters, we needed a good score. So yes, it was good to bat through the innings and get a partnership together with Amy (Jones) to bring us up to a good total.”

At the start of the game, a reunited Danielle Wyatt and Tammy Beaumont had been forced to manufacture shots on a slow surface at the top of the order, taking a while to find the boundary and some fluency. By contrast Sciver was composed, confident, and assured from the get-go. Her hitting was clean yet brutal, her placement and timing were perfect – whether waiting for the slower deliveries from the spinners and using her power to force the ball off the square, or when taking the attack to the seamers.

She set the tone from ball one, rocking back to a delivery from Radha Yadav and smashing it through cover for four. In the next over, she went back deep in her crease and smeared one of Poonam Yadav’s leisurely paced deliveries through mid-wicket for four more, before taking one step down the pitch to drill Radha over extra cover for six.

Watching Wyatt and Beaumont’s opening stand, Sciver noted how difficult it was to score early on. Getting that first boundary away was therefore crucial in understanding how to play on that surface.

“Luckily, I managed to feel comfortable quite quickly,” she said. “But as soon as you get the pace of it, you could hit through the line. I was able to use my feet and then if it was full, get my hands through [the ball].”

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“So yeah, I knew when I had hit that [first boundary], we should get a few more runs than I guess we were heading towards [before that], so I was happy that me and Amy played in similar ways, and we were able to get a partnership together. She really accelerated towards the end of her innings, which was brilliant.”

After a steady start, England lost Beaumont and Heather Knight in quick succession which arrested the momentum slightly, before Sciver wrested it back. Sneh Rana had conceded just two runs from her first over, but Sciver targeted her second, using all her strength to pull a ball outside off stump through midwicket, and then, drilling another delivery down the ground to collect another boundary.

The harshest treatment though was reserved for Arundhati Reddy. After ramping the seamer over the keeper’s head for a couple, Sciver swatted her violently down the ground for four, causing the bowler to take evasive action. The next ball was smoked through extra cover before she smashed Reddy straight down the pitch again. Those three consecutive boundaries brought up the 50-run partnership with Amy Jones off just 28 balls.

Sciver’s own half-century duly came from just 24 balls and England looked on course for a score of around 200. But after Sciver swung a full toss from Shikha Pandey through the leg-side for a one bounce four, she could only hit the next delivery straight to Harmanpreet Kaur who took a brilliant diving catch on the boundary.

Through her innings, the 28-year-old appeared supremely calm and always in command of proceedings. She dictated terms from the very start, never allowing India’s bowlers to settle into a rhythm.

While people have remarked on her ability to appear calm while batting, Sciver admitted that appearances can sometimes be deceptive.

“People have always said I’ve got a presence at the crease. So yeah, I guess that helps. I mean, I can look like that but be really flustered inside, like if there’s a lot of pressure or I haven’t got off to a good start. It’s not always the same inside.”

Although she is keen to downplay it, it’s clear that her power-hitting is the result of a lot of hard work behind the scenes.

“Before series and when you have training blocks, I’m always working on my strength in the gym. I guess sometimes it does transfer.”

“But I guess on a wicket like that, placing the ball in the gaps for the boundaries is almost as important as trying to go over the top. I guess I have got stronger physically in the gym, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to transfer, but it seemed to work today.”

Over the past few years, Sciver has been particularly mindful of the need to develop an approach to the slower deliveries bowled by the Indian spinners and by Poonam in particular.

“She obviously bowls very slowly. But I guess my strength in general off spin is my back foot [play] and being able to read it when it is short enough to be able to get it off the back foot. [That’s] important as well as meeting the ball when you can on the front foot. So yeah, we’ve faced her a lot and done quite a bit of homework on her, so I think we played her pretty well.”

The game’s other undeniable big talking point was the sensational catch on the boundary by Harleen Deol to dismiss Jones. Deol caught the ball, threw it in the air as the momentum carried her over the rope and then stepped back inside to take a brilliant diving catch.

Wyatt applauded the effort from the boundary, while Sciver – who had been dismissed only a couple of deliveries before that – admitted she was equally impressed with Deol’s feat. The allrounder hopes to add a similar catch to her career highlights reel one day.

“It’s brilliant. We don’t see many of those catches in the women’s game. Obviously, we see quite a few in the men’s game, but hopefully it can be the start of a few more that we see in our game.”

“I’d love to have one of those! That’s what you practice for. You have a little go at the end of a [training] session. It was brilliant catch.”

Although the rain cut short her stint with the ball – a spell that included a superbly directed bouncer to Deol – Sciver said she has enjoyed taking more responsibility in the powerplay over the last couple of years. For now, there is a series to win and she believes England have put down a clear marker heading into Sunday’s game.

“With a change of format it was important for us to not ease into it and put things to rights that we maybe didn’t do so well in the last ODI match [at Worcester].”

“But yeah, T20 is a format that we’re quite comfortable with. And I guess in terms of plans, they’re very strong in people’s minds and everyone knows, knows their role. So yeah, when it comes together like that, it’s good.”