Natalie Sciver transcends time and occasion at a moment where nothing else mattered
An unbeaten 148-run knock in the final of a World Cup against the best side in the world. Career-best score while chasing a second title in as many attempts, that too after scoring 109 not out in a thriller against the same opponent in their opening fixture. 148 not out would win you cricket matches nine out of ten times, but as Natalie Sciver painfully found out on April 3, it wasn’t enough on this occasion.
Although from the outside it felt it was never going to be enough, Sciver believed that she could do it for England, for she is no ordinary cricketer. During her knock, Sciver’s batting average ticked past 40, making her one of the two cricketers who average 40 plus while striking at the rate of 90 or more – the other being the inimitable Meg Lanning.
“I think actually when Charlie Dean was there we had a really good chat, like if we were there with two-three overs to spare. We knew that it would be a big ask – but there would be a chance that we could get over the line (if we managed that),” Sciver said at the media interaction post the final.
In England’s opening fixture on the second day of the World Cup, Sciver came into bat with them needing 219 from 31.1 overs and she smashed an unbeaten 109 off 85 balls, almost taking the defending champions home.
“After the first match getting so close, I guess the disappointment was something that has stuck with me. So going essentially against the top-ranked team was really special as well,” Sciver said.
The 29-year-old Sciver always reserves her best for the best side in the world. “It’s weird how it’s worked out, how it’s been against Australia,” she added.
Among all the batters who have scored a minimum of 500 runs against Australia, only Sciver and Harmanpreet Kaur average more than 50. Her runs have come at an impressive strike rate of 87.37 as well.
On Sunday, the task was even tougher. England were chasing almost 50 runs more and Sciver came into bat with her side in trouble at 38 for 2 in the seventh over. Tammy Beaumont, who scored 74 in the opening encounter, had just lost her wicket and the daunting target meant the England vice-captain didn’t have any time to settle herself down at the wicket.
“When you’re chasing 350 odd runs, there is really only one way you can play it. When you’re chasing that – the mentality of scoring runs takes care of itself really,” Sciver said, while talking about her thought process when she went into bat. The allrounder scored just three from the first 15 deliveries she faced. “I was a bit scratchy at the start and Heather (Knight) was hitting it nicely.”
Time is something Sciver always seems to have. She is rarely hurried into doing anything while batting. She is strong off the back foot as well as on the front foot and can use her feet against the spinners, while also rocking back to use the depth of the crease. There are no visible weaknesses in her game.
“I’ve stuck in and knew that I would be able to get one away.”
Off the 16th ball she faced, Sciver got her first boundary. It came from a back foot pull over mid-wicket for a maximum. The only six on a day that saw a combined tally of 641 runs being scored, including 74 fours.
From there, despite the loss of wickets at the other end, Sciver continued to go for it and reached her fifty from 53 balls. But the target was still very far and England would eventually fall short.
“…know that you need to be in there for a long time but also picking up boundaries where you can and do that seem to come naturally. But it just got a bit too much,” said a disappointed Sciver.
At 213 for 8, many batters would have given up even if you had supreme belief in your ability. Sciver was batting on 98 off 89 balls but a century was the last thing on her mind.
That’s when Dean walked in to join her in the middle. With the first ball of the 37th over, Sciver scored her fifth ODI hundred and then went on an overdrive. Even the edges seemed to make that ping sound from the bat like they had done all day. The duo added 65 runs for the ninth wicket in quick time and made the usually ‘unflappable’ Lanning nervous.
“There were a few nervous moments, there’s no doubt about that. She also played an incredible innings – Nat Sciver. That was something really special. On another day, that wins your team the game. We always felt under the pump a little bit while she was at the crease, in particular,” Lanning said.
England were 278 for 8 at that stage, with Sciver looking to do the improbable even as they needed another 79 runs from 46 balls.
“You could tell that the Australians were really keen on obviously taking our wicket and changing the momentum again. Because we did have a bit of momentum, I guess. But just if anyone stuck around for a 50 or 100-run partnership, it would have been maybe a different story,” Sciver added.
Sciver remained undefeated even as Australia started the long celebrations that would go on till late into the night.
It would have been a different story on most days, but Sciver will always have that night where she scored a 148 not out off 121 balls in a World Cup final, for some things in cricket will always transcend results and numbers.