Bubbly Ebony rises after trials of body and soul

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The Independent Online

They used to say that to captain England you had to have several initials, like JWHT "Johnny won't hit today" Douglas. So Ebony-Jewel Cora-Lee Camellia Rosamond Rainford-Brent should be well on the way to making a name for herself.

The 23-year-old all-rounder from Lambeth is in a laboratory, "looking a bit of a geek", at Uni- versity College London, where she is studying for a masters in chemistry. Next month she joins the England squad for the first time for the World Series one-day tournament in India against the hosts, Australia and New Zealand. It has been a long, hard struggle, and not because there isn't room to put her name on the teamsheet or the back of her shirt. Four years ago she was told she would never play again.

"I was the last of four kids, and there had been lots of arguments previously about who got everyone's names," says Ebony. "So they gave me everyone's names, my grandmothers' and my great- grandmothers'. I have three older brothers, who are not interested in cricket at all; in fact no one in my family is. My mum comes to watch but she doesn't really get it. She claps the opposition. She shouldn't be doing that."

Ebony was introduced to the game when the London Community Cricket Association paid a visit to Jessop Primary School. "I was nine, and I played all the sports: football, netball, squash, basketball, shot putting - in the last two I reached England Schools standard. So I saw cricket as just another sport to get into.

"I was the only girl, and they didn't play any cricket at all at Jessop or my secondary school, Grey Coat Hospital, so the LCCA suggested I try one of the courses at The Oval." Ironically, she was then chosen to represent London Schools at the age of 12.

But with her rapid rise came injury problems. For three years she experienced twinges in her back, which were diagnosed as muscle spasms. She played on but, at 19, came the fateful day when "my back went again, I fell over and couldn't move. I didn't play again for two years".

It could have been never again. She had two prolapsed discs in her spine. "The doctor told me: 'To be honest, to make sure you preserve your back for the rest of your life, you shouldn't play sport again'. I was devastated. It's sad to say, but it was the NHS and they were not able to give me the treatment I needed.

"I had a bit of a breakdown," she reflects. But then the England and Wales Cricket Board recommended her for a Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme, which helped her pay for physiotherapy. "Without that money, I wouldn't be playing at all." It was not just her sporting ambitions that were on the line but her options for other careers too. She also had to miss a year of her degree. "I couldn't sit up or hold my head up. It happened just before the exams. I couldn't take them. It was a very bad time. It has been a long journey back."

She has decided to add a fourth year to the degree and is doing an MSc. "It's a hectic schedule. Sometimes I don't know how I managed. But after having a year out to reflect, I am more motivated than ever." That motivation has led to her induction into the Academy at The Oval, working with legendary paceman Geoff Arnold. When England Under-19s were entered into a senior tournament, she played against Holland and Ireland - England lost to Ireland after losing four wickets for no runs, Ebony making a duck. She does not feel she has made her full England debut yet. "They were not proper caps."

She has watched the men on tour Down Under all winter. "It was very painful, I was shouting at the TV." But Ebony knows all about real pain. Can the chemist now concoct a cricketing elixir?