Sports

Sophie Ecclestone: The making of England’s world top-ranked bowler

Date: 31 March Time: 02:00 BST Venue: Christchurch
Coverage: Live ball-by-ball commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Live text commentary with in-play clips (UK only) on the BBC Sport website.

“To go from Cheshire cricket to six years later she’s top of the tree, I just think wow, she’s made us so proud so many times with what she’s done and despite it all she’s so grounded.”

England’s Sophie Ecclestone is the world’s top-ranked one-day international and Twenty20 bowler, and is the leading wicket-taker in the Women’s World Cup heading into England’s semi-final against South Africa.

It’s been quite the journey from Helsby, Cheshire where her cricket story began with the influence of cricket-playing elder brother James and dad Paul.

“Every day we were either outside playing football or cricket, we just messed about all day and night,” said James.

“There were a few tears and a bit of falling out as you can imagine. She was never out, there was always a way that she had to keep on batting. We had some good times growing up.”

Paul was the junior coordinator at Alvanley Cricket Club where Sophie first got involved in youth cricket and where she discovered her finger-spin trade thanks to club coach Robin Fisher.

Now the club has recognised Sophie as a life member.

“We have a wall in the clubhouse with a signed shirt on – that’s Sophie’s wall, we try to show up as much as we can because we are so proud of her,” adds James.

“Everyone loves her to bits and she’s so down to earth that’s why everyone at the club takes time out to watch her.”

Sophie Ecclestone, bottom row second left, with her team-mates in the junior section at Alvanley Cricket Club

Ecclestone was just nine years old when she progressed into the Cheshire U13s pathway. Her rising status through the age groups sparked interest from neighbouring Lancashire.

Paul remembers the moment; he was driving to and from Old Trafford when the young off-spinner made her choice.

“She said ‘I’ve made the decision, normally I make a decision and doubt myself but, in this instance, I’m going to do it, I’m going to move to Lancashire.'”

Ecclestone never looked back, she made her senior Lancashire debut aged 16 and was on the England development programme before being selected for the England Academy winter squad in 2016 where she toured Sri Lanka.

She went on to make her senior England debut in 2016, playing a T20 against Pakistan and returning 1-21 from her four overs.

Ecclestone’s one-day international debut came later that year versus the West Indies and her Test cap was awarded in a drawn Ashes series in 2017.

Eight months after her ODI debut, Ecclestone was made unavailable for the 2017 World Cup, which culminated in a thrilling victory for England in the final at Lord’s.

Fiance Craig remembers it well: “It was a tough time, mixed emotions for her, she was finishing off her A-levels and she had to get them behind her so she could go on and enjoy cricket.

“She was incredibly pleased for the girls, but I think she would’ve preferred to have been on the pitch.”

So, while England won the World Cup in 2017, Ecclestone had to settle for the Lancashire Cricket Board’s young player of the year accolade as Lancashire won the double.

Notable performances included her 6-12 in a One-Day Cup match and 27 wickets at an impressive average of 6.96.

Sophie Ecclestone in 2017
Sophie Ecclestone was invited to be a net bowler during the 2017 World Cup

With A-levels in the bag, Ecclestone was awarded an England central contract later that year.

Her next landmark came in 2018 when she made her T20 World Cup debut, collecting a runner-up medal after Australia thrashed England in the West Indies.

Craig recalls being sat in their hotel room prior to the final when “Soph goes ‘ooh I’m playing in a World Cup final today’. She just brushes everything off. I’m sure she does feel pressure, but she doesn’t show it.”

He adds: “She’s just wired differently. I don’t want to say she’s too laid back because she isn’t, she just handles situations well. She is the sort of person who can finish second and be like ‘now we need to put it right and finish first’.”

A young Sophie Ecclestone plays for Alvanley Cricket Club
A young Sophie Ecclestone plays for Alvanley Cricket Club

Ecclestone faced further team disappointment as a washout semi-final saw England exit the 2020 T20 World Cup. Despite this, she became the number one T20 bowler in the world rankings, finding out informally via Craig as he scrolled through Twitter during a dinner in Sydney.

She now reigns as both T20 and ODI top-ranked bowler at just 22 years of age and has almost 100 England caps across all formats.

James beams: “She’s only 22 and that’s the scary thing. When you see her stats come on the TV and how many wickets she’s taken its mad thinking in another 10 years’ time, how many wickets will she take by then?”

Already, she is England women’s sixth all-time wicket-taker with more than 150 scalps.

Paul adds: “She’s just unbelievable, it’s a fantastic achievement, especially for her age. It just shows how good she is, it’s remarkable and we are over the moon for her. We are just so proud of her.”

Personal accolades aside, there are still plenty of goals in sight.

“I know for a fact she wants a 50 and she wants a five-fer. I said to her the other day ‘what would be a bigger celebration – a 50 or a five-fer?’ I think a 50 came out in favour so she’s really got those next objectives in her sights now and to move up the batting order as well,” Paul said.

England have been away since early January so when she returns from her maiden ODI World Cup in New Zealand, the whole family – including cavapoo Rex – will be excited to celebrate her latest accomplishments.

“It’s been a long time away from friends and family and I think for Soph she’s a real home bird. She just loves family life, she’s so grounded and down to earth. She dotes on the dog, I think he must struggle when he sees the suitcase by the door and he doesn’t know when she’s back.”

Ecclestone will no doubt be hoping she’ll have a World Cup winners’ medal to drape round his neck next time they meet.

Sophie Ecclestone shares a moment with her dog Rex while on international duty with England
Sophie Ecclestone shares a moment with her dog Rex while on international duty with England

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