Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Issy Wong returns from Australia seeking the spectacular

Posted on 22 February 2022 by George Mallett

 

The woman many believe may be the first to break the 80 mile per hour barrier speaks to me from her bedroom in Dorridge in the West Midlands, Liverpool FC wallpaper flanking her either side.

For Issy Wong, it’s quite the come down after a winter spent down under with Sydney Thunder and the England Women’s A squad but typically she’s happy to take the positives.

Milan in the Champions League, Cardiff in the cup and a rare few weeks without cricket provide an opportunity to travel with her beloved reds, something she’s been denied on the biggest occasions.

“I’m owed a Champions League final. The last two we’ve been to, I had a ticket to go but had to turn them down to play cricket.

I think this year I’m gonna have to take annual holiday, I can’t miss three on the bounce.”

Issy Wong in Milan for Liverpool’s recent clash with Inter

Touring with England

Joking aside, this is a 19-year-old who very much knows it’s through cricket she’s living her dream.

“You go on tour and you’re just sat on the beach in Adelaide with some of your best mates and you think this is pretty special. We’re fortunate that in the woman’s game we’ve had the opportunity to take that but cricket does that at any level.

You’re making connections, you’re making friends. You’re forging those relationships, all the way from playing in the playground at school to playing club cricket to playing at Edgbaston in front of 10,000 people. Fundamentally it’s the same game.”

An all-round game

During that time in Australia, Wong announced herself in the BBL by hitting 43 off 17 balls against the Adelaide Strikers. Not bad for someone who still regards herself as a bowler.

The innings included three sixes in one over off Dane van Niekerk, South African’s captain and one of the game’s finest.

It’s an experience that leaves Issy feeling she’s a different player now to the one that left England last Autumn, even though most onlookers would say her Hundred appearances before were a success:

“I think the Issy Wong in the Hundred and the Issy Wong who is playing in the A Games are almost two completely different cricketers now. I worked pretty hard and feel I’ve come a long way. I’m beginning to see little glimmers of what level I can compete at.”

Issy Wong on commentating duty for Sky Sports

Graduating to the first team

Despite this, she’s under no illusions of how far she has left to go.

“It’s not consistently there yet and I think that’s the big difference when we play against the first team. Our skills aren’t far off. Anya Shrubsole can bowl a seam ball but so can Lauren Bell.

Heather Knight can hit a nice cover drive but so can Alice Capsey, so can Eve Jones. But the first team they’ve got that experience they can repeat those skills for longer. We know what we’re capable of and it’s just working hard to essentially maximise how often we can do that.”

It’s this level-headedness that stands Wong out and speaking to her it’s easy to forget her age. The majority of her thoughts, most athletes wouldn’t be able to appreciate until much later in their careers.

“I’m trying to not get too high, it’s easy when the game’s growing so much. You might bowl one good bowl and suddenly everyone’s pumping your tyres.

I think it’s important to take yourself out of that and say I bowled 24 bowls that day. I bowled one good one and everyone’s on the hype train but what did I do in the other 23 bowls?”

Issy Wong (crouched down) with the A Side in Australia

“My personality says I’d rather make things happen”

Wong will admit, though consistency is what she strives for, the football fan in her will always seek the spectacular.

In the Hundred her Birmingham Phoenix side started the competition badly, winning only one of their first four. Slowly they turned there form around and results went their way.

“It came down to the match up in Headingley and I think our squad were like ‘don’t believe, don’t believe’ and as each day went on and every result went our way we thought we can do this. We got to this game, Lauren Winfield-Hill was batting. She’d got to 50. She’d been dropped at deep square, I’d dropped her at extra cover. You’re just thinking we’ve come this far, maybe it’s not our day.

I remember going up to Amy Jones and just saying give me five balls. I think I can do something here, I think I can get a wicket. My first ball was a horrendous ball. It was short and wide and outside off and she’s trying to hit me over point for four or six. Eve Jones is at wide third man and she’s run back round and taken this absolute speccy (spectacular catch).

Issy playing in Australia over the winter

Getting lost in the moment

I remember that feeling of saying you’re going to make something happen, making something happen and that five seconds was probably the best five seconds of my life. Everything just came together in that moment.”

If you watch the replays you’ll see Wong sprinting into the distance, relief exploding out through ecstatic, expletive-laden shouts. It’s an image that any sports fan will recognize.

“You think yes, we might have actually pulled this off here and that’s a really exciting feeling in any sport. You might put your hand up to take that free-kick and you step up and stick it in the top corner. You play sport for Trent Alexander-Arnold taking a quick corner and Divock Origi putting it in the back of the net to take you to the Champions League final.

That’s why you play sport, that’s why you watch sport.”

Being a fraction short of the first team, is an impressive achievement for any 19-year-old. But Wong is no ordinary teenager. Once that door opens, she’ll be hard to dislodge.