Walking into the kitchen of the Shrubsole family home on the outskirts of Bath you’re met with all the day-to-day trappings one expects of urban life. A closer look however and it dawns, this is no ordinary household. Tucked away behind the fruit bowl and perched next to the toaster a tall, gleaming, jewel-studded trophy sticks out. The engraving on the base gives the game away: 2014 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Player of the Tournament – Anya Shrubsole.
Scattered in a small sitting room lie three smaller versions of the trophy, each one awarded for Player of the Match performances in that tournament. In such surrounds it’s difficult to imagine how Shrubsole, just another graduate back home with her parents to recover after final university exams, wreaked such havoc thousands of miles away on the grass wickets of Bangladesh.
“I’ve always been a very front-on bowler and for a long time I had tried to bowl away-swing as to most people that’s deemed the best thing to do.” But in trying to find that elusive away-swing, Shrubsole found little success and the promise she had shown as a teenager was growing into frustration. It took a snap moment, in a situation of high pressure, for the flick to finally switch.
“It literally happened in a World Cup game in 2013. It was against the West Indies, and I was bowling against two left-handers. It was an early morning so perfect conditions to swing, but things weren’t quite happening the way I wanted. So I just thought, right, I’m going to try something different here. I’ll turn the ball and the seam round the other way and bowl an in-swinger. It worked – the ball absolutely hooped! I’ve pretty much stuck with it ever since.”
Shrubsole, aged 21 at the time and already a regular feature in England’s one-day side for five years, duly won player of the match, picking up four wickets. Her progress has been phenomenal; combining her late, whooping in-swing with speeds of more than 70mph – one of the fastest in the women’s game – she has the ability to destroy top-orders the world over, and at fifth in the ICC T20 bowler rankings, a track record to prove it.
How does Shrubsole, a self-described introvert, switch to the aggressive and destructive fast bowler when she crosses the boundary line? “I don’t think it’s necessarily a fiery attitude you need as a fast bowler, but an attack-minded attitude,” Shrubsole says. “That you have to have. For some people it works getting really fired up and emotional but generally I like to stay calm and cool.”
She explains the reason she became a fast bowler was “height and size more than anything else. I’ve always been big for my age so I think it naturally fell upon me”.
Like many of the current crop of England players, it was boys cricket where Shrubsole thrived as a youngster. Her father played Premier League cricket at Bath Cricket Club. A teacher by day, it was his role leading Bath’s seam attack that inspired Shrubsole junior to follow a similar path. She was nine when she started playing with the boys at Bath and by the age of 11 was representing Somerset boys and soon West of England in the Under-13 age group.
She joined the Somerset Academy aged 13, then a male only domain, and seamlessly slotted into the professional set-up. She trained alongside England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler and a number of Academy players now in the professional men’s game.
“When I started playing with boys it was the first time many had seen a girl at this level, so naturally there was some chat about it,” said Shrubsole. “I’d get a few comments from the opposition, but that only added to my determination to prove that I was there on merit and was good enough to be in the team. I ended up getting 5-for in my first game for Somerset so I hopefully proved I was good enough.”
Next month, Shrubsole’s focus will be on her third women’s Ashes campaign, with the first ball to be bowled on her home ground at Taunton on 21 July. But Shrubsole, now 23, is looking further ahead. Last month, she finished a psychology degree at Loughborough University, which houses the ECB’s National Performance Centre where Shrubsole and the England squad train.
“One of the reasons I chose a psychology degree is that I’ve always wanted to have something outside of cricket that’s completely unrelated,” she said. “I definitely want to continue some sort of learning, keep topping up what I know, keep getting qualifications wherever I can so that when it comes to finishing playing cricket I’m in as good a position as I can be.” England, it seems, have produced an intelligent and mature bowler – and she will be spearheading the women’s attack this summer against Australia.