Natalie Sciver

“If it is really full then all I can really do is hit it like an axe. Luckily, I hit it” – Natalie Sciver. © Getty Images

Natalie Sciver was on 30 against New Zealand in the Women’s World Cup 2017 game in Derby on Wednesday (June 12) when Holly Huddleston bowled an inswinging yorker. Sciver tapped the ball between her legs, with the bat’s face towards the wicketkeeper, catching everyone surprised.

When the shot reappeared to take her from 79 to 81, quick-thinking viewers captured it for posterity. Simon Doull, on air, called it the ‘draw shot’. The world named it ‘Natmeg’, after ‘nutmeg’, the footballers’ trick of pushing the ball between an opponent’s legs.

After her 111-ball 129 set up England’s 75-run win and sealed a semifinal berth for them, Sciver said she had played the shot in the past, but there was no story behind its origins.

“Basically, as my stance is quite wide, I get into a position where I can’t move my front foot again. If it is really full then all I can really do is hit it like an axe. Luckily, I hit it,” explained Sciver afterwards. “It is by chance. There is no more exciting story than that. Everyone’s like, ‘Ah! So close to getting the wicket’. I am like ‘he he’.”

Laura Marsh, Sciver’s England team-mate, called it an irritating shot from an opposition’s perspective.

On a perfect summer day when Mithali Raj became the first batter to score 6000 runs in women’s One-Day Internationals, the young Sciver laid down new markers in the evolution of batting.

The draw shot
A batting stroke by which the ball is deflected off the angled face of the bat and passes between the wicket and the batsman’s legs in the direction of fine leg or backward square leg; it is presumably so called because the ball is gently ‘drawn’ away from the wicket rather than more forcefully ‘pulled’. – The Wisden Dictionary of Cricket by Michael Rundell

Already the first woman to get to 1000 ODI runs from less than thousand deliveries, Sciver became the ninth batter to score two centuries in one World Cup. She stands for everything modern. While the old school of batting to which Raj belongs shifts gears gradually, Sciver’s tribe can start from top gear or, when the opposition captain spreads the field like Suzie Bates did, rotate strike to avoid the dot-ball pressure. Equally good with top-hand and bottom-hand play, and quick running, they are the complete package. The template of their batting is built around moving the scoreboard, and a total of 300-plus is always within reach. The approach is risky, but the freedom to entertain breathes freshness into the sport.

Coming in at 58 for 3 in the 14th over, a situation similar against Australia (56 for 3) where she had thrown it away, Sciver did her “basics for longer”. Only a regular in the top-order since Charlotte Edwards’s exit last year, Sciver now has 315 World Cup runs. She is third on the list of batters in this competition, and her strike rate of 118.42 is only behind Deandra Dottin’s 126.96 among those who have made at least 200 runs in either the 2013 or the 2017 editions.

While Dottin, for long, has scored most of her runs in one gear and got caught in traps more often than not, Sciver has found a way to revive situations by combining intelligence with power. She did that beautifully against Pakistan, and manoeuvred the field against New Zealand’s spinners to negate risk when the team needed her to bat deep.

© Getty Images

Natalie Sciver reached the century in 92 balls with a total of 61 scoring shots. © Getty Images

As the innings progressed and the challenges receded, she displayed her full range including the Natmeg. While her first 50 runs came from 55 balls and had 30 scoring shots, she reached the century in 92 balls with a total of 61 scoring shots. By the time she was dismissed, she had played 76 scoring shots. Facing just 35 dot balls in a long innings in women’s ODIs is a remarkable feat.

Fittingly, Tammy Beaumont, who heads the tournament’s batting charts with 330 runs after her 93 on the day, was Sciver’s partner for 27.1 of the 33 overs she spent in the middle. Their fourth-wicket stand of 170 was right on the money as they have been at the forefront of England’s batting dominance throughout the competition.

England have scored 1745 runs in six games – way ahead of the other seven teams – and 64.58% of those have come when either Beaumont or Sciver has been in the middle.

The 72 singles, 12 twos and two threes that they ran and the 14 fours and one six that they hit were almost a by-product of them forcing New Zealand to bowl to their strength.

Bates on the loss
“Obviously, not an ideal performance. I thought we started very well with the ball early on. But the way we brought the game back in at the end, I was pleased to keep them under 290. On a wicket like that, you think you could chase it if one of the top order gets going. It was not to be today. Amy (Satterthwaite) and I would be the first to admit that once we got in and had a partnership, it was our job to make that partnership even bigger. One of us had to score a big hundred today. We got out may be couple of lose kind of shots. Not the right kind of shot on the wicket. Once we got in, with Sophie Devine coming in … we never got behind the run rate, it was just about wickets. We kept going for it, but never had enough wickets towards the end.”

Bates was effusive in her praise for Sciver. “She has been quality allrounder. She was reasonably young when she first came on to the scene. You know those players, the more experience they get the better they get. She can hit the ball hard, and once she gets in she is hard to stop,” she said. “To have them three down, we were in a really good position. We haven’t looked at any footage yet, but that partnership was really impressive. They batted outstanding. With a player like Nat Sciver, you know she hits hard and you put out a sweeper but that also gets their game going. The legspinners potentially in their first spell did not bowl as well they could have. But she batted extremely well. We had a chance that may have reduced the score a little bit, and we didn’t take that either.”

Both Sciver and Beaumont looked extremely sharp despite having done the majority of the batting for their team over six games.

Mark Robinson, the coach, had pointed out that lack of fitness was the key reason for England’s semifinal loss in the 2016 Women’s World Twenty20 in India, and had led to the exit of two seniors in Edwards and Lydia Greenway.

Bates on the virtual quarterfinal against India
“It’s kind of interesting. In this tournament we have seen every game as a must-win and played it like that. We had one rained off game here (in Derby) and we had a loss against Australia and England. We have played some good cricket we wanted to play. At least destiny is in our own hands. If we beat India on Saturday then we get to stay here.”

While some of the teams are feeling the brunt of a high-intensity tournament stretched over a month, England have remained fresh. They have hit five centuries, have three of the top six run-getters in their ranks, and the bowlers have shared the workload.

“(Robinson is a) massive reason why we are able to play with more freedom and back ourselves a little bit more through the order. (Fitness) has been massively important and it’s something we have learnt over the last year or so,” said Sciver. “There is confidence in the group that you can back your partner and batters to come and do the job. It kind of takes pressure off you a bit. Me and Tammy worked well together, and hit in different areas and it would have been hard (for them) to bowl.”

With Natmeg in town and history just a couple of wins away, Sciver looks good for more.