With blood pouring from the spot where her thumbnail had just been ripped off, 15-year-old Kate Cross knew there was no way she could leave the pitch. Going off with a broken nail? She could hear the snide remarks already.
As it turned out, she had to go to hospital for treatment, but even at such a tender age Cross had become so intent on proving people wrong that her instinct was to just “suck it up” and play on. And while often being the one girl on the team could pose such challenges, that was the attraction in the first place.
“What struck me about cricket was that I was the only girl that was doing it,” Cross tells ESPNcricinfo. “I enjoyed the expectation of turning up to a ground and you got little comments that there was a girl playing for this team so they must be scraping the barrel.
“That fuelled me a little bit to prove people wrong. I secretly enjoyed that. At the age that I was I didn’t really see it as anything other than just a few snide comments, whereas I think if I got that now I’d stand up for myself a little bit more.”
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Cross, a seamer with 42 England caps across all three formats, is “absolutely sure there were days when I didn’t prove anyone wrong and I maybe did look like the spare part in the team” because that’s sport. But she doesn’t remember those moments as clearly or as often as she does the times when she did make her point.
“I got hit on the hand once when I was playing Under-15 cricket and the ball had ripped my thumbnail off and there was just blood everywhere,” Cross says.
“Bearing in mind I was only 15, but I remember thinking that I can’t go off this pitch because I’ve broken my nail because I know the comments that will get made.
“I ended up having to go to hospital because there was blood, it was just a mess, I’d broken my thumb. But I remember thinking, ‘you’ve got to suck this up and just carry on,’ whereas maybe if one of the lads had done that I don’t know if they’d have had that same thought process.”
While she had to succumb to the physical fact of a significant injury on that occasion, there were others that presented her – and her family – with the kind of comeback many of us can only dream of making when we are slighted.
“Another incident I’ll always remember, it was one of the first times I’d played any kind of senior cricket and it wasn’t until after the game that my mum told me the story,” Cross says. “I’d been really poorly, I’d had tonsillitis and the team was short so I said, ‘I’ll play, I might not be at my best, but I’ll play.’
“I got four-for and I got them quite quickly as well, I think I only bowled four or five overs and picked up four wickets in that time.
“My mum said that while she was sat on the side, some bloke behind her from the club that we were playing against had said, ‘Oh, the girl’s coming on now, here we go, let’s cash in, time to score some big runs,’ that kind of thing.
“Sky and the BBC are covering the West Indies games so hopefully we get a bit of coverage and a few more people watching because they just love watching live sport”
“My mum did really well, she just stayed silent, but she said as soon as I took four wickets and came off the pitch and everyone clapped me, my mum just turned around to this bloke and said, ‘oh by the way, that’s my daughter.'”
Now, as England prepare for a five-match T20I series against West Indies starting on Monday, which many believed wouldn’t happen, leaving the English summer bereft of women’s cricket, Cross and her team-mates – and no doubt the opposition – are keen to show people what they could have missed.
“You’re going to have two sets of girls who are just grateful to be showcasing women’s cricket again,” Cross says. “That’s what’s been, for me, the most disappointing part of this lockdown, how much momentum the game had created and then you see the men started playing in July and you just think, why are we not out there?
“That’s the general feeling throughout the women’s game, let’s showcase what we can do and let’s try and gain a bit more of that momentum that we’ve lost.”
Women’s cricket has come a long way, with England captain Heather Knight saying this week she doubted that even as recently as four or five years ago the ECB would have worked as hard as they did to ensure West Indies could tour after plans to host India and South Africa fell through in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The sport was riding a wave after the T20 Women’s World Cup in March, when Australia defeated India in the final in front of more than 86,000 fans at the MCG, shortly before international sport shut down and many countries went into lockdown.
With the Women’s World Cup, originally scheduled start in New Zealand in February and the inaugural Hundred competition in England postponed for a year, players are keen to get whatever game time they can.
“It’s just been quite difficult having things taken away from you,” Cross says. “You kind of saw the motivation leave a few people.
“It was really disheartening because even now we don’t know what our winter looks like in terms of is there any touring to be done, is there any cricket we’ll be playing or are we just waiting for next season.
“But I think that’s what makes us more grateful for this series. Especially with there not being any men’s international cricket left, it will give us a real chance to have a focus on us for a change. Sky and the BBC are covering the games so hopefully we get a bit of coverage and a few more people watching because they just love watching live sport.
“Having West Indies come over, they’ve been an absolute saving grace for us in terms of all our cricket this summer – with the men and the women – so hats off to them for being willing to travel at a time when everything is so uncertain.”
The last time England faced West Indies was during their final T20 World Cup group match, which England won comfortably. Cross, who was part of the England squad but had not played a match during the tournament suffered a severe sprain and torn ligaments in her right ankle when she landed on the boundary rope while attempting a catch during the warm-up for that match.
If there is any upside in the delayed start to the international season, it is that she has had time to recover, testing herself with Thunder in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and competitive intra-squad matches within England’s bio-secure training bubble.
“It’s one of those injuries that will probably have some effect on you, stiffness and tightness, because of the nature of the injury but I’m playing to full fitness now, it’s absolutely fine,” Cross says.
“We’re grateful that we’ve got an opportunity to play some cricket. Even though it’s not as much as we’d like to have played, we’re still really grateful that we’ve got something to look forward to.”
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