Return of Arran Brindle, the record breaker of women's cricket
She quit international cricket to have a baby and play against men. Now she's back with England at the World Cup
Wednesday 30 January 2013
Arran Brindle has accumulated an eclectic CV. There is the England debut on a small Danish island, a world-record opening stand, an Ashes triumph, premature retirement from international cricket, a historic sojourn in the men's game, and then a reversal of that retirement, back to try and ink in the missing link.
It was during Brindle's five years out of the women's game – enjoying herself in men's cricket, taking the chance to fill out the other side of her CV as a teacher and becoming a mother – that the sport in England revelled in its annus mirabilis, when the captain, Charlotte Edwards, lifted two World Cups in 2009. It marked England's domination of the game – world champions of one-day and Twenty20 cricket – something they hope to go some way to reimposing with a successful defence of the one-day trophy in India over the next two and a half weeks, beginning with tomorrow's opener against Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
It was in 2011, prompted by a "smashed thumb" suffered during a men's game, that Brindle contacted the England head coach, Mark Lane, and floated the idea of coming back. "I started thinking about it again – you never know when you might get an opportunity or when it might get taken away," she says. It is a different England side that Brindle, at 31, has returned to – only Edwards is older than her – and one that is used to having things their own way, even if they lost their Twenty20 crown at the end of last year with a four-run defeat to Australia in the final.
"The difference is the habit of winning," says Brindle. "Some of the girls in the squad barely know what losing is. That atmosphere generates how people carry themselves. There is no fear. That compares to when Australia were completely dominant and we were in reality playing for second place."
It is a different Brindle too, not least because she is now a mother, the only one in the squad. She is also one of a handful who is neither a student nor employed within the game. Brindle is a teacher of design technology (and cricket) at Greenwich House School in her hometown of Louth, Lincolnshire, and that, combined with parenthood, leaves her performing a juggling act to sustain her international career. "There are times when I start to worry – am I doing my job as a mum?" says Brindle. "I have been quite selfish in that I have demanded a lot of family time to fit in with me as an England women's cricketer."
The demands placed on her during her first spell as an England player led to her premature retirement at the age of 24. After she had married and started teaching, dealing with the six-hour round trips to the nearest indoor facilities sapped her desire to play for England. "Doing that three times a week, then work and balancing a home life… it felt right to have a break. It was becoming monotonous – there wasn't that buzz. I didn't stop playing, I ended up playing men's cricket and I guess that freshened me up."
She played, alongside her husband James, for Louth in the Lincolnshire League – an ECB Premier League, the top tier of club cricket. In 2010 she captained the side and a year later became the first woman to score a century in men's semi-pro cricket: 128 against Market Deeping. It is a curiosity of a garland to place alongside an Ashes hundred and a share in a record opening stand in women's Tests.
Brindle enjoys the men's game – she still plays for Louth – and the different challenges that it brings, notably quicker bowling. "Because of the pace it sometimes plays into my favoured shots a lot easier than women's cricket. In women's cricket you maybe have to adapt a little bit to get a fielder in a place so that you can open up another area. In men's cricket there are naturally more gaps because they are more attacking."
Pace will not be a major factor in India, where England have been preparing for 10 days ahead of their opening match, winning one and losing one of their warm-up games. Brindle scored her first international half-century in India a decade ago, and has a good record over her four trips there.
"In years gone by they have been slow and low pitches and you have to be able to work the ball into gaps. It's not all about the power because once the ball goes soft it's more about getting your twos, which suits my game, being quick between the wickets."
Since her last World Cup, which ended with a semi-final defeat to Australia in 2005, the women's game has improved and earned wider recognition. Ten of the World Cup games in India will be televised live for the first time.
"It's a massive opportunity," says Brindle. "The profile we are generating in this country, as long as the performances are good on the TV, audiences will grow. There's not been a better time to try and get more women and girls involved. If you have a successful national side that are world champions it opens up parents' eyes. There is a women's sport out there that facilitates a proper career path, as well as being able to play elite sport, which I don't think has been there in the past."
It has helped Brindle's return and will keep her in the game for the foreseeable future. The World Cup is followed by the Ashes; it is a big year for England and that means ever more juggling with Team Brindle – James and her four-year-old son, Harry, will be in India – job and the national team. "It's a case of what works for us as a family – if it's working at home and school and for Harry," she says. "I wouldn't want it ever to be detrimental to my family's life."
But after she walked away once, it is not going to happen again. "It's a special time to be involved – there hasn't been a better time to be an England player and so why would you want to pull yourself away from that while you are still able?"
The ICC Women's Cricket World Cup is part of the year-round schedule of live women's sport on Sky Sports
Tomorrow v Sri Lanka (Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai; Sky Sports 1); Sun v India (BS, Mumbai; SS1); Tues v West Indies (Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai)
Super Sixes 8-13 February (Cuttack/Mumbai)
Final 17 February (Mumbai)
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