Katherine Brunt: Ageing like fine wine in twilight of her career

Katherine Brunt © Getty Images

Grief, agony, anguish – these pictures have that commonality other than England’s pace spearhead, Katherine Brunt.

The grimace that is evident on the contours of Brunt’s face and the agonizing pain in her eyes sum up how aggrieved she was that evening (2022 World Cup Final) in Christchurch.

Katherine Brunt in agony © Getty Images

Going by Brunt’s bowling figures during the World Cup 2022, you could argue that she had a fairly underwhelming campaign. She only bagged four scalps in the nine games she played during the event.

But what those numbers fail to exhibit is the sheer intensity with which the speedster ran into the batters every time her skipper Heather Knight lobbed the ball towards her.

She showed a lot of heart and kept steaming in game after game unfazed by the personal output those matches yielded. Had there been a yardstick to measure a player’s commitment during the World Cup 2022, then Brunt would have arguably topped the chart.

Katherine Brunt giving her everything © Getty Images

But in sports just like in any other walk of life words like effort, courage, defiance, and resolve among others become secondary if the results do not come your way. If you fail to produce the goods then the pressure starts mounting and despite the presence of your best pals around you the world suddenly becomes a very lonely place to be in.

The scars of the excruciating loss in the World Cup final had barely healed and the 37-year-old veteran had to take a decision that caused another heartbreak. The experienced warhorse was forced to draw the curtains on a nearly 18-year-long distinguished Test career.

“Test cricket is my absolute passion and to retire from this format was truly a heart-breaking choice to make, but it allows me to prioritise white-ball cricket,” said Brunt.

Her Test career saw her bag 51 scalps in 14 matches, including three five-wicket hauls and one four-wicket haul.

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Brunt sacrificed her red-ball career to prolong her white-ball stint with England – a decision that was adjudged wise by Head Coach Lisa Keightley.

“I think she’s made the smart call, and that is to walk away from Test match cricket, which was really hard, and she’ll be a big loss but at the same time, knowing that we’re going to have her in the best place that she can be leading into the Commonwealth Games is quite exciting for us in white-ball cricket,” Keightley said.

When England picked the young trio of Lauren Bell, Issy Wong, and Alice Davidson-Richards for the Taunton Test there was an element of uncertainty in the air – Will the young guns be able to pass the stern test?

But they did. And hence when it came to picking the seam attack for the first ODI at Northampton, the England team management must have been tempted to play the rookies based on their rhythm and verve but eventually decided to unleash their old warhorse again and Brunt took the stage by storm.

She was on the money from ball one as she produced an absolute corker up front to Andrie Steyn. The ball pitched on Steyn’s off stump and left the outside half of her willow by millimetres. Brunt was cognizant to the fact that Steyn was hanging on the back foot, playing from her crease and reluctant to come forward.

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Brunt kept pitching it up in search of the outside edge. Her bowling also unveiled another snag in Steyn’s technique. Steyn was planting her front foot in the direction of mid-off and extra-cover every time despite the variations in the line of the ball. The same was evident when Brunt pitched the third ball of the match up on the off stump.

The ball was right there in Steyn’s arc to drive and had she planted her front foot straight – facing the wickets at the other end she could have creamed a boundary down the ground. But she opened her front foot in the direction of mid-off again and it slanted her bat face at the time of meeting the ball and she ended up hitting it straight down to mid-on.

Failed to induce the outside edge on fuller deliveries, Brunt changed her ploy. She decided to pitch one slightly short of good length outside the off stump shaping it away and Steyn went after it. The edge carried to Knight but she shelled it.

But unperturbed by the incident, the veteran pulled out another arrow from her quiver and ended Steyn’s struggle in the middle.

Brunt bowled an innocuous delivery from the centre of the bowling crease to set the batter up and it was defended well by Steyn. And what followed was a gun inswinger that any fast bowler would be proud of. She changed her angle slightly, went closer to the return crease, and delivered the inswinging ball to pin Steyn in front of the stumps.

Katherine Brunt celebrating after Andrie Steyn’s wicket © Getty Images

She followed it up with yet another brilliant setup and this time around it was the Southpaw Lara Goodall at the receiving end. She bowled three continuous deliveries on and outside off to Goodall that just held their lines to end the eventful over.

Brunt came back in the eighth over and delivered a ball – which gave the impression that it might have pitched on the leg stump – that tailed back in and hit Goodall flush on her front pad. Umpire Anna Harris had no hesitation in raising her finger but the replay suggested that the ball had just pitched marginally outside the leg stump and the decision had to be overturned.

But it was not long before Brunt was seen rejoicing again as Goodall succumbed to another peach. Brunt landed one on the seam that was shaping into Goodall but moved away from her and had her pushing at it. The ball took her outside edge and Knight didn’t err in pouching the opportunity safely this time around.

Brunt came back to pick one more scalp in the form of Ayabonga Khaka and ended with figures of 3/18 in her nine overs, the most economical figures in the entire match.

So what stood out about the 37-year-old veteran last evening the most?

Was it her immaculate line and length, precision, or ability to read batters and outfox them with her guile? Well, all of it was there but her unquenched desire to don the England jersey made her glisten in a different light as compared to the ones who stole the limelight at the County Ground in Northampton on Monday.