Have you heard David Lloyd pronounce Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas ? With 52 letters, Vaas is not even the longest-named Test cricketer. That honour goes to Senanayake Mudiyanselage Sachithra Madhushanka Senanayake – or as he’s more familiarly known, Sachithra Senanayake, who has 53 characters in his name and has played a lone Test for Sri Lanka.
Ebony-Jewel Cora-Lee Camellia Rosamond Rainford-Brent, the former England Women allrounder, reckons hers could be the longest non-Sri Lankan cricketing name.
“My mum always wanted to have a girl, but she ended up having three boys first. She saved up all the names, and added them all up including Camellia, her favourite flower,” Ebony tells Wisden India, spelling out her full name. “Had I been the first child my name might just have been Ebony. I blame my mum. She wanted to add two more names to it, but they said ‘please no more’.
“In the front page of my passport it’s Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent. All the names are there in the first foil,” she shares. “Once while collecting my passport I wrote my full name in a wrong order. My mum too could not remember the correct order. They gave me the passport, but it’s really painful to do telephone banking and apply for license.”
Of course, Ebony is more than just her 45-lettered name. Aged 17 in August 2001, she became England’s first black woman international cricketer. Then, she fought a career-threatening back injury (two prolapsed discs and a pars defect) and depression, to return to the team after a six-year gap in 2007. She went out again for a year before transforming herself from a medium pacer to a top-order batter. She won the Women’s World Cup, World Twenty20 and wooden ball (Women’s Ashes) in 2009, and retired soon after that. Now a commentator and director for women’s cricket at Surrey County Cricket Club, she is also an avid photographer.
On career-threatening back injury:
“When my injury got really bad, I could not walk for almost a year. I was dragging my left leg. As a kid, I played multiple sports and it’s the only thing I knew. Suddenly the doctor said I have to stop. I remember crying in front of my mum. I fell into depression. It hit quite hard. I just ate and slept with no daylight coming into my room.”
Currently in Colombo on commentary duty for the Women’s World Cup Qualifiers, she has added more pictures to her kitty.
“I have got about 15 of my favourite shots printed in big frames and hung on my wall back home,” she says. “So, if I get a picture here that looks better than what is on the wall then I will replace it with one.
“It’s always hard work taking pictures in India because you see things on the move when you are in the tuk-tuk (autorickshaw),” Ebony shares. “The richness of colour in the subcontinent makes your picture brighter, unlike England where you have to go to the mountains. And here people are lovely, allowing you to click them.”
She is surprised to learn about Wide Angle – Anil Kumble’s coffee table book, which has a collection of pictures from the legspinner’s playing days. “We are lucky as sportsperson to go to different places around the world,” she says. “Cricket has been amazing for me. It’s a fascinating tool. It has so many branches, like going to new places, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and local food.”
Ebony is jovial and makes you feel at home. Her personality has been shaped by her background.
“When you stop playing cricket, it’s hard because you suddenly go from being very good to nothing. So when you are out with an injury and then come back, you are better prepared to deal with life after sports,” she opens up. “Injuries made me aware of these privileges. It’s important to have other hobbies because you need that outlet to release stress. I talk across a lot of platforms about my dark times and how you can use it positively to develop yourself.”
Depression is a delicate subject to touch upon, but Ebony is happy to revisit her past. “When my injury got really bad, I could not walk for almost a year. I was dragging my left leg. As a child, I played multiple sports and it’s the only thing I knew. Suddenly the doctor said I have to stop. I remember crying in front of my mum. I fell into depression,” she goes on. “It hit quite hard. I just ate and slept with no daylight coming into my room.”
The lack of a support structure in such times is often detrimental for athletes, but Ebony was lucky. “My brother caught me and gave me a telling, saying you need to get yourself out. After that I tried thinking differently,” she reflects. “I found a guy through the Talented Athletes Scholarship Scheme and started kyro practice. I took about a year to walk again properly and started jogging almost a year after that. It was totally dark times, but going through that experience has toughened me up. It’s a weird thing to say, but it is one of the best things to have happened to me.”
Even now Ebony suffers from back pain at the L4 and L5 level of her spine and gets spasms, which restricts her from playing golf with the right technique. She has avoided surgery so far and manages her body through exercises, but jokes that she might take the option when she is 50 years old.
On being England’s first black woman international cricketer:
“Coming from a West Indian background, I played cricket in a traditional place like England where you sometimes felt odd and stood out of the loop. So, it took a little bit of time to integrate. As I got older I realised it is important to see more diversity in different environment, especially in England where there is a high percentage of black community. It is something I am really proud of, and the realisation came with age.”
Even as she was scripting her comeback, the significance of being the first black woman cricketer to represent England started to make sense. Appointed as one of the first-ever Chance to Shine coaching ambassadors, she used her lineage to the community’s advantage.
“First I was shocked and confused because you would assume in so many years of cricket history someone else could have played earlier,” says Ebony, “I also was initially uncomfortable with this colour thing. It was not always an easy thing. Coming from a West Indian background, I played cricket in a traditional place like England where you sometimes felt odd and stood out of the loop. So it took a little bit of time to integrate. As I got older, I realised it is important to see more diversity in different environments, especially in England where there is a high percentage of black community. It is something I am really proud of, and the realisation came with age.
“I am also proud of my friend Isa Guha, who is the first Asian to play for England Women,” she adds. “Only thing I suppose I am disappointed with is I have not seen anyone come through after me. The reasons are many. Fewer players come from inner cities, and that’s where you find most coloured people.
“Cricket in England has not quite entered completely into these communities as it should have. It is such a gap between playing street cricket to representing your club,” she explains. “The subcontinent is good with that. Kids can play anywhere and end up representing the country.”
Those are wise words from a sportsperson who has been through the entire cycle. Photography is Ebony’s passion, but she looks set to wear many more hats in the future – both within and outside of cricket.
Four of Ebony’s favourite shots: