New action helps Natalie Sciver fill England's Brunt-shaped hole

Nat Sciver celebrates a wicket Getty Images

It was fairly obvious ahead of this World T20 that Natalie Sciver would play a key role for England with the bat. In the 2017 50-over World Cup she was the only player to hit two centuries; she went viral during that tournament with her distinctive through-the-legs shot, the "Natmeg". In T20 she bats at No. 4 and is one of England's big power hitters; in the 2018 Kia Super League she punched out an unbeaten 95 in just 57 balls.

What no one quite expected was that Sciver, known for her military-medium pace, would produce a spell of bowling that consistently topped 70 mph, finishing with remarkable figures of 4-1-4-3 in England's must-win group game against South Africa.

Even Sciver herself wasn't quite expecting it to come out quite so perfectly.

"I don't know if that's right!" she laughs when I mention the speed she clocked during the South Africa match. "But I'm really pleased. I spent a bit of time before we came here working on my bowling action, so I'm really happy that it's paid off in a game which we had to win."

The tweaking of her action has produced more immediate and more effective results than anyone anticipated. It was only two months ago, back in September, that she sat down with her coaches in the wake of the Kia Super League and made the decision to, as she terms it, "tinker" with her approach.

"After we came back from the Super League, all the players sat down with the coaches to talk through what we could work on. We decided my action couldn't get any worse, so we might as well try - it could get better. Luckily it's paid off!"

What exactly has she changed?

"Before, my bowling arm used to do a lot work behind the rest of my body. I've tried to make sure that it doesn't go too far behind, so that all the momentum's going forward. So my follow-through's become a bit longer, because I've got more momentum through the crease, and it's allowed me to be more accurate because all things are going towards the target.

"I definitely feel like it's coming out quicker. That wasn't really the aim, it was more to be more consistent, but because all things are going towards the target that helps speed-wise."

In England's first completed group match, against Bangladesh, Sciver utilised the swinging ball to great effect, finishing with 1-7. Against South Africa, in a devastating bowling performance that saw the Proteas bowled out for 85, her scalps included the key wicket of Lizelle Lee, Sciver's KSL teammate at Surrey Stars and someone she knows first-hand to be a dangerous player.

"Through the KSL, in the nets she used to smash everyone around. So it was very nice to get her wicket and restrict South Africa to the total that we did."

In both of England's games Sciver has been coach Mark Robinson's choice to open the bowling, alongside regular new-ball seamer Anya Shrubsole. That opportunity came in the wake of a belated injury to Katherine Brunt, putting her out of the tournament just days before England's first group match. Robinson, casting around for someone who could bowl what he terms the "dirty overs", fixed his eyes on Sciver. "Once he saw how it was coming out a few weeks out from the tournament, he mentioned that I'd be bowling in the first 6," she says.

For Sciver, who made her England debut back in 2013 as a bowling allrounder, stepping up to play a leading role with the new ball has brought her career full circle.

She was initially thought of as an exciting new pace prospect, an impression that was confirmed by her becoming the first ever English player to take a T20I hat-trick (against New Zealand in November 2013). But between the last World T20 in 2016 and the start of this one she bowled her full allocation of overs just twice.

"Over the last two years I've focused more on my batting," Sciver says. "The bulk of the work that Robbo [Robinson] and I did was with the bat at the start, and I guess I haven't been as consistent as I wanted with the ball over the last year or so. I needed to change a little something with my action and make sure it allowed me to be more consistent."

It was predominantly stepping up to open the bowling for Surrey Stars on a regular basis that helped her continue to develop both sides of her game. "Having that responsibility has been good for me and good for my performances," she says. "I had a good KSL and I think that responsibility is something that agrees with me and something that I enjoy having - and the stats would show it helps me out!"

They certainly do. In 2017 she finished as leading wicket-taker in the competition, with 12 to her name; in 2018 she took 10 wickets at 28.00. With her new action in play, one feels the sky is the limit.

For now, Sciver says she is excited about a reversion to her original role for England, and is looking forward to playing a crucial role as they head to the World T20 semi-finals in Antigua. "I want to be a genuine allrounder for England, and put in performances with both bat and ball. As long as I'm a consistent option for Heather [Knight] and she has faith in me to be consistent with the ball when I do come on, I'm happy with that."